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Duet act with female vocalist - pros/cons/pitfalls?


Bob L
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I have an opportunity to start a new project with a very talented female vocalist (great voice and very versatile). The idea is to keep it down to two people, for me personally to use this as an opportunity to improve my piano chops (which don't get much of a work out in the cover band I am in that plays party rock and contemporary).

 

Thinking of the following kinds of songs:

 

Great American songbook - jazz, standards, show tunes

Bossa Novas - Wave, Girl from Ipanema

Piano oriented contemporary songs - Alica Keys for example

Sing along tunes ( I also sing ) so tunes like Piano Man, others

Duets - (or even turn a song like Sunday Morning by Maroon 5 into a duet).

What tunes are best to stay clear of?!?!?

 

Some things I am considering/worrying about:

 

Split bass/piano, bass electric piano on some tunes

Maybe use some backing tracks? Not something I've done before

Drum machine of some kind (my PX-5S does not really have that)

Probably need fake book (iPad electronic one? Any ideas or good products)?

What kind of gigs to take, more importantly, what kind of gigs should I turn down!

 

This will likely be a lot of work, but I will be a better musician for it. Anyone else on the forum done this kind of thing? And if so, what wisdom can you offer that will save me some pain and suffering....?

 

 

 

Korg CX-3 (vintage), Casio Privia PX-5S, Lester K, Behringer Powerplay P2, Shure 215s

http://www.hackjammers.com

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I've done a lot of piano/vocal duos over the years. Unless the venue (or the singer) wants to cover the "fake full band" sound with tracks, drum machine, bass line, etc, I just treat it like a piano vocal duo. Most of the singers I work with do jazz and R&B/soul influenced pop, so I play Rhodes unless it's an acoustic piano-centric tune like "I Can't Make You Love Me" or "Hallelujah" or any of the Adele of Alicia Keys stuff.

 

The singers I work with have charts or send me their lists in advance and we just pick & choose tunes depending on the flow of the room and what we feel like playing. We usually do restaurants and we're background music - we're not the main attraction so there's no pressure to keep a dance floor or "put on a show" in these scenarios for us.

 

Always have a rehearsal with the vocalist and double check their keys - sometimes they think they know their key and it just doesn't work for them. Let the vocalist call the shots for the tunes - they know where their voice is at.

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Nord Electro 5D, Novation Launchkey 61, Logic Pro X, Mainstage 3, lots of plugins, fingers, pencil, paper.

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I've done this a number of times in the past. Always rehearsed. Singers I used never had charts so it was all on me to put together. Material depends on the venues your aiming for. Everythinng you mentioned can come into play.

I used to do two keyboards, bass pedals and drum machine, my favorite setup but times change. Moved on to Arranger keyboards which are very flexible and able to do anything from a Piano trio to a fuller backup sound. I heavily edit the Styles to try to keep it simple. Also use SMFs for some more involved tunes. I'd love,to do it againj but talented Female Vocalists are hard to find. Good luck and have fun. Check some friends of mine who are really good in the Hilton Head SC area. GregRossmusic.com They do occasionally add a sax player.

 

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I've always been of the opinion that it's best to go full out one way or the other - either a piano version of the songs or full-on sequences and exact replication. If you do something in the middle like a drum machine with a track or two and a piano version, it comes of as cheesy. If she isn't playing an instrument and you sing lead on any of the songs, make sure there are plenty of backup vocals to keep her busy. Duets would be perfect for that sort of thing.

 

I don't know what the scene is like there, but here those acts go over great for happy hour, hotel/restaurant bars, wineries.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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I've tried this situation a total of three times, and it's never worked out for me. I hope your experience is better than mine! It wasn't about tunes, really ... full backing tracks, 100% live, it didn't matter much.

 

Not to stereotype, but it's always been a hot emotional mess before long. I really don't need that sort of drama in my life. Besides, I'm happily married, and really, really want to stay that way.

 

That being said, I'm continually seduced when I encounter a great female vocalist. I've just realized that it's not gonna work out, no matter how much I want it to.

 

A moth and a flame ...

Life is too short to be playing bad music.

 

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I've done a bunch of piano/vocal duo gigs over the years. They can be really outstanding or really awful or anywhere in between, but if you find someone you work with well, it's a great setup.

