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How to Sing While Breaking a Sweat: Tips for Triple Threats

Grease

John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, and Catherine Zeta-Jones are just a few of the Hollywood celebrities known for being “triple threats”–skilled in singing, dancing, and acting. Here, Corona, CA teacher Milton J. shares his tips for reaching their superstar status…

 

So you’ve decided to take vocal lessons to learn how to sing better, but the buck doesn’t just stop there for your own ambitions. You have your eyes set on the stage and the screen, and you won’t stop until you’re there. You may be doe-eyed and eager to learn, but you’re sure of where you want to end up. Your guide is nigh–just remember The Three P’s: Preparation, Practice, and Performance.

Preparation

That first wonderful step is taking vocal lessons. (And if you haven’t started those yet, what are you waiting for?! Book lessons with me, or find a teacher near you!) Finding a vocal teacher is very important in order for you to understand how to use your entire vocal cavity–not just how to sing. Taking vocal lessons will indeed improve your speaking and recitation voices as well.

Next, taking acting classes and workshops will allow you to put those new speaking and singing tools you’ve acquired into action, all the while improving your cue, marking, beat, and improvisation skills. From there, taking dance classes will start the third leg of your Triple-Threat race. Taking dance lessons will help you continue improving the skills you’ve picked up in your acting classes while adding in rhythm, technique, ensemble and solo routine, and vocal/dance incorporation.

Practice

You’ve heard the old adage time and time again–Practice Makes Perfect. It’s been around so long because it’s true; the best way to improve yourself after you’ve acquired the tools is to cultivate them into skills. After your vocal lessons, it’s important to do your daily vocal warm-ups and exercises to continue building strength in the muscles of your vocal cavity. After your acting classes and workshops, continue to run lines, blocking, and scene rehearsing. Visualization with a virtual stage at home can help to put all phases of your scene together. And after your dance lessons, continue doing your daily stretches and routine practicing in order to polish them up for the next class and, ideally, the eventual performance. P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E!

Performance

After the preparation, and after all of the practicing, the payoff draws near–the Performance. With your vocal lessons, seek out vocal opportunities either solicited from your vocal teacher or elsewhere. Community choral groups are a wonderful place to learn how to sing with others and cultivate your musical score reading skills. As a solo singer, your local coffee shop, bar, or music store may lead open mic nights for you to pop into and sing a few selections you’ve been working on for an audience.

For acting, look into your local community theater companies for audition opportunities. Check the audition dates (usually on their website or the theater box office) and ask your acting instructor for input on audition pieces if you haven’t already.

Lastly, for dancing, dance showcases are the perfect opportunity to strut your stuff. If you’re attending classes at a dance studio, chances are they’ll have a showcase coming up. If not, actively seek out showcases you can audition for–try your city’s Park and Recreation department, or other local dance studios. These organizations are always looking for new undiscovered talent or new dancers to join their ranks.

Preparation is the first step, Practice makes perfect, and the Performance is the goal. Now that you’re set with The Three P’s, you’re on your way to becoming the Triple Threat you know you can be! Break a leg!

MiltonJMilton K. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

 

 

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Singing Tips: How to Sing Into a Microphone

Tips On How To Sing Into A Microphone Best As a vocalist, there are many core techniques to learn in order to excel at your craft. From proper breathing and support to tone, range, and pitch, mastering the art of singing takes practice and dedication.

One of the singing tips that is frequently overlooked is microphone technique. All of your hard work can be undone if you’re not comfortable with microphone technique. The moment you sing into a microphone your acoustic voice becomes an electric instrument. Even with the best vocal technique, you will need to practice singing into a microphone in order to really shine. Here’s how to get started…

Step 1: Finding the Right Microphone for Your Voice

Microphones are a lot like the human voice; they are all different and have their own unique personality. If the personality of the microphone doesn’t complement the timbre of your voice, you might tense up or try to adjust your voice to fit the characteristics of the microphone. The best strategy is to experiment and find a microphone that works for you.

