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3 Lessons Musicians Can Learn From Mariah Carey's New Year’s Debacle

1Rather than playing the blame game and pointing fingers, Dave Philp looks at what musicians can learn from Mariah Carey's disastrous New Year's Eve performance, and how they can prepare themselves in order to avoid a similar issue.

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Guest post by Professor David Philp of William Paterson University and Music Biz 101

If you’re reading this, you know about Mariah Carey’s bad New Year’s Eve.  It has become a she said/she said argument between her camp and Dick Clark Productions.  We may never know for sure who was to blame (maybe Russian hackers?).  Regardless, here’s what we know:

  1. Mariah didn’t do a sound check.
  2. Her dancers could hear everything, because they didn’t miss a beat.
  3. She performed badly and a television audience of millions saw it take place in real time.

News & Social media took off with this.  From Twitter to Facebook to the New York Times, it seems everyone had an opinion about her performance.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  It happened and it wasn’t pretty.

What can musicians, both professional and DIY, learn from this?  There are some obvious lessons, and some not so obvious.  Let’s take a looksee:

3 Lessons Musicians Can Learn From Mariah’s New Year’s Eve

Lesson #1 – Never Miss A Sound Check

While there will be times that a sound check just isn’t possible, in most cases, the option is there.  This is needed for both the musicians and the sound person.  Other tech folks also want in, like the lighting person and guitar/drum tech.  Don’t forget dancers, who need to see how much space they have so they don’t fall off the stage and break a leg.  If you’re going to do a show utilizing Facebook Live or another similar app, your videographer will want to know where to stand and what angles work best according to sound and lighting.

sound board

Everyone in the room works together and needs that sound check.  Don’t be late for a gig so you run out of time and don’t let a promoter or club owner tell you “everything will be fine” without one.  I know of one group that was on a tour last summer with a handful of other artists.  The group eventually quit the tour, one reason being their sound check had dropped from 20 minutes per show to nothing.

And if you’re going to be on TV, your manager/label/mother should make sure that a sound check is in your contract.  It’s that important.

Lesson #2 – Plan Ahead

As a band, do you ever think, what’s the worst that can happen?  If you don’t, you should.  Whether it’s a rogue fan jumping on stage and hogging a mic during your signature song or your monitors cutting out as you sing the harmonies to “Seven Bridges Road,” you should have a discussion.  What do we do when (not if, but when!) this happens?

Lesson #3 – Make The Best Of The Worst

The lesson above leads directly to Lesson #3.  Mariah did not heed this lesson.  She pouted and complained and lashed out once the evening’s festivities were through.  The term “grin and bear it” that grandmothers from across the land have spoken to us for generations pertains here.  If you plan ahead, you can be better prepared with how to deal with this.  Adele has had a couple of very public technical issues over the past year that she’s been able to overcome.  Here’s what happened at the 2016 Grammys:

On Facebook, I saw somebody post how vocalist Stephanie Mills overcame sound glitches.  She simply kept singing and turned the song into an a capella jam.  Like with Adele, the crowd was on her side, cheering her along.

The audience is your friend.  Keep this in mind when things go wrong.  Use their energy and goodwill to help you get through those worst of times.  Because your monitor will shut down.  Or blow you off the stage with feedback.  Your earpiece will malfunction.  Your guitar cables will short out.  Your snare or bass drum head will break.  Your mic will cease to work.  Chalk these miscues up to “experience.”  The more you experience, the better you’ll be able to deal with any situation when it arises.

Don’t be a Mariah and don’t be a pariah.  Learn from her troubles and make sure you can deal better with difficulties than she did.

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Professor David Philp is Assistant Professor Music Management & Popular Music Studies at William Paterson University. He is the co-host of the only FREE advice college radio-based music & entertainment industry talk show in America,Music Biz 101 & More, which airs live most Wednesday nights and is available as a podcast HERE every night (days too).  Reach him at PhilpD@wpunj.edu or find him on LinkedIn HERE.

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