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What Makes a Performance Great?

Guitar player jumpingI’ve watched thousands of performances over the years and helped hundreds of artists with their performances. I’ve studied the art of creating more than just a “good” live show and how to replace it with something that’s great. I even developed an entire Live Music Method to help artists & bands perform well.

So I believe I am qualified to tell you some of the things that go into making your live show move from the “good” category into the “great” category. The problem is, it’s not a simple solution. There’s more to it than meets the eye.

After I teach a class or workshop, especially when I demonstrate my Method with a band or artist, many of the workshop attendees will come up to me later (sometimes later in the day, sometimes years later) and say, “I totally get it; we use your Method when we perform – our band moves around a lot onstage too!”

You see, they saw what I did when I did the Live Music Makeover with the demo artist. And in their mind’s eye, it was all about the movement. The problem with seeing it that way is they aren’t listening to the musical changes we made to the song first. The movement simply came out of what we were doing musically.

There are 2 things you need to understand about a great performance:

  • A great performance does not replace content with movement.
  • A great performance will keep the integrity of the content visually for that artist and their songs.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean. If you have studied my Method (Backstage, in my book, or through my DVDs), you’ll know there are 4 basic ways to get places onstage: walking, walking with authority, skipping, and running. And the song is the script. You want to keep the integrity of the song. If the song is rocking, you shouldn’t walk. And if the song is a ballad, it would look stupid if you skipped across the stage.

Another example has to do with the pressure you want to put on your audience. Just as you need to change pressure musically when constructing a set/show, you should also be changing pressure visually. As the intensity, energy, and character of a song changes, the pressure on the audience needs to change visually. Lyrics, dynamics, and energy all contribute to the script of when to change the pressure. So movement should reflect that change.

Or how about your solos? Solos should have a multitude of visual elements in them, depending on the solo itself. Parts of the solo might be done with your eyes closed, parts with your eyes open (not looking at your fingers). Your stances might differ from solo to solo — legs spread, legs together. You should synch your body with your solo (and soul) so people can see the solo.

 I hope I’m raising some questions in your mind… questions about each of your songs and how you can keep their integrity through the movement you use. I hope you’re starting to think, “How does this apply to my show?” Because knowing that you have a lot to learn about making your show great and all the fundamentals involved to do it – that’s a great place to start! Begin asking us what to do. Check out our Backstage Pass, read the articles & watch the videos back there. Ask my team about your songs and your gig, and how you can make your performance better.

There’s never a time when you can’t learn more and improve what you’re doing (whether on the stage or in life!). And we’d love to help you create a great performance.


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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Greenroom Comments

  1. Bram Bessoff says:

    For those who watched the Grammy’s last Sunday could see some of this in practice when you saw the difference between Chicago & Robin Thicke’s performance vs/ the crowd’s deafening roar of applause after Imagine Dragons & Kendrik Lamar finished tearing down the house.

    Another good place to see some examples is the I Heart Radio music festival before the New Year. Between Queen, Maroon5, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney and 30 Seconds to Mars they were a ton of great performances in a row (until Ke$ha came on). Great live shows truly engage, capture and change people – Tom’s method works.

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