What I Have Been Working On
1. Self Development
The first task is to work on myself so I can be a great front person and band leader. When it comes to speaking in front of an audience at the beginning of the project I knew I was lacking in experience in that department, so I got vocal coaching sessions which I started in the summer. I even paid for an extra session after the funds allocated to that finished. I also plan to get another session before I go on stage for our first gig, just to make sure I’m on the right track.
I’ve also started online fiddle lessons with a great fiddle player called Tara Breen. This is with a view to compete in the fleadh but also to become an overall better trad musician. It’s always good to be able to play the tunes properly so they sound authentic. I’ve picked up tunes from all over the world, so it’s good to hone in my skills and get a cleaner sound.
It has been a journey actually finding the right teacher. The first teacher I picked was no longer available. Not everyone that teaches fiddle can teach for the fleadh. Additionally some are very expensive. I messaged Siobhan Peoples and later happened to run into her in Ennis, Ireland (more on my trips to Ireland in another blog post) and she put me in touch with a couple of people and finally I managed to connect with Tara. It’s been going well so far, I just need to practice!
2. Arranging the Music
When I first started I had a list of tunes I wanted to work with, but no idea how I wanted to mould them into my own sound. I'm delving into Celtic Fusion so I'm mixing trad tunes with rock, jazz, dance, etc. I’m the type of person that likes to gather a lot of information first and then put it all together into something coherent. So in the summer my approach was to 1. play the tunes with the guitarist (that I had at the time) and bassist, 2. have an additional practice with drums, and 3. throw some ideas around then 4. arrange them so they follow a direction that makes sense.
The one big problem for me it is very lonely and time consuming sitting at a computer by yourself trying to figure out how to put all the parts in any program (like cakewalk or garageband) to be able to produce a guide track. I know people who are more qualified than me in that respect to help get the job done quicker, so I enlisted the help of some music friends to collaborate with me to arrange some of the tracks. Along the way I’ve happened to learn a little bit and started to do some on my own, although the ones I’ve done myself are VERY rough guides hahaha.
So far I’ve managed to create tracks with different styles and listening to them live with the full band sounds great and it’s all so exciting! One track we’re still working on I call Marathon of Rave. It’s one big medley that starts off with an Irish tune then goes into all sorts of dance and rave covers. I’ve done this sort of thing many times as a duo with Sean and Adam but it’s very different if I’m the one leading. I have to map out exactly what I want to happen where, rather than just follow along like I usually do.
For the tracks that are completed, I’ve been playing along to my backing tracks at solo gigs or when busking so I can get used to my parts, get more exposure, and see audience reactions. Below are a couple of clips of the backing tracks:
4. Forming a Band
This has been a bit of a journey for me and has caused some delay with getting out there and performing. There are some excellent players around, but this genre of music is not suitable for everyone. The idea behind the this project is that I can collaborate with others and push the boundaries of what everyone involved has done before. I’ve learned that it just takes time to find people who are interested, available and are up for the task. Sometimes you think you find the right people, then you find out they have too many other commitments, for example. However, we are at the stage now where we are nearly ready to start gigging. We just need a bit (or a lot?) more individual practice and a couple practices with the whole band and we’re there. Not everything is completely arranged yet but it will come with time. It doesn’t all need to be arranged for our first gig because I have some ideas up my sleeve :-)
Some parts of the music I arranged with my music friends and some parts are formed by collaborating with others in the band. There are plenty of solos in there, and we have been experimenting with different ideas to see what works and what doesn’t. Some parts are very challenging but we have spent hours practising together to get it sounding right, and we are nearly there. They will sound amazing on stage!
For example, we’ve been able to practice in each other’s homes and rehearsal spaces which has been great. I’ve also secured a rehearsal space at the Queen Victoria in Lincoln for future rehearsals so that is a relief. This was through the help of another musician Micky McNulty who was asking around on my behalf. I take each day as it comes and I don’t have any expectations. I only hope that I can get us off the ground using my networking skills, and showcasing our talents!
What’s Coming Up
Our first big gig at SouthSide will be in May. The official date will be announced soon. I have been speaking to a few pubs to plan for 1 or 2 small gigs before the performance on stage just to get us all used to playing the whole set together. My full plan is to have a package ready to give to an agent so we can play in some festivals, but we need to just get a few smaller gigs out of the way first. The gig in May is mainly an introductory gig and I plan to have another big gig as an album release once it is done. Hopefully by the end of summer we will be there. In the meantime I’m beginning to line up some other festivals for us to perform at through the summer as well. Btw, if anyone knows of any localish festivals needing a band that is cool and a bit different, let me know!
2. Social Media
I’m just at the point in my project now where I’m starting all the work I need to do with social media and band promotion. The next steps are to get some better photos and video clips. I plan to do a solo video with my new rave track through Acoustic Nations. Additionally I’m going to use some clips from practices so people can get an idea of what to expect with a full band performance. Nothing special, for that one really, might even use my phone!
I am part of Nottingham Comhaltas (joined recently just to compete) and have been told the regional Fleadh is the 23rd of April. I have to prepare 4 tunes… I’ll have a reel, a jig, a hornpipe, and a slow air. I have to play the tunes through twice and the second time has to have a variation from the first one. Additionally since it’s the senior competition they expect the tunes to be of a certain difficulty level. I have a LOT of work ahead of me. Wish me luck!
That’s all the news I have for now.
Keep an eye on my Facebook page for announcements about gigs etc. I also post pictures sometimes on Instagram. Be sure to write your thoughts or questions in the comments section below!
Serena Smith is an American British violinist and fiddle player. I play full time as a street musician in addition to the live gigs I perform with several bands.