In general, for live performances you should be looking for a good dynamic microphone. There are many different manufacturers to look into, such as Shure, AKG, and Neumann. Go to your local music store and ask to try a few. If your voice is higher-pitched, look for a microphone that will reproduce but not emphasize the highs in your voice. Instead, look for something that accentuates the mid-range and lower end of your sound. By the same token, if your voice is lower and more full, a microphone that emphasizes the high end will eliminate muddiness and help you project your voice over other instruments or a loud audience.

Step 2: Learn How to “Play” the Microphone

The best way to approach working with a microphone is to think of it as an extension of your voice. Rather than “projecting” your voice like you would in an acoustic setting, let the microphone do the work and focus on your delivery, pitch, and emotions. Here are some key singing tips to keep in mind when developing your microphone technique:

1. Practice your angles. Every microphone has a “sweet spot” where it is most effective. If you sing into the microphone at the improper angle you may lose important tonal characteristics from your performance. Always sing into the center of the microphone, never the side or top. It takes some practice, but once you understand your microphone, it will pay off in a fuller, richer sound!

2. Hold the microphone properly for best results. Always hold the microphone by the shaft. While it may look cool to hold the microphone by the head, it can muffle your sound, or worse, create ear-shattering feedback from the PA.

3. Proximity effect is your friend! Most microphones used for singing live are subject to something called proximity effect. This means that the distance you sing from the microphone affects the timbre of your voice. Singing closer to the mic, for example, enhances the lower frequencies. This can be a pleasant sound, but if you find your vocals too “boomy,” try moving an inch or two back from the microphone.

4. Experiment with different vocal effects. Working with a microphone allows you to use various effects to enhance your voice. Try singing and adjusting the airflow through your nose, opening your throat to provide more resonance, and working on your glottal attack, enunciation, and vibrato. By working on these different techniques in front of the microphone, you can develop the muscle memory needed for performance. Treat using a microphone like any other vocal technique–practice it often!

As a vocalist, you have to practice many techniques in order to use your instrument well. If you study with a private teacher, he or she will be able to help you, as well. If you are ever planning on performing in front of an audience, practicing with a microphone can make the experience less stressful, more enjoyable, and will go a long way toward your personal and professional growth as an artist!

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How to Select the Best Songs to Sing at Open Mic

3407029143_48c0537645_bWhat are the best songs to sing at an open mic? Here, online teacher Liz T. shares her best tips for selecting a song and impressing the crowd…

 

If you’re a singer looking to get more experience performing your songs in front of a live audience, attending a live open mic is a great way to start! Open mics are becoming very popular these days, and you don’t have to live in a major city to sing at one. Many local restaurants, coffee shops, and colleges host open mic nights to build a music community and are very supportive of live music at their establishment.

Get to know the live music venues in your city and ask about their open mic nights, and how you can be a part! Keep in mind that some places will be free to play, but you will not be paid to play – or you actually may have to pay $10 or $15 to play one song. If you need piano or guitar accompaniment there may be a small fee for that as well.

Once you’ve found a good spot, it’s time to take the stage! Here are some tips for selecting the best songs to sing at open mic:

1. Pick a song you know. My advice is to pick something that you are very comfortable with singing at first. You might be nervous performing at a new space, and the crowds may vary from 2-3 people to 100 people. The best songs to sing are ones you know like the back of your hand. If nerves do start to kick in, you’re less likely to forget the melody or the lyrics!

2. Choose a cover song. Choose a song that another artist has made popular, a song that the audience will be familiar with already. Some of my go-to favorites are “Natural Woman” by Carole King, “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys, “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye. The crowd will really get in the mood, encourage you, and perhaps even sing or dance along.

3. Be yourself. There is no particular right or wrong style of music to sing at an open mic. Even when doing a cover song, try to be unique and individual as yourself. Just like on YouTube when you hear covers, you don’t want to hear them sing the song exactly like Alicia Keys. Give it your own interpretation, or if you are accompanying yourself, change the style or tempo of the song. You could do a country song maybe with an island/reggae feel for summer, or try doing a rock ballad a little more pop, with swing.

