This is a guest post from Tom Jackson, a world renowned producer, author and speaker with expertise in helping musicians improve their live show. Follow him on Twitter @onstagesuccess
I’m a live music producer, and I’ve been working on artists’ shows for over 20 years. I help artists take what they are trying to communicate and put it in a language their audience can understand.
I’m not a dance guy or choreographer. I don’t do staging, sound, or lights. What I do is help artists get a vision for their show, help them be more comfortable and spontaneous onstage, and teach them to connect with an audience without changing who they are.
I know the process of how to take the songs in your show and develop them into an engaging, fan-building, moment-making concert. It’s a long process. But as the Chinese proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Or, in this case, it begins with 3 steps:
1. Choose “planned spontaneity” over “winging it”
One of the biggest mistakes an artist can make is thinking their only two choices are “being rehearsed” or “being spontaneous.” In fact, I believe that a tight, rehearsed band is in a much better position to be spontaneous and find new ways of expressing themselves on stage than a band who is just “winging it.”
Ironically, something that happens spontaneously during a performance can get a great reaction from the crowd, which leads the artist to incorporate that into their next show. So the element of spontaneity is gone, but that doesn’t mean the performance suffers.
The comfort that comes with being a well-rehearsed band is what leads to moments of spontaneity. Otherwise, it’s very easy to come across as sloppy or unprepared.
2. Take your rehearsal to the next level
One of the most misunderstood things in this business is what should happen in at rehearsal. We are constantly getting calls in our office from artists getting ready for tour who don’t understand what we really do, or what goes into creating a great show.
“We have this important tour coming up… can you work with us for half a day?”
When we get a call like that, it’s obvious that our versions of rehearsal are very different things. If they’re lucky, we might get through a song or two in a half day. Rehearsal is way more than just learning the songs, practicing them, and running through them so the songs can be “tight.” That is what I call “practice.” And while that is important, it’s only the beginning of what a real rehearsal is.
According to Kevin Kelly’s “True Fan” theory, a True Fan is someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. More importantly, they buy moments — not songs. Your rehearsal should be the laboratory to create moments in your show that make True Fans (not the place to just learn songs and get them tight). If you want your merch sales to jump, make some moments for your audience.
Rehearsals should be creative and inspired, a place that leads to risk-taking, experimentation, and spontaneity. Take the time to get a vision for your songs so you can turn them into captivating moments for your audience.
“People have spent money on a ticket, and maybe that money is the equivalent of them spending a day of their life at their job, or half a day. Money is absolutely time,” says St. Vincent in an article by the Village Voice. “I feel, now, that it would be disrespectful to work out the kinks on the people who spent a day of their life making the money to buy the ticket to come and have an experience.”
3. Rearrange your songs for your live show
One of the best ways to create these moments for your audience is to rearrange your songs for a live setting. Audience expectations are very different when listening to the radio than they are when attending a live show, so if you play your songs just as they were recorded, you’re missing a great opportunity to rearrange your songs and create a unique live show. To do that, you need to develop two things: themes (musical, vocal, rhythmic, etc.) and characters (creating space for your personality to come out).
Your audience is at your show for three reasons: to be captured & engaged by what you do, to experience great moments, and to have their lives changed in some way. As musicians, you can get caught up in the moment of being on stage and think that your show is creating that kind of experience. And it probably is for you — but not for your audience. That’s what a huge part of rehearsal is: finding themes in your songs and rearranging them so they become moments for the audience.
I’ve only touched on a few things to think about so you can begin to change your good show into a great live show. Learning to do a great show doesn’t just happen. It’s a process that involves rethinking your show and its importance in your career.
What steps will you take to make your live show great?
Tom Jackson, world renowned Live Music Producer, author of the book Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method and the All Roads Lead to the Stage DVD series, is a master at transforming an artist’s live show into a magical experience for the audience! Tom has worked with hundreds of artists in every genre, including major artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jars of Clay, and more. He also shares his expertise as a highly demanded speaker at colleges, conferences & events worldwide. For more information and resources for your live show, go to www.OnstageSuccess.com.