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Myths About Spontaneity, Part 2

“A show that is planned is not real and people won’t like it.” This statement is a common thought among artists and bands these days. It came from a front man of a popular indie band who was on a panel with me at a CMJ Festival in New York.

I agree with that statement completely… if we change two letters in the statement, and make it “canned” instead of “planned.”

There is a huge gap between planned and canned. In fact a show that appears to be “canned” is often one that is not rehearsed enough! The person onstage is thinking about what they are supposed to do next, instead of being in a creative flow onstage. So they look awkward and are not believable at all.

This process plays out in a lot of amateur acts all around the world. All the person onstage is doing is trying to remember what they are “supposed to do!” The singer who just got the lyrics before the show is happy if they just remember the words. The new guitar player is grateful to get through the show without too many mistakes. A band with a newly written song is trying to remember chord changes, dynamics, harmonies etc…

None of these artists are delivering a great performance that moves an audience with spontaneity.

Another train of thought is to work everything out exactly… so the artist rehearses over and over to get it exact. This kind of show is the other reason why most acts don’t want help on their live show.

This show is totally appropriate for things that need precision (some pop acts that use heavy choreography) and for acts that are very young and might not have developed their talent (or if I am being honest, might not be all that talented in the first place, so they need to do it the way someone else sees it in their head).

Unfortunately, these kind of shows are what most artists think of when rehearsal is talked about. And unfortunately, it keeps legitimate artists and bands from developing their show into anything special, because this model for rehearsal would box them in or kill their creativity.

I shudder constantly when rock acts are trained in what I call the “Orlando school of performance” because the band usually comes out of rehearsal with the hokey meter fully pegged. The problem with this kind of mentality is taking a model that has worked with a certain style – Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, etc. – and modifying a little. But it doesn’t work unless you are a Disney act playing to 6 to 12 year olds. To take that template and put that style on top of every artist that performs is a mistake.

So what should rehearsal look like? It should be a creative place and a safe place where brainstorming, risk taking, artist development, working ideas, and creating new ideas are all welcome.


Tom Jackson

Tom is uniquely talented and skilled at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience; helping artists at every level create a live show that is engaging and memorable, teaching them to exceed their audiences' expectations and to create fans for life. Tom has taught indie and major artists of every genre. He has worked with Taylor Swift, Le Crae, Home Free, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, The Band Perry, Francesca Battistelli, Jars of Clay, & many more. Tom also teaches at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.

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Series - Myths About Spontaneity

Greenroom Comments

  1. Jim Ervin says:

    I see some good, valuable information there. The need for practice can’t be overstated. But the hardest part for me is getting started on my own. I’ve always found it to be such a tough thing to find other musicians who I could really work with. So many of them smoke pot, for instance, and I’ve never wanted to be around anyone who smokes anything.
    Bluegrass music though, is a great source of inspiration for me as well. It fits well with my love of traditional country, rhythm & blues and early rock and roll music. Bluegrass is also the perfect music to accompany my favourite old car, the Model A Ford. Many Model A guys I know couldn’t care less about Bluegrass or music in general but my Model A will always be seen wherever Bluegrass is played, whenever possible.
    I missed Tom’s seminar in Vancouver recently so it’s good to see his comments from Music BC

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