If I’m being completely honest, the first time I heard the name “Laptop Battle” buzzing around, it conjured thoughts of a dystopian desert-set thunderdome, or that memorable commercial for that 90s board game Crossfire. This is, apparently, not a leather-clad futurist brawl to the death, but rather a battle of the bands style elimination event for laptop musicians.
Laptop Battles website describes the event as a “fusion of sound design, composition and stage performance, and a chance for laptop (computer) musicians to prove their skills in battle and develop techniques and strategies.” For the first time competitor this can seem like a dauntingly vague set of rules to abide to. Here are a few tips I learned competing as laptop musician at my first Laptop Battle.
The performance is only as exciting as you make it. One of the arguable disadvantages of laptop music is running the risk of losing the audience by a lack of visible musicianship. If they can’t see whats going on, they will assume nothing is. I combated this be using a midi controller put in direct eye sight of the crowd. Additionally being active and dancing or moving to the music helps connect with the crowd. If you aren’t moving, why should they?
I can’t stress this enough. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of making new material that you don’t really have proper time to test it in a real time walkthrough. Almost everybody at one point or another during the event had at least one technical hiccup, and in instance this year a competitor spent 5 minutes on stage trying to get his computer to work in terrifying silence. This is the musician’s version of that “showing up to school only to realize you are naked” nightmare. I know its not glamorous or fun, but triple check all of your files are working and that your programs are up to date.
This is more or less the same as tip 2 but in a physical medium. Forgetting an essential cord or piece of hardware is a make or break even before you boot up your computer. I did not follow this tip and found myself without a proper audio connection to the stage mixer, relying on another competitors kindness so I could even play. Don’t be like me, don’t be that guy. Make a list and double check it before you head out the door.
Keeping an eye and ear on what resonates with the audience. This is great tool warming a crowd up and does not pertain just to musicians of the laptop variety. Watching how the crowd reacts not only gives insight into what will be the best song for your battle, but it also showcases adaptability which always looks better in the eyes of a judge. I mean who are you going to pick: the guy who played a great song that nobody cared about, or the other that made everyone loose their minds?
If you make a mistake, how do you react? In my opinion confidence is often one of the most underutilized tools in your arsenal. Lets say all hell breaks loose and for some reason or another you make a mistake during your set. The best thing you can do is shrug it off. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, odds are others are not going to either. To my knowledge most musicians are human and make mistakes, having a non-judgmental attitude will rub off on the crowd. People are there to have a good time, not to feel stressed out on your behalf.
Laptop Battle is nerve-wracking experience for even the most seasoned musician. You are going to be nervous, and you are going to sweat bullets, might as well look presentable after you play.