The time has come. The band is set up on stage, the air is electric with the audience’s energy, the lights come up and before you know it you and your bandmates are performing the songs you’ve spent years fine–tuning. You are proud of the quality of music you are performing, but what else goes into a live show? Tom Jackson is a live music producer who has worked with big names like Taylor Swift, the Band Perry, and Jars of Clay in Nashville. In this blog post, he notes that major entertainers spend as much time in the studio making a record as they do preparing for a tour. “The best live shows are a combination of form and spontaneity during which the artist is in control and always knows where exactly they are headed. They then lead the audience exactly where they want to go.” Though it seems counterintuitive, “practicing” your spontaneous performance is important. Bands that rehearse what they will do at each show develop an on stage muscle memory of what works so they don’t have to think about how to move, where to set up, or how to read an audience at the end of each song. It will become second nature to them, and then they can pour their personality into the performance after the fact.
Interaction with your audience is another important aspect of a live performance. Something as simple as asking your audience questions can create a personal connection any number of people from two to two hundred people. Monica Kinsey, owner of Chattanooga music venue Track 29, said that her favorite shows are the ones where the artist has high energy and does things as simple as talk about every song as they changed guitars or explain why they wrote it. Make eye contact with your audience and be present and in the moment. Plug yourself into open mics and get used to performing in front of an audience. They can show you what songs need work. You can learn so much by doing.
Tom Jackson echoes that same idea of engaging your audience when he talks about how to choose songs that will give your concert a strong start. “The first six to eight minutes of your show will usually set the stage for the rest of your set. I suggest you pick two strong songs and package them together so you can unwrap them for the audience in a well rehearsed way and with the right endings that let you measure the audience response. That way you can decide which way to go next.” Powerhouse performers like Beyonce or Katy Perry typically start their concert sets with one of their most popular songs and they feed off of the audience energy as they sing along with millions of people. Your songs may not be known by millions (yet) but begin your set with the songs that you are most proud of. Read your audience’s reaction, and see if it connects with them. This introduction is very similar to your elevator pitch to a business mogul on why you are a brand worth endorsing.
Nick Lutsko is a popular local performer who has created a special niche for his experimental story telling ballads with the help of his puppet band. When asked what makes his music different from others, he said that he tries to create a well–rounded experience for his audience that combines high music quality and an extension of his creativity that goes beyond having puppets onstage. He has been playing with his band for several years now, but the decision to use puppets has been a recent one. “I’ve played some of the same songs for years,” he said, “and there’s a big difference between seeing four more dudes playing in yet another band and elaborately adorned human-sized puppets shredding the stage. By using costumes, people tend to be captivated because there is something new and interesting onstage, and then they begin to really listen and realize that the music is good too. If I hated the music but I knew would get people’s attention by having puppets play, then I’d feel guilty about it. But I don’t feel that way because it’s fun and I’m passionate about it.”
When asked who he saw as good examples of engaging performers, he mentioned Chattanooga’s local artists Dan Pinson from Danimal Planet, Strung Like a Horse, Maria from Smooth Dialects, and TJ from the Communicators. These artists exhibit high caliber performance qualities because of their compelling stories, engaging music, and ability to connect with their audiences. If you would like an opportunity to work on your performance persona by engaging with audiences out in the streets of Chattanooga, take a look at Sidewalk Stages and consider signing up when we open up a second round of auditions this summer.