 

Virtually any type of tune is potentially viable, depending on the conditions of a given gig. When you're working up a repertoire, a good strategy is to decide what your focus is and have a core group of songs that reflects that, but then also have a tune or two from assorted other genres ready to cover the bases when you get requests. So whatever else you do, have a couple country songs, a couple Motown songs, a couple bossas, a couple American songbook classics, etc. There's a bit of a balancing act between choosing songs that people expect and ones that will surprise them a little, so be prepared to do both. Also, make sure you have enough songs that fill any given role in your set enough openers, closers, slow songs, fast songs, showoff tunes, time-fillers, etc.

 

Here's a basic arranging tip that a surprising number of people miss (and it applies to any situation, but I've noticed solo and duo acts tend to blow it especially often): make sure your songs have clear endings so people know when they're over, and therefore know when to clap. That doesn't mean every tune needs to end with a big "ta-daaa!", but just an obvious point that lets people know the song is finished, and if they liked it enough to applaud, now would be a good time. If your endings are weak or ambiguous, that can leave people hanging about whether or not they should clap, which makes them uncomfortable and can cause them to tune you out altogether to avoid that discomfort.

 

This is largely a matter of personal preference, but I approach these types of gigs as a piano player, full stop. I'll play a digital instrument if need be, but I don't do bass splits, EP sounds, backing tracks, loopers, or any of that. That isn't to say that those things aren't viable if you decide to use them, only that they needn't be a requirement. And if one of your goals with this project is to improve your piano chops, bear in mind that it's awfully easy to use those things as a crutch. Sure, you could kick on a drum loop to give that song the rhythmic pulse it needs... OR you could figure out a way to do it with your hands, even if that means putting some time into working out a part that's different from what you're used to playing, different from what's on the record, and challenging enough to require some shedding. For me the latter has always been more rewarding.

 

Good luck with it!

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I've done quite a few piano/vocal gigs and believe the most important thing is to create a good feel / vibe. Of course, that's true with all music but when you're the only one playing if you don't create a good feel the duo isn't going to sound good. To my ears a great drummer and bass player can mask deficiencies in a band and when they're not there it's all up to you. The mark of a strong accompanist is one who supports and inspires the singer to sing better.

 

I've never used backing tracks or loops because I don't care for them.

www.alquinn.com
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Some things I am considering/worrying about:

 

Split bass/piano, bass electric piano on some tunes

For the most part, I would not do a LH bass split if not playing with some kind of drums/percussion. If there's a key bass line to the song, you can integrate it into your piano part.

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I do this quite often. Unless you are a piano bar type player, I suggest mixing it up between tracks, arranger keyboard, and solo accompaniment.

 

If you can pull off 3-4 hours solo on piano, then you are good to go; just add vocals and your all set. To keep the audience engaged and not fade into the background; I use a Korg Pa4x arranger keyboard with really nice Trio sounds Bass, Drums, Piano/rhodes, etc. and play some jazz, pop, rock. If I'm around a dancing crowd, I will pull out karaoke mp3's and play along with the vocalist. If it's a quiet tune or a slow dance, I will solo accompany the vocalist for something like "Somewhere over the Rainbow", "At Last", etc.

 

I play on and off with both female and male vocalists and can go from Bruno Mars to Sade from Taylor Swift to James Brown.

 

The gigs I play span Yacht clubs, American Legions, beach bars, restaurants, small weddings, home parties, Community parties, etc. With two people, it's low stress and fun.

 

Good luck.

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Don't sleep with her.

 

Words of wisdom since the beginning of time.

 

An evening full of whiny chick songs or men sniveling about how they cant live without you would cause me to buy drugs and chug Jager.

A stronger man than I.

