“My first introduction to Ghezzi was the CD “Clearing,” which I reviewed last June. There is a danger in hearing a band on CD before you hear them live. Unless the band consists of some sharp, creative musicians, there is a very real possibility that what they have sculpted onto their CD is of a finer quality than what they can produce from a live stage. So I had to stop in and hear this band when I saw they were in town, and I can tell you truly, I was not disappointed. This band is not as good as they are on their CD. They’re better.” – National Music Reviewer, Alan Hall
I treasure that review from an industry pro who is also a fantastic musician and classically trained composer. So, how is your live show? Rising above the noise is a daunting task in today’s industry with the millions of talented musicians out there. If you missed it, I talked about this in my blog from last week, which you can read here.
Your live show is everything. It defines who you are as an Artist and what perception your fans have about you and your music. Are you subdued, drawing the crowd in with quiet, heartfelt and well-crafted songs; or are you theatrical, over the top and driving your sound into the souls of the crowd? Regardless, to make a real connection with your fans you must give it everything you’ve got. Intensity is the key. Intensity doesn’t always mean being bombastic. Sometimes a whisper holds more power than a scream. A single well-placed, well-played note can hypnotize an audience. You must bring intense energy to the stage, in whatever form it takes. A quiet moment in the middle of your set where it’s just you and a piano can be the most intense moment of the night. It’s all in your delivery.
So where do you start creating a killer live show?
Practice includes working on your individual skills and the material.
Rehearsals are different: you are shaping the live show & experience by working through a set list, and building the show in a way that creates moments for the crowd. Each show is different and each audience is different. Personalize your show to the demographic and to the style of venue you are in. This can be as simple as talking about the city or venue you are in, but don’t be patronizing about it. Don’t approach every event or venue the same way. Think it through, and know your crowd and the city you are playing to.
Rehearse the show until it becomes like breathing; you’ll hit the bandstand more relaxed and the music will come to you.
Make it a SHOW
You are in the entertainment business so don’t forget to entertain. Things to consider include decor, costume, visuals, and theme; as well as dancers and theatrical performers (if appropriate). This does not have to be elaborate; smaller bands will not have the budget for a rich production, but even simple attempts will add to the overall presentation. Put up a few decorations or props, have some interesting things to look at like video or lighting effects (you can bring your own to add to any venue lighting; again, does not have to be elaborate) and dress to look the part.
Remember to stay true to your brand and keep it real!
Play with The Audience
This one needs to be stressed because it is so important. Your job is NOT to play music for the audience, a jukebox can do that; your job is to entertain them. Give them a reason to drive 200 miles to see you again! Because of the power of her live show, I would think nothing of getting in my car and driving 800 miles to NYC to see Brandi Carlile. She takes your head off as soon as she hits the stage, it is magic. Engage the audience and allow them to participate in the energy of the show. These people are your fans and super fans, and they have as much to do with the show as you do, unless you like the idea of playing a concert for the venue staff. Play for and to your fans. Banter with the crowd, shake hands when possible, be accessible to those people at the front stretching their arms out trying to get a little notice, make eye contact.
Fans want to connect with you and they are willing to pay good money to do it. Don’t let them down. They can make or break you, so be humble and grateful!
Connect with Each Other
I’ve seen so many bands who seem uncomfortable performing together on stage. It’s a total turn off. Look at each other, laugh, cry, be genuine, and let the fans know that you are a unit and force to be reckoned with. Play to each other, connect with and appreciate each other. Get every band member involved. Fans love it when the band members have fun together.
Public displays of dislike for one another will not win you fans…but it might lose you some!
Be available to Your fans
If you aren’t willing to take the time to talk to people before, during and after your show, forget about it! The days of the aloof Rock Star are over. People want to get to know you and feel your gratitude. Be available to sign merch, hear feedback (good or bad), get to know the names of your fans and give them the attention they deserve. Take the time to ask about their lives and make some real connections at your shows. I have fans that have stood by me for 15+ years. They come out of the woodwork when I gig. I am forever grateful and never take it for granted. But I have always taken the time to get to know the people who come out and support my live shows. I owe them everything. Fans will tell you what they think, believe me and they won’t hold back. Take it all with grace even if it’s negative. Your attitude can really make an impact on every person in the room. As Artists we open ourselves up to criticism so don’t cop an attitude if someone doesn’t dig what you do. If you can’t take it, find another profession, you aren’t cut out for the Music Business!
Don’t Piss off The Sound Man!
This is my biggest pet peeve with musicians in clubs. For God’s sake the sound man holds your entire show in his/her hands. Be polite, respectful and treat them with dignity. To all musicians that ignore the sound man’s suggestions, or have a bitchy attitude and act demanding: who do you think you are? If you want them to press the “suck button,” then continue to behave like an ass and you’ve got it coming.
A great sound man/woman is a beautiful thing. They can help you to shine by adding to the atmosphere and intensity of your performance. Take the time to get to get know them; buy them a beer, and be grateful. Remember, they know all the booking agents, club owners, and promoters: they can “open doors” for you…or ensure that you never hit the bandstand in that venue again. It’s up to you.
One final note here to all musicians: whatever your end goal is, you need to be out there performing. You will never get anywhere hanging around in your basement waiting for someone to discover your talent. Solo artist, sideman, touring musician, writer…you have to be seen and heard. Otherwise, it ain’t happening. Truth. Suck it up, get your act together and put yourself on the stage. What are you waiting for?
Check out The New York Times list of best live performances of 2012. What is your list?