Andrew Bird’s First Solo Concert Was An Accident

Andrew Bird said his first solo gig was an accident. Fortunately for us, we can learn from this.

Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird (photo via Philadelphia Magazine)

Bird was in a band called Bowl of Fire, which had a nice run, but he disbanded it in 2003. In an interview with the Cleveland Scene, Bird talked about this first concert on his own.

“The first show I did solo was totally accidental,” he said. “It was only because I couldn’t get the band together, and I didn’t want to give up the gig.”

He had been experimenting with looping his instruments, but he wasn’t sure if looping would work at a live show.

“I thought no one would buy it,” he said of the looping. “Something about that high wire act and trying to do that on stage turned it into a different performance experience. Having to pull out of nosedives on stage and talk your way out of it was risking more.”

With this first gig, he took a chance. He improvised.

And it paid off for him.

“A couple of years into the solo thing, people were showing up more than I ever expected,” he said. “There was an initial insecurity, but after that I enjoyed packing up my Honda Element with amps and doing it all myself.”

When you’re faced with something outside of your norm, outside of your comfort zone, try improvising. Try taking a chance.

It just might pay off for you.

Dear Musician, Watch A Video Of Yourself Performing

I promise I don’t sit around watching videos of myself performing. 

But sometimes the videos just end up in front of my face. And I don’t regret it.

My wife and I recently held a fundraising event for our adoption fund — we had an art auction and my band and I played the music. The weather was perfect, we had a nice sound system and a helpful sound guy, tons of people came, and there were no glaring issues.

But then my wife showed me a video of us performing my song “Play A Little.” And, man, my voice was so flat.

I’m not looking for reassuring compliments and I’m not being fakely humble. I actually hear the flatness in a lot of my notes.

This is a common occurrence after I play a show — someone will post a video of us playing, I’ll watch it, and quickly turn it off when I hear how off my voice gets at points.

For example, at this concert, we jumped into the bridge of “Be Like Friends,” and the note I hit was WAY off. I couldn’t find the right melody, so I said, “Let’s just skip this part of the song,” and we moved on to the verse as people laughed.

Now, some people might think watching a video of yourself is egotistical, and they’d be right — it can be. But it might not be. It depends on your motive. Ask yourself: why am I watching this video of myself?

For me, I wouldn’t know how to improve my singing, stage presence, or guitar playing if I don’t look at things realistically.

And that’s what videos provide — a dose of reality.

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If I hadn’t seen this video (or the many videos before this one), I would go on thinking my voice sounded flawless and that we just put on the most amazing performance that people will be talking about for years, telling their children and grandchildren about the time they saw Caleb J. Murphy the Great.


That’s why musicians (like me) should watch videos of themselves performing. Not to build their ego but to break down their often false perception of themselves.

That way, they can begin to rebuild, strengthening their performance skills.

What A Dancing Old Man Taught Me About Stage Presence

At a recent open mic, an old man reminded me of the importance of stage presence by doing an interpretive dance. 

Yes, and he was the best act of the night.

We’ll call this old man Larry. After a few people with their guitars sang a few songs each, Larry got up and announced he’d be reading some of the lyrics he wrote because he forgot to bring his keyboard.

He glared at his notebook through the glasses sitting on his nose. He would read a sentence of lyrics, flip the page, read another sentence of lyrics, and so on.

“These are short,” he told us with a smirk.

He then announced he’d be showing off his dance moves. I had no idea what was about to happen.

After the crowd called the sound man out of the bathroom, he turned on an old R&B tune at Larry’s request.

Then the music took over Larry’s short and stout body. He started shaking his hips, waving his arms in the air, and lip-syncing to the song.

It was amazing to watch.

I was worried he might hurt himself. But he didn’t. No one else seemed worried because everyone was smiling and laughing, and he was too.

With no instrument and a desire to have a good time, Larry was making everyone’s night, including his own.

RELATED: As A Musician, Stage Presence Is Crucial

When he finished his performance, everyone clapped and people shouted. He had solidified his position as Best Performance of the night.

And I learned two things about stage presence from watching his performance:

  1. Stop caring what people think
  2. Have fun

As a performer, your joy is contagious. People will see how much you don’t care and how much fun you’re having and they will follow suit.

More musicians (like myself) should be more like Larry.

And we should all be more like this guy…

3 Tips For Nailing A Cover Song In Concert

My band and I covered Mister Rogers’ “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” and it sounded really bad.

And I’ve learned some valuable lessons from watching the Facebook video.

We looked ridiculous — four grown men huddled around a mic playing out-of-tune toy instruments (except for Ben, the guy playing melodica…he actually sounded good).

People usually get a kick out of seeing us play this song.

But we sounded really bad this time. Well, I sounded really bad — I was singing off key and doing all-over-the-place vocal “runs.”

Yeah, not our brightest moment as a band (and somehow the only video from that night that ended up online).

RELATED: As A Musician, Stage Presence Is Crucial

So to avoid being like me and my band that one time, take note of these three things you’ll need to make sure your cover songs sound good. (Note: these tips are not for cover bands).

Keep it classic

If you pick an obscure song, no one will even know it’s a cover. Play a song people can sing along with.

Songs that pretty much every band covers:

These are all safe bets. But if you want to get creative, cover a pop song in your own style. It’s fun for you and for the audience.

Don’t overdo it

Surprise is an underrated aspect of a concert.

If you do covers too often, each cover will have less of an impact. Also, people might start thinking of you as a cover band, not the original artist that you are.

I feel like 2-3 cover songs per 2-hour concert is safe. More than that, in my opinion, would be too much.

You’ve got to nail it

A band that nails cover songs every time is Walk off the Earth (example above). You might even get people to like your version better than the original.

But if you butcher a song that everyone loves, everyone will hate you.

The best way to approach this is to cover a song in your own style. That way, it’s not directly comparable (or contrast-able) to the original.

And practice the heck out of your covers. Know the song by heart, don’t bring music stands with the lyrics. It just looks bad and unprofessional. (Although some people use an iPad attached to their mic stands, which is more subtle and doesn’t really bother me personally).

But most of all, just have fun up there…

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