 

 

Magnus C350 + FMR RNP + Realistic Unisphere Mic
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On solo gigs, since I am almost always on my laptop rig with my custom-programmed Bidule setup, I can do anything I want play totally solo, split the keyboard for LH bass, add a drum loop, or play with pre-programmed song files with full arrangements. I like to mix it up. In my past I've done 3 hour hotel lobby or brunch gigs on acoustic pianos, but I do enjoy the variety and opportunity to occasionally take some of the "musical weight" off. If you have the tools and the wherewithal to use them judiciously, do what you need to enjoy yourself. Having said this, I would also say that playing a duo gig with a talented and sympatico singer on a really nice acoustic piano is equally if not more satisfying than playing my rig. Unfortunately, getting those two elements to align can be rare!
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Lot of good input already. I do this a lot (duo piano gigs w singers), don't have much to add but here are my random thoughts:

 

1) You are the musical engine. You are drums, bass, harmony and soloist. You do not have to do all of these things constantly, but realize you are the entire orchestra behind the singer. So keep solid time and propel the tune along.

 

2) Encourage the singer to think in terms of an overall vision or concept. Who is she, what does she have to bring that is uniquely her. The more you can challenge her to bring more than just a set list of random songs but to bring what is uniquely her voice to the thing, the better you'll both sound. And if you really help her to grow as an artist, it may bring consistent work too as a bonus.

 

3) Think deliberately about orchestrating each song as a piece on its own. Maybe one tune is anchored by a recurring motif at the beginning and end, and is mostly sparse throughout. Maybe another has a dissonant bridge as a counterpoint. Maybe another has walking bass on every chorus. Tell a story every song musically. And tie the stories together to tell a long narrative.

 

4) Song sequencing is an art. Think about how each song makes a listener feel and keep the ups and downs linear.

 

5) Showcase her strengths and support her weaknesses. One of your primary jobs is to make her sound good. One of your other jobs is to provide a musical foil, a partner for her to play off of.

 

6) I don't think there's anything to "stay away from" - if you singer is adventurous and creative enough to do something fresh. Old Britney Spears tunes, Rihanna, Journey, Nirvana, Tool, Alison Krauss, Johnny Cash and Bjork can all coexist in the same set list - if the singer has a vision how it can all fit together and be part of the 'story'.

 

Personally, if I work well musically with the singer I really love duo gigs like that. There are some I work better with than others, having nothing to do how good friends we may be. Many of the young singers out here eventually end up working a lot with a pianist they have simpatico with. They end up gravitating to one or two players that really 'work' for them.

 

..
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The last time I did this I used a lot of backing tracks, mostly because it allowed me to play sax and flute as well as piano....still did a lot of piano only, with maybe a string pad, for ballads especially.The singer was......below average in ability, maybe an octave of range on a good night, but could work within her limitations, as well as rock the HELL out of a gown, Jessica Rabbit style....we made a TON of $$$$......

 

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Don't sleep with her.

 

Words of wisdom since the beginning of time.

 

An evening full of whiny chick songs or men sniveling about how they cant live without you would cause me to buy drugs and chug Jager.

A stronger man than I.

 

 

This is huge. Try not to get ropped in if they have drama either. It's like sleeping with your co-worker. It happens a lot but you have to kind of stand up to yourself despite the amount of time you work together.

"Danny, ci manchi a tutti. La E-Street Band non e' la stessa senza di te. Riposa in pace, fratello"

 

 

noblevibes.com

 

 

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I've done a lot of piano/vocal duos over the years. Unless the venue (or the singer) wants to cover the "fake full band" sound with tracks, drum machine, bass line, etc, I just treat it like a piano vocal duo. Most of the singers I work with do jazz and R&B/soul influenced pop, so I play Rhodes unless it's an acoustic piano-centric tune like "I Can't Make You Love Me" or "Hallelujah" or any of the Adele of Alicia Keys stuff.

 

The singers I work with have charts or send me their lists in advance and we just pick & choose tunes depending on the flow of the room and what we feel like playing. We usually do restaurants and we're background music - we're not the main attraction so there's no pressure to keep a dance floor or "put on a show" in these scenarios for us.

.

 

These are my experiences as well, though I tend to be more piano centric than rhodes centric. Will play rhodes on some tunes though, like MJs 'I Can't Help It', or or Jill Scott.

Kawai C-60 Grand Piano : Hammond A-100 : Hammond SK2 : Yamaha CP4 : Yamaha Montage 7 : Moog Sub 37

 

My latest album: Funky organ, huge horn section

https://bobbycressey.bandcamp.com/album/cali-native

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3) Think deliberately about orchestrating each song as a piece on its own. Maybe one tune is anchored by a recurring motif at the beginning and end, and is mostly sparse throughout. Maybe another has a dissonant bridge as a counterpoint. Maybe another has walking bass on every chorus. Tell a story every song musically. And tie the stories together to tell a long narrative.

