The “Four P’s” is a term used to describe the traditional Marketing Mix: Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion. I’m borrowing from that expression to talk about the Four P’s of Playing Live Shows: Preparation, Promotion, Performance, and Post-Show. This series of blog posts will cover the things that you can be doing as a live performer to maximize each show. In Part 3, it’s all about your performance:
The Four P’s of Playing Live Shows: Performance
What makes for a great live show? A concert is a very subjective experience, so the answer really depends on who you ask, and genre of music can be a huge factor as well.
So when thinking about this third “P”, I tried to come up with a few universal characteristics that contribute to a great live performance, that can (maybe) hold true for every genre:
3 Universal Characteristics of a Great Live Performance
“Are you delivering something with enough authenticity and passion that people demand you do it again for their friends?” - Seth Godin
Play like it’s your last show, ever - A lesson from Charles Bradley
“I sing every time like it's the last show I'm doing.”- Charles Bradley
It’s hard enough to launch a music career in your 20’s, let alone your 60’s. But at the tender age of 64, soul singer Charles Bradley launched his solo career with his debut album "No Time For Dreaming" on Daptone Records. Charles Bradley realizes how fortunate he is, and takes advantage of every show he plays by treating it like it could be his last.
Although it might sound extreme, when you think about it, the only time that exists is the present; there is no past, and there is no guarantee of a future. So if bands treated every show like it could be their last, the energy and passion that would come through would no doubt help make for a great performance.
Don’t Be Afraid to Embrace Spontaneity - A Lesson from Dan Mangan
I first saw Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Mangan at the OCFF conference in October 2010. I’ll never forget that at one point during his showcase, Dan jumped down from the stage and started singing while walking through the audience, encouraging them to join in. It was a risky move, because the room wasn’t filled with hundreds of his fans, but with industry types who might not go along with him. He was leaving himself incredibly vulnerable, and it could’ve easily backfired.
But his gamble paid off, and the crowd clapped and sang along, and before you knew it, 200+ music industry people were helping to create a truly magical moment at his showcase, and a conference highlight for many who were there.
3. INCLUDE THE AUDIENCE
Get the Audience Involved - A Lesson from Rich Aucoin
This ties into the previous point, but deserves special attention: audience participation. It can take form in many ways; a sing-along at a folk show, clapping at a gospel show, waving your arms in the air at a hip-hop show, or handing the audience hundreds of glow sticks at an electronic music show.
But I witnessed a truly unique form of audience participation at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal a few years ago. There was a small tent along a dirt path between two sets of larger stages where artists were busking to raise money for War Child. With the distraction of mobs of people and lots of other music going on at larger stages, many people walked by with barely a glance at the tent. But not when Rich Aucoin performed.
He poured so much passion and energy into his performance (point #1), even climbing a tree that was next to the tent while continuing to sing (point #2). But the real highlight was when he broke out a parachute and had the audience hold it up and dance underneath it. Remember doing that when you were a kid in gym class? Yeah, good times.
I saw a lot of big name acts at that festival, but I ended up talking about Rich’s performance more than any other.
Improving Your Performance
This all begs the question: how do you know if you’ve given a great live performance? Obviously, much of it can be instinctual; getting a feel from the crowd, sensing whether you’re connecting with them or not. But here are a few ways to get feedback and insight on your live performance that can help you to make improvements:
Ask Your Fans
Talk to fans right after the show, send a survey by email, or create a poll on your website asking their opinion. You can even set up a Twitter hashtag for the show and get real-time feedback from the audience.
Record the Show
You never know how you really look onstage until you see a video of it. It can be a painful exercise for many artists (many feel uncomfortable, similar to how some actors can’t watch their performances in movies), but the potential payoff is huge. There are no doubt lots of ways you can improve the look/dynamic and performance on stage, and seeing the performance on video is one of the best ways to assess and make those adjustments.
Get Feedback from an Objective Source
Ask the bartender, the booker, or other staff at the venue about your live performance, they might offer some great insight that others might not. You can also talk to your manager, booking agent, label, or even friends & family. Just be sure that the person you’re asking can tell you the truth without sugar-coating it, or on the flipside, without being mean about it.
Whichever way you get feedback, you’ll likely find some of it helpful, some of it less helpful, but there might be recurring themes that you can pick up on, and those are the things that can help you make tweaks to your show.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This one is a no brainer. If your band isn’t rehearsing, your band isn’t improving. And if there is any question within your band whether you should be practicing or not, please refer to this chart.
Get Outside Help
On an individual level, every musician can improve the performance of their own instrument, be it guitar, drums, or your voice. Practicing on your own is of course one way to improve and stay sharp, but getting outside advice or formal lessons from a teacher can make a huge difference in your technique, endurance, and ability to improvise.
There are lots of great resources out there on each instrument, but for all the singers out there, Cari Cole has a lot of great resources on her website, and offers great tips through her twitter feed.
On a group level, you can look into hiring a live music producer. A live music producer essentially does for live shows what a record producer does in the studio, which is to help bring out the best in the artist. Probably the best known live music producer is Tom Jackson, who has helped pioneer the concept. His website is definitely worth checking out: www.onstagesuccess.com
Don’t Forget to Do These Things During Your Show
Before ending this post, here are a few small things, outside of your performance, that you can do during your show that can help make a positive impact on your career going forward:
Ask People to Sign Your Mailing List
When you have a captive audience, don’t forget to remind them to sign your mailing list before leaving that night. Email is still the best, most reliable way to stay in touch with your fans, so be sure to promote your list from the stage.
Promote your merch
Same goes for your merch. Have a new CD? Mention it while on stage. New 7” vinyl? Mention that too. Fancy new girly tees? Mention those. You don’t have to be a used car salesman, but there are creative/funny ways to remind the audience that every little bit of support helps, especially if you’re on tour.
Thank the soundman, staff, booker
While on stage, it’s always a nice touch to thank the soundman, bar staff, and booker for having you at the venue. A little appreciation goes a long way.
And finally, don’t forget to have fun on stage, because at the end of the day, this is all about playing music. Because if you’re not having fun, chances are the audience won’t be either.
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