4. Perform an original Song. If you are a songwriter, open mics are a great place to start showcasing your original work, and to test if it works in a live setting. You can feel free to experiment at open mics, just make sure you are comfortable with the song before you start experimenting. Open mics should be fun, low stress, and truly for your and the audience’s enjoyment. It should be laid-back, but you still want to look professional on stage. Also, open mics singers usually perform with one instrument rather than a full band, either you and a guitar player or piano player, or you can accompany yourself. You can also use a background track, but then that tends to sound a little too much like karaoke.

So have fun, and enjoy performing for a live audience. Once you get comfortable singing at open mics, start keeping a book of different songs you could perform in the future. Good luck! You never know who might be in the audience; this could be your big break!

LizTLiz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music, including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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5 Things That Singers Should Never Do on Stage

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Ready to hit the stage? Read on as Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. reviews 5 rookie mistakes you should avoid during your next performance…

Singing on stage and in front of an audience is really special. Some estimate that only two percent of the world’s population will ever sing on stage by themselves. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Those challenges can seem bigger than our confidence performing. Perhaps the easiest way to feel confident singing on stage is have a short list in your mind of what not to do. As a 20-year veteran of the stage, I’ve created a list of what not to do when you’re singing on stage.

1. Stop singing
I’ve experienced it a dozen times. You’re singing just great, you feel good, then you get to the second verse, and your mind goes blank. You forgot the words. It happens. If you’ve rehearsed well enough with your bandmates or accompanist, then you can relax knowing that they’ll “come back around,” so to speak, and pick up at the moment that you dropped out. If they don’t, or if you’re performing with a recording, then you could still find a way to sing “la, la, la,” or you could even repeat the first verse. As silly as those might sound, they’re a lot better than dead air. Even a heckler or other distraction might make you think about calling it quits. Don’t stop singing.

2. Scratch
This is a tough one that I learned as a choir kid years ago. Even a singer in a large group scratching his face on stage can be really distracting to an audience. In a way, it can take away from the show. So just imagine how much less polished a solo singer must look. Now, let’s be realistic. Don’t torture yourself. If you have an unbearable itch on your face, then so be it. But do your best to wait until a song is over, or at least until the verse is over.

3. Apologize to the audience
I once heard a fellow singer at a church where I served apologize out loud to the congregation after what she perceived to be her mistake, in the middle of the song! Truly, no one probably would have ever noticed. But by saying sorry and bringing attention to it, she not only distracted the audience from the song’s message (which is why we sing in church in the first place), but also made them feel uncomfortable. In my book, a singer’s first job is to get and keep an audience comfortable, not disengaged.

4. Keep your eyes closed
While recording, I close my eyes sometimes. I even close my eyes while I perform for an audience, in moderation. But I can think of several singers whom I’ve heard perform beautifully but kept their eyes closed for a song’s entirety. In fairness, they might have had stage fright. But it doesn’t make you look cooler or make the song more meaningful. It closes you off to the audience. It impedes upon your ability to share. The singer and the audience have a relationship. In any relationship, there’s only so far that two can go together without sharing. Imagine meeting a person with whom you’d like to develop a friendship, but then telling her, “I want to be good friends, but sorry, I can’t tell you my full name, and I can’t have you over to my place.” Your potential friend might ask, “Okay, so what exactly can we do?” Don’t let this happen to your relationship with that crowd of yours. Remind yourself to open your eyes regularly. If it makes you nervous to look at people’s faces, then look at the back wall. The audience won’t know the difference, but they’ll still be able to see your eyes and their unique expressions.

5. Argue with your fellow musicians
Musicians are not always known for being even-tempered. Even famous performers like Tina Turner and Elton John have been known to argue on stage. But even between sets or songs, it’s unprofessional, distracting, uncomfortable, and frankly, childish. I’m not asking singers not to argue at all. I’m asking singers not to argue on stage while the audience is sitting right there.