 

Man all your suggestions are fantastic Tim. I especially like the one quoted above. If you approach these gigs as chances to make a little bit of unique art with each song, you might find yourself having more fun. I've had these kinds of gigs drag along at times, but when I find myself really enjoying them it's usually because I'm thinking the way you've outlined above.

Kawai C-60 Grand Piano : Hammond A-100 : Hammond SK2 : Yamaha CP4 : Yamaha Montage 7 : Moog Sub 37

 

My latest album: Funky organ, huge horn section

https://bobbycressey.bandcamp.com/album/cali-native

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I've always been of the opinion that it's best to go full out one way or the other - either a piano version of the songs or full-on sequences and exact replication. If you do something in the middle like a drum machine with a track or two and a piano version, it comes of as cheesy.

 

I have to say I've actually had some fun doing what you suggest I don't:

 

Building a handful of hip hop/ RnB drum loops and running them in Ableton for each tune, then playing LH synth bass and RH rhodes or piano. It works pretty well on the RnB style material I do with a particular singer I play with. We'll even give standards this treatment, playing a sexed out 'My Funny Valentine' or 'Misty'.

Kawai C-60 Grand Piano : Hammond A-100 : Hammond SK2 : Yamaha CP4 : Yamaha Montage 7 : Moog Sub 37

 

My latest album: Funky organ, huge horn section

https://bobbycressey.bandcamp.com/album/cali-native

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What to play (hardware): What you're comfortable with to start. You will have your hands full just learning the material. Don't add an extra layer of learning new technologies at the same time.

 

There will be time to go there later if you so decide. And as I've mentioned before, there's been a bit of back to the basics in my area for singles and duos - so just piano and vocals are certainly valid.

 

What to play (songs): Once again, what you're comfortable with to start - but (very important) in the style of the rooms you are interested in working. It's highly instructive to check out what's being played in potential clubs - something many guys don't like doing, but you will be happy you did if you do it.

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Only advice I can think of is, as with any thing more than solo, make sure she wants to do the same kind of music as you. And make sure you're not married -- wives (and girlfriends) seem to have a way of getting very jealous of us spending any kind of time with another woman, even when they know it's professional and totally platonic. get that shit straightened out before ever pulling out that first chart.

 

As for your gear, start as simply as you can. One stage piano, and then see where it goes. You may decide later on it could use backing tracks or a drum machine, or you may find its perfectly fine with two voices and one board.

 

Personally, it's always been my dream to team up with a good female vocalist who's also adequate at rhythm acoustic guitar, who doesn't mind sharing vocal duties and backing each other up. I knew such a singer way, way back when I had no gear or the means to get it. But I never found that perfect match since.

 

Good luck!

D-10; M50; SP4-7; SP6

I'm a fairly accomplished hack.

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I too play these types of gigs all the time. While I enjoy just playing acoustic piano and accompanying a good to great singer, that can get monochromatic/mono-dimensional for a whole night. So some level of additional sounds/arranging can help for variety's sake.

 

I use an arranger for this, and the key for me is to use it subtly, so it doesn't sound too canned (hopefully). Often I just have drums and some LH bass, other times I will switch to using fuller accompaniment so I can take a synth solo and be able to bend notes etc. But I always remix the arranger to turn down parts, and lose the busier aspects as you move up to the higher variations. Less is more.

 

I especially like remixing songs to not sound like the original. For example, I do a very down-tempo neo-soul approach to "Just Like A Star" (Corinne Bailey Rae) that is defined by the 808 drum groove and shimmery EP+pad sound I use. I'm playing my own LH bass so it is sparse, but sounds wonderful with the little bit of extra "sauce" and different groove.

 

Jerry

 

 

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And make sure you're not married -- wives (and girlfriends) seem to have a way of getting very jealous of us spending any kind of time with another woman, even when they know it's professional and totally platonic.

