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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

5 Live Show Mistakes Bands Make

Band playing image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
I recently came across a post on CD Baby's DIY Musician blog about the Top 5 Mistakes Musician's Make With Their Live Show that I thought was great. The post was by Tom Jackson, who specializes as a live show producer, which is something that we need a lot more of. I've written a lot on this subject in How To Make Your Band Sound Great, but Tom has some tips that I'd never thought of.

Here are the 5 mistakes that many bands make:

1. “Winging it” is mistaken for spontaneity.  I constantly run across the attitude of “Dude, I’ve got to be spontaneous – I can’t rehearse my show!” Sometimes my reply is “Awesome – but if you really want to be spontaneous, make up the song right in front of the audience… that’d be real awesome!”
Instead of learning the right way to be spontaneous onstage, they mistake “winging it” for spontaneity! They jump around onstage and try different things, hoping something will work. And here’s the irony – when they do something verbally, visually, or musically in front of the crowd one night that gets a great response, they do that same thing the next night, too.
So where did the spontaneity go? They do the same thing they did the first night because it worked! That’s because spontaneity and winging it are 2 different things. In fact, if we rehearse right, we will leave room for spontaneity in our show.
2. Practice is mistaken for rehearsal. But most artists don’t realize there is more to getting a live show ready than just “practicing” the music. Rehearsal involves the musical, the visual, the verbal, the rearranging of songs that were written for radio so they work live, and more.
3. Song arrangements intended for radio are mistakenly used for live shows. We know the rules for getting played on radio: 3-4 minutes long, a certain form, short intro, etc. But a live show and radio are 2 different things! Your audience’s expectations are different at a club or concert hall than they are when they turn on a radio. If you play your songs just as they were recorded for radio, you’re making a big mistake. Those songs need to be rearranged to create a compelling live show.
4. Artists assume the audience wants them to sing songs or play music. Audiences go to a live concert for 3 reasons: to be captured & engaged, to experience moments, and to have their lives changed in some way. As musicians, we make the mistake of thinking (partly because it’s us, our adrenaline is flowing, and we’re playing our own music) that we are awesome onstage and there are “moments” all through our songs. And there are – for us. But we need to create moments for our audience!
5. Artists’ songs all look the same, even though they don’t sound the same. As an artist you know your songs are all different. They have different themes, melodies, rhythms, and tones. They don’t sound the same. But (for 95% of artists out there) they look the same. You need to be as creative with your show as you are with your music. Communication with your audience is 15% content, 30% tone or emotion, and 55% is what they see. So it can be a real problem if your songs all look the same, because to an audience that doesn’t know who you are, your songs will start sounding the same. Most artists typically do the same thing onstage over and over for every song: the same movement from the same place… big mistake!
This last point I think is especially important. When you go to a concert to see a world class act, the show has a dynamic flow, not only song-wise, but visually as well. That's something completely missing with most club bands, but that's perhaps the most important part of a live show.

This is an excerpt from the original article, so be sure to check out the whole thing.


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Unknown said...

Hi Bob, love the blog!

Regarding Point #4, I respectfully disagree. While in the club trenches, I observed that "the audience just wants to dance and sing along".

Sure, in any crowd there's a few bright minds searching for meaning, discerning sublime nuance, and respectfully complimenting the artist after the show over a nice merlot. But that's not most people at most shows. More typically the guys and gals just want to have a few drinks and smiles, and belt out their favorite songs like it's Queen at Wembley.

For clarity, I consider "moshing" and "head banging" as genre-specialized dancing.

Anyway, I only mention because I'd like to contribute to the great advice you've posted here. Gigging musicians are wise to keep a big mental picture, and remember that pop/dance and especially stadium rock basically exploit these primate behaviors for dollars. A happy listener buys more beer and merch.

Which is jaded, I know. But it's true enough that I wish I had listened when I was told that my band probably wasn't going to do much sales writing 7min 11/8 prog opuses. Most people just want to dance and sing along, I say.


Anonymous said...

I think you are misinterpreting what Bob was saying. I take it to mean that the band has to engage the audience in the performance, not just play the songs correctly (as though the music alone is all that is needed), or make music that doesn't take the listener into account.

Dave - Co-Founder of said...

These are some really great points. Having led several bands throughout the course of my life I have learned some key things and you have covered a number of them. One point to add is consistency when rehearsing. It's easy to get sidetracked when in rehearsal and to get over-focused on one part or section. But I've found that committing to playing the set down every rehearsal works magic over time. It's not to say that there's no place to sit down and work out a part, but the tightest bands I've been in have always made playing the set down a priority.


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