Remember, the moment that you take a stage, it belongs to you until you leave it. You essentially own it. That also means, however, that you own what you do up there. Your show could be polished and professional. With a few simple reminders for ourselves of what not to do, what to do might just come naturally when it comes to singing on stage.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star, Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

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So You Want to Become a Singer? Here’s How to Get There

become a singer

Private lessons? Check. Big dreams? Check! But there’s one more part of the equation that’s integral to become a singer and reach your career goals. Find out as Monclova, OH teacher Carrie A. explains…

I can’t tell you how many students over the years have come to me saying they wanted to be on TV or Broadway. While those are great aspirations to go after, it really isn’t the place to start to become a singer. What I have found is a great way to get started is to look for opportunities to perform right in your own community. It is seriously a huge long shot to go from never performing at all, to being chosen for some sort of reality show. Without preparation and experience, it can really be a recipe for disaster.

I have performed in front on thousands of people numerous times, including once at Carnegie Hall. I, however, did not start there. I participated in lots of community theater, performed at weddings, did gigs at coffee shops, and performed at other small-scale venues before I had more distinguished opportunities. I understand the desire to perform in front of large audiences, but I strongly encourage my students to take advantage of every opportunity they have to perform, whether big or small. Every performance is an opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun. I’m going to give you some suggestions that I have given to my students that have opened lots of doors for them.

First, get a set list together. Whether you are a vocalist or instrumentalist, you need to have at least 10 songs prepared that you can use if someone gives you the opportunity to perform. Don’t be in a hurry with this step. Look for songs that mean something to you and flow well together. Work with your music instructor to find what fits you and go with that.

Second, gear up for rejection. You will be told no, probably multiple times. Don’t stop until you get a yes! I’m a professional singer and I’ve had to deal with the same thing. Don’t take it personally, just move on and get excited for when someone says yes.

Third, connect with area charity organizations and ask if they need music at their next fundraiser. It will be a chance to use music to strengthen the community and possibly create more connections for future performances.

Fourth, think of places you can give back and get performance experience at the same time. For example, lots of nursing homes will jump at the chance to have you come and entertain their guests.

Finally, don’t look down on any opportunity that comes your way. Remember in the beginning it’s all about getting yourself out there and letting people know you are available, and honing your skills at the same time. If that means you start by singing the national anthem at a local high school basketball game, so be it. One of my students did that very thing and now is invited by major car racing events to do the national anthem where she sings in front of 30,000 people and the event is televised. Bottom line – in the beginning nothing is too small if you really want to become a singer. Enjoy where you are and build to a great future in music!

CarrieACarrie A. teaches guitar and singing lessons, and tutors in various subjects, in Monclova, OH. She has a BA in music and business, and has been teaching and performing professionally for over 10 years. Learn more about Carrie here!

 

 

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Music Criticism: How To Handle a Critical Audience

how to handle criticismYears ago, I heard my first band would be featured in the local paper and I was so excited to read the article. I hurried home to read it and found that the short blurb was far from complimentary. A public critique like that can make you want to give up. I certainly wanted to hide under my bed for a week!

However, I have learned how to handle criticism and continued to make music that makes me happy. In the time since then, I have been lucky enough to receive both criticism and positive reviews. How sad it would have been if I had quit music over one review!

If you’re struggling to cope with a critique, here’s my advice to deal with music criticism gracefully and even learn from it. Read more

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Teacher Spotlight: Performance Anxiety and Motivation

guitarBeginner guitar players often go through the same struggles. Combating stage fright and feeling stuck are common, but working with a teacher who can help you through will certainly help. Below, Portland teacher Lance V. offers his advice…

 

I recently received this message from one of my readers.  She asks a few questions that gets to the heart of playing an instrument.  Here’s her message and below that is my response.

