The Christmas Gig

Laura Clapp says that it’s possible for vocalists to not only to survive the Christmas gig, but to also thrive on its energy.

In a bar gig there is a buffer zone where people see you as the “entertainment”.

But the Christmas gig is often in a more informal setting like someone’s house; that buffer simply isn’t there – people can be fearless!

They may abruptly start singing along or offer suggestions in the middle of your piece.

Perhaps they’ve had too much to drink and they tip you to sing a funeral dirge in the middle of your Jingle Bells set.

And you never know how people might react to the music: a certain piece might bring back the fond memories of Christmas yesteryear or it may remind them of their dear grandmother who died while listening to the chorus. Minefields.

And, while we are on the subject, how many Christmas songs do you put in a set? How many times can you repeat Frosty the Snowman?

This week all of these concerns have returned; I’m gearing up to sing at more parties and celebrations than I can count.

Fortunately, there are strategies so that you and I don’t have to roast on an open fire.

Pre Party Practice
(It’s Not All Fun and Games at the North Pole)

It’s funny: in a way you know this music well, so the first inclination is to think, ‘Hey, I don’t need to practice this stuff…’

Familiarity can be misleading. To keep your vocal edge it’s time to practice and look for that special quality you can add to your songs.

This work will stand you in good stead in the performance; you will feel prepared and you will be able to treat the performance as a time to develop and reinforce your style.

As a part of my preparation, I’ve purchased a black three-ringed binder, the kind that I can easily put my sheet music into and keep open so that I can see the pages facing each other.

Oh, I know some vocalists swear off using sheet music at performances – but I want to be ready for anything.

Remember, the requests are likely to roll in fast and frequently for all kinds of music at the Christmas event.

With my reorganized music, there’s no panic-filled digging through piles of paper.

I even have my iPhone ready to go – to google lyrics and chords—hey, if I am getting a big tip to play a piece, I am going to do it!

Talk With The Venue Managers
(There’s a Hierarchy of Elves for a Reason)

Don’t assume that your audience wants to hear 14 Christmas songs in a row.

In fact, those sponsoring the event often have a very good idea about what their group would like to hear and how frequently you need to sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

This week I spoke with the organizers for one of my gigs and they were very explicit: “do five songs and then one Christmas piece”

Wow, did that ever take the pressure off!

Show up with the Right Equipment
(Santa’s Stuff is Fit For Purpose).

These living room or party gigs are often smaller spaces and so you don’t want your amplification to rip people’s heads off.

I find that the easiest solution is an all-in-one PA, where you have your amp, vocal and instrument inputs, etc. all in one unit.

I use SR Technology’s Jam 150 – it’s a gorgeous piece with a wooden exterior just right for an intimate Christmas setting.

If you don’t have this, just keep your volume way down – amplification in smaller settings shouldn’t be a focus, but an afterthought.

Remember, It Just Could Be a White Christmas.

Ok. Some gigs are crappy. Sometimes you get treated like background static and it’s difficult to get into the spirit of things.

But, remember, there is usually one person out there who is quietly enjoying your music, finding it meaningful. Focus on that.

Last week I was in a Christmas gig that was all “up hill”.

I was playing from 8pm-11pm and it was dead. The only person clapping was my husband – and he had to!

Then, a surprise: a party from next door came in and they tipped me to keep playing for them. In the next hour I sold 4 CDs and made $300 in tips. Talk about a White Christmas!

So, surprises happen.

And even when they don’t, remember that one person who is quietly thankful for your voice.

Let it Snow!

I love it when people sing along; that means they are having a good time.

Sure, when you’re in the middle of a song and they make a request and tell you a story, it gets a little tricky.

I just quickly tell them, “I’ll get to that in a few songs.” But if they tip me in the middle of their request, I’ll do their song next!

And I am going to wear a Christmas hat—but not a full Santa Suit. I think it’s important to dress well and festively to let our hosts know we are joining them in the spirit of the holidays.

Laura Clapp is a singer/songwriter who has worked in Nashville and has recently been backing vocalist for the legendary Howard Jones. Laura travels across the globe singing and leading demo sessions as a product specialist for TC Electronic. See

  • Mark

    Good advice. I’m a one-man-band keyboardist doing a lot of Christmas gigs right now…almost all at retirement communities. But what Laura says makes lots of sense for even that audience. They don’t tip, but their eyes light up. I especially like Laura’s comment about breaking up all holiday songs with some other pieces. It can get a little old without that. Thanks.