 

I would say that's a stereotype of a situation that can only be handled on a case-by-case basis, and isn't applicable to "make sure you do/don't do [X]" generalities. There's a female singer I work with frequently, and neither her husband nor my girlfriend fiancée (as of this past weekend) has the slightest problem when we do duo tours together. It needn't be an issue if everyone involved is, as they say, a grown-ass adult about it.

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Being an arranger keyboard user, the Korg PA4X, Yamaha PSR-s975 and Genos, and Roland VA-7 (not sold anymore) are good. Keep in mind that the Roland has the same sounds as the SC-8850. Same with the BK-3 to 9.
Yamaha MX49, Casio SK1/WK-7600, Korg Minilogue, Alesis SR-16, Casio CT-X3000, FL Studio, many VSTs, percussion, woodwinds, strings, and sound effects.
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This is a great thread! Reading the experiences of others I feel that somehow my entire career has just been played back for me in movie form!

Having done many duo acts, lounge lizard stuff, standards, light pop and jazz and almost exclusively with female vocalists the most important things I can either echo or add are:

 

1. Keep it business and don't encourage personal talk. IOW don't become her therapist nor should she become yours.

 

2. Travel light.

 

3. A quality, small PA is a must. Small venues really expose the quality of the vocal and piano sounds so you need something that makes the audience feel like they are listening to a CD in their living room. Clear, crisp and accurate. The portable systems like JBL, QSC and others are very good for this and they are light and easy to pack.

4. Back up parts. Mostly cables, extra wall warts and back up mics. Remember there are only 2 of you so it's not like a big band where they can possibly limp along.

 

5. This depends upon the style of music and the expectations of the venue but in general stick to simple instrumentation. Piano, Rhodes, maybe some simple string pads layered and that's about it. I have found that the audiences that go to see duo acts prefer the simplicity and intimate sound when it's kept simple. Use your judgement on this one.

 

Lastly get ready for some drunk to ask you to play Freebird or some Allman Brothers tune at most gigs. I dunno why, but I seem to attract them like flies.

 

Seriously though, some of my fondest memories have been doing a duo act. Lot's of fun and you can actually make some decent money at the same time.

Best wishes in your new gig.

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And make sure you're not married --
hmmm.... OK, this will require some work to verify.

 

Let me check, are there any marriage certificates on the walls of the house? ANS: Nope.

 

Any in the sock drawer? ANS: Not there either. hmmm. need to do some more investigation.

 

Is there a woman that lives in my house? ANS: Yes.

 

Was there a ceremony a number of years back with you and her? ANS: I think so, but it's been a while and my memory is shifty.

 

Does any mail come to the house addressed to both of you? ANS: I think so, but mostly junk mail.

 

Are there sometimes visits from relatives of the woman? If yes, do they have kids? If yes, do they call you Uncle? ANS: YES! I don't think that's total proof, but getting warm.

 

Does she text you to "get the milk" instead of "I love you so much, can't wait to see you"? ANS: YES!

 

Do you go to the bathroom in front of the woman? ANS: YES!

 

OK, I guess that settles it. I'm married. No duets for me.

Some music I've recorded and played over the years with a few different bands

Tommy Rude Soundcloud

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1. Keep it business and don't encourage personal talk. IOW don't become her therapist nor should she become yours.

 

2. Travel light.

 

3. A quality, small PA is a must. Small venues really expose the quality of the vocal and piano sounds so you need something that makes the audience feel like they are listening to a CD in their living room. Clear, crisp and accurate. The portable systems like JBL, QSC and others are very good for this and they are light and easy to pack.

4. Back up parts. Mostly cables, extra wall warts and back up mics. Remember there are only 2 of you so it's not like a big band where they can possibly limp along.

 

5. This depends upon the style of music and the expectations of the venue but in general stick to simple instrumentation. Piano, Rhodes, maybe some simple string pads layered and that's about it. I have found that the audiences that go to see duo acts prefer the simplicity and intimate sound when it's kept simple. Use your judgement on this one.

 

That's a pretty good working man's checklist for that type of gig.

I'd add one more.

6. Don't let the singer's husband, boyfriend, manager :mad: get involved in the business - booking gigs, selecting songs, dress code, any of it. It is the first step on the road to hell.

I've played with a lot of female vocalists (yes, the double entendre is intentional - my bad), and this nearly always came up at some point.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

 

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