How to Build Confidence On Stage

Today we lost legendary R&B singer Etta James, whose adaptable style, powerhouse voice, and fiery hit “At Last” made her one of the most recognizable blues performers of all time.  Her talent has been recognized in several different ways, with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

As with many soul singers, a voice that powerful demands a commanding stage presence as well.  If you’re on the shy side, sometimes all it takes is some extra performing experience to break out of that habit.  Anytime you see an opportunity to perform, grab it!  And yes, that includes karaoke, as cheesy as it sounds.  Check out this great list of other ways to gain experience and increase your on-stage confidence:

- Open mic nights. Great for getting used to singing with a live band, and for getting seen.  Many bands started as a result of people meeting each other at open mic nights.
- Peruse Craigslist for bands looking for lead or backup singers.  (Being a backup singer is a great place to start if you have no prior live band experience.  You’ll learn a lot even as a backup singer.)
- Start or join an a cappella group.
- Student recitals. If you are taking lessons with a voice coach or at a music school, there are probably performance opportunities through there.  They may not be the rock-star performance situations you ultimately envision yourself in, but they’re valuable stage time nonetheless.
- Start a duo. Team up with a pianist, develop a repertoire, and start playing in restaurants and bars.
- Start a band. Easiest if you are a teen or twenty-something, before your peers have real jobs, kids, and mortgages.
- Hire a band. For those with deep pockets:  if you’re willing to pay for a professional band’s rehearsal time, even a novice could start a rock trio and play standard covers in bars.
- Try out for a role in a musical theater production.
- Join a choir. There are lots of community choirs – some are open to all ages and levels, others require auditions.
- Prepare yourself to sub in a party band. Even if you don’t win an audition to be a party band’s new lead singer, they may find themselves in a tight spot one day if their lead singer gets sick.  If you prepare a standard party repertoire, you’ll be ready to step in if and when a last-minute opportunity arises.
- Make a live music video. Design a stage area somewhere – your basement, your garage – and videotape yourself performing to backing tracks.  When you’re ready, call some musician friends and have them come over and play the song(s) live with you performing up front.  Videotape that and put it up on YouTube and on your own web site to help you connect with bands looking for singers.
- Learn an instrument. If you don’t play any instruments, guitar is a great one to start with because an acoustic guitar is very portable and is enough accompaniment.  This opens the door for you to write your own music and get hired for small gigs. (Search for a music teacher here!)
- Play on the street. If you do play guitar – or, once you have learned a few chords – go out somewhere and practice playing in front of people.

What are YOUR favorite ways to get performing experience, and what has helped your on-stage confidence?

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4 Things You May Be Doing Wrong at Gigs

Cee Lo Green found himself amidst some controversy this week when he switched up the lyrics for John Lennon’s Imagine during a live New Year’s Eve performance.  Instead of singing “Nothing to kill or die for.  And no religion too,” the line was changed to “And all religion’s true.”  Needless to say, Lennon fans raced to the Internet to voice their less-than-pleased opinions on the matter.  Behold, the power of live TV.

Performing live certainly gives you and your band a kind of power.  All eyes are on you, and at that moment, you can make or break your career as a musician.  But there are also a few common-sense rules to follow to ensure many performances to come.  Here are a few tips for what NOT to do at a gig:

1. DON’T…Show Up Late

Promoters and venues ask you to arrive at a certain time for a good reason. They need that time to load you in and get soundcheck set up. They are asking you to be there at that time so they can give you everything you need to have a great show. They’re not doing it to inconvenience you, and they’re not doing it because they just like to stand around for hours before a show actually begins.

Don’t arbitrarily decide that you think load-in is too early or that you won’t really need all that time for soundcheck. When you don’t arrive on time, no one else can do their jobs. Plus, it means that the promoter and venue may be paying people to stand around and do nothing while they await your fashionably late arrival – something that is not going to endear you to them. When you come late, you send the whole operation into panic mode and make what should be a calm time of prepping for a good show a completely stressful few hours instead – and that could affect your set.

