File Under: Booking and Performing Live
If you took a video of you or your band performing a live show and played it back on mute, would you know which song you were playing based on just looking at it? This question is one of the tests that Tom Jackson, a live music producer, asks when he helps musicians create unforgettable live shows. Your songs don't sound the same, so why should they look the same? This is one of the ingredients to build the type of live show that packs the place and gets people telling their friends they "have see this band." It creates emotional moments -- connections between the artist and the audience.
Most musicians spend months creating and recording the music, even hiring a recording producer to help, but will spend only days working on their live show. This is a problem since in today's internet-driven music industry, live shows can produce the most consistent income for you.
As Tom Jackson says, “Just because you learned how to play music doesn’t mean you automatically know how to perform in front of an audience." That's where a live music producer comes in. A live music producer does with your live show what a record producer does with a recording. If you've never had the benefit of seeing Jackson in action as he restructures a live show, it's worth a look if he visits your city. Check out this interview which is a great introduction to Jackson and his advice on rehearsal:
Here are 5 key points to restructure your live performances to build a connection:
1. Learn how to move onstage.
There's a reason your audience comes to see you play live. The way that you move onstage sets the energy and is just as important as how you play the notes that they could just hear in a recording. If you watch the videos of the top musical performers on YouTube you'll find they make the audience the focus. They don't simply stand behind their mic stands song after song.
Moving on stage is not dance choreography. In fact, Jackson suggests that there are four different ways to get around onstage: walking, running, skipping (think AC/DC), and walking with purpose (walking like you own the stage). You can easily do each of these walking around your living room, but what about when you’re in front of an audience playing your guitar and singing? Just as basketball players practice footwork, Jackson reminds musicians they need to practice the fundamentals of movement while playing so it works with the music.
2. What works on stage isn't necessarily the same as the recording.
Don't just reproduce your three minute long "radio track" on stage. That's not enough time for you to create a connection to the audience in a live setting and the song goes by before the audience knows it. Stretch out the cool moments and hooks within your songs and emphasize them. Extend your songs for the stage. Create an intro and build suspense. Ramp up to the big chorus or moments. Highlight the hooks and repeat them. Sometimes, a little bit of the bridge might be perfect to bring to the beginning of the song to create a new intro. In the end, the song should serve the onstage experience. It should create showpieces and moments that elicit emotional responses in your audience that connect them to you.
3. The visuals should match the song.
The stage show needs to tell the audience where to look. A guitar solo is a chance for the guitarist to take the front of the stage as she starts her solo, and get the rest of the band out of the way to get everything out of the way between the audience and the guitarist. And if a song builds from nothing, the stage can also build by having musicians be offstage and coming on when it's their part. This creates anticipation, tension, and pressure for the audience. They become even more engaged as to what's happening. As you rework your songs (as it says in number 2 above), be sure to include extended sections or vamps to give you transition time to travel from one part of the stage to the other during the song between each part.
3. Play less songs and make the ones you play count.
You won't necessarily achieve the connection that you're looking for by playing more songs. Instead take these tips and create a live show with extended sections, filled with spaces and moments that grab the attention of your audience and pull them into what you're doing on stage.
4. Rehearse the same way that you intend to perform the songs.
If you don't practice performing as if you were standing on stage in front of the audience and using all the techniques discussed above, then you won't be truly ready for when you perform. Major artists don't leave their performances to chance -- all of those seemingly spontaneous moments are actually planned out. And if you don't do those in rehearsal, it's unlikely you'll be able to do it onstage.
If you restructure your live show with these concepts in mind, you'll be able to create impactful moments. Moments that emotionally connect your audience to you and your music. Set yourself apart from other artists who spend entire shows standing behind their mic stands and instead aim towards being a performance professional. One whose goal it to get the audience to come back again and again, bringing their friends and growing your audience each time.
- Tom Jackson Productions
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Photo credit: Mate Toth