2. DON’T…Abuse the Guest List

Even if a promoter or venue loves your music, that doesn’t mean that they want to lose money on your show. It may seem to you like you should be able to bring anyone into your show you want for free, but the thing is, your guest list spots aren’t REALLY free – they may just feel that way to you. Somewhere, someone is giving up the ticket price of every person who walks through the door gratis. You should negotiate with the promoter or venue up front how many guest list places you’ll get – and then leave it at that. Don’t go out before the show, waltz around town, pick up an entourage and promise them all free entry to the show. What you’re really doing then is asking the promoter or venue to fund your friends’ nights out. How is that fair?

3. DON’T…Overstay (or Understay) Your Welcome

This one is especially important if you are not the headlining band – but even if you are, it is important to adhere as closely to any pre-determined set length as possible. These stage times are drawn up to make sure the whole night runs smoothly, from changeovers to giving the venue enough time after your show to get everyone out and clean up. If you’re one of the support bands, if you go over, you’re taking time away from the headliners – a big, big no-no. If you are the headliners, the time you’re asked to wrap things up may have something to do with noise ordinance laws, licensing laws and all sorts of other regulations – your failure to stick by the plan could have serious consequences for the venue.

4. DON’T…Be a Diva

For a live show to really work, it takes a team effort. The people working at the venue and the promoter don’t work FOR you – they’re working with you. Treat them as such. It’s perfectly OK to ask for things you need to make your show great, but your approach makes all the difference. Give them the respect you’d like to have from them, and when things go well, thank everyone for a job well done. Even if you played the worst show of your life and only five people paid in, your good attitude is goodwill in the bank that will help you get another shot at another show.

Want to put in your own two cents?  Leave a comment below!

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How to be a Rockstar… On a Budget

If you haven’t already seen it, the Rolling Stone recently released their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists, and none other than Jimi Hendrix has topped the list.  We thought this was an excellent pick – his distinct style continues to inspire and influence musicians to this day.  Hendrix is a true rock legend – and if you want to get to that status someday, you’d better keep working hard.

Yesterday we discussed 7 must-read tips for planning your band’s tour as you start organizing and contacting promoters.  If you don’t have a lot of cash saved up, though, the idea of a tour may be much more difficult to conceptualize.  Luckily, it’s still possible to tour while on budget.  Just consider that a part of the adventure!  Here’s how to make it work:

1.  Consider how you will be traveling. For most bands this will mean long hours in a van of some type. Before you set out, have the vehicle serviced at your local shop. Have your mechanic change the oil, check the spark plugs and wires, air filters, radiator fluid, washer fluid, tire pressure, A/C operation and anything else that you can afford. This will help to uncover any issues before you find yourself on the side of the road outside Podunk, Iowa. Repairs on the road can be costly and interrupt your schedule.

2. Prior to leaving, determine how many hotel rooms that you’ll need and any special requirements. Do some homework and know how far you will travel each day and where you plan to spend the night. Check the Internet for hotels in the area and for special deals. Some of the discount websites can offer great savings, but be sure to read the fine print. Sometimes calling the local hotels directly will actually get you a better deal. Ask to speak with the general manager or reservations manager and explain your situation. If they can rent several rooms together, they might offer a lower price.  It never hurts to ask!

3. Food can also be a major expense if not handled correctly. In the van, bring along a large cooler and purchase drinks at the grocery store prior to departure. These are cheaper than at a gas station and will prevent some unnecessary stops.  For breakfast, consider the complimentary breakfast if your hotel offers one.  Also: sometimes before your show, the venue you’re at may provide food.  Always ask the venue owner about this possibility and you can even use it as a negotiation point.

4. Payments for gigs should be immediately deposited into a bank account. This can be done via an ATM or bank drive-through. Before you leave, check your bank for locations in the area of your gigs. This will prevent you from spending this money and limit you to the budget that you have prepared before departure.

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