Lost Password?

Persistence… or Foolishness?

Lead Singer OnstageWe’re told to be persistent. Keep trying… don’t give up… it’s the only way you’ll win.

Follow that with “perseverance.” Then add the word “patient,” and you’ve got the popular trio, the supposed “true keys to success!”

However, Mark Twain said “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again — then give up. There’s no sense being a damn fool about it.” So which is right? Persist? Or give up?

Actually, both are right — if you are doing them at the right time and for the right reason. Understanding how to be wise about it (and not a “damn fool”) is a true key to success in the music industry.

Let’s look at persistence first. Sometimes doing something again and again until you’ve reached your goal is exactly right. When you learned to play or sing, your persistence in practice was important. In fact, continuing to develop as a musician is critical to your success, so persistence in this regard is definitely correct.

Occasionally, persistence means doing the same thing again and again conceptually, but not specifically. For instance, if you are trying to get your band booked, you’ll continue to call venue after venue, promoter after promoter, letting them know you are available. The same thing over and over. But you don’t call the same promoter over and over — you just make the same type of call over and over.

And then there is the time when persistence is not the right option. Times when you should not continue to keep doing what hasn’t been working. One of those times for most artists is when they’re working on their live show.

Most artists are sure if they just keep on working on writing songs, working on their recordings, working on playing and singing their songs, working on their voice, their instrument… THEN their audiences will see how great they are and maybe someone will even “discover” them. That’s the wrong kind of persistence — for your live show.

I want you to get out of the thought process of “singing songs,” and into the thought process of “creating moments.” And creating moments can happen whether the song is “great” or the song is only “good.”

I can hear many of you right now: “You mean it’s not all about the song?” Honestly, I’d like you to have all great songs. But that’s not realistic, is it? How often don’t you buy a CD because of only one or two songs? The other songs might be good, too, but it’s those one or two that are great.

The process of woodshedding and rehearsing the live show (which includes creating moments) involves a reprioritizing of your time, energy and money so you can create and develop an excellent show. And for most artists this means a paradigm shift. It means getting out of the habit of “just singing songs” and learning to create moments.

Let’s talk about creating moments. Does it have to be a song full of special meaning for you in order to create a moment? I mean, sometimes I like a song just because it has a great melody or fun music. Other times I like a song because it has a great message or something with more meaning to me. Can I still create moments either way? Absolutely! In fact, that’s perfect. What you need to do is think about why you like the song.

Let’s say you have a cool vocal arrangement you love, but the song is just frivolous and doesn’t have much meaning. Golly, that’s dessert!

Sometimes artists (especially Gospel artists) think every song has to have deep meaning. After three or four songs it becomes Chinese water torture. It’s constant message, message, message. The pressure never changes. It’s kind of like having bites of meat over and over. You need to have a bite of something different so that you can go back to the meat and appreciate it again.

People send me their songs to listen to before they go out on tour. And I look for all kinds of things – a cool vocal arrangement, for instance. And those same artists assume that everyone hears that cool vocal arrangement just like they do. However, audiences are ignorant.

Audiences do not understand musical things the way musicians do. Unless you point it out, separate it, make it obvious (without changing who you are), they won’t get it. You need to change the song so the audience recognizes what’s important about it. They need to know what to listen to.

And more than just point it out, we might actually develop that part of the song for a live show and make more of it than on the recording. Because when we perform live we’re not restricted by time like we are when we submit a song for radio play.

We can be creative onstage and pull out the great part of the song that makes it special. If you share with your audience what you like about the song, and help them hear that special part, you’ll make an emotional connection with them!

Be persistent in the things that require persistence. But don’t be persistent when doing something that isn’t working… if your audiences aren’t consistently captured & engaged, experiencing moments through your entire show, and you’re not changing lives, then start doing things differently.

As Mark Twain would say: “Don’t be a damn fool!”


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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

Greenroom Comments

  1. Jason, great comments! Do you follow us on Facebook.com/OnstageSuccess? We just reposted a great blog for artists who do concerts for kids, all about child development and ideas for choosing your songs, etc.: http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/2014/06/need-know-child-development-childrens-artist/

    Check it out!

  2. This one sparked my brain. Lots of poignant & practical themes in this article for me. Especially like how you phrased the bit about being “restricted” in a recording/radio play environment vs. live. I’d hypothesize this is perhaps why artists known for a great live show have been known also to have a hard time capturing that essence in the studio…and yah, emphasizing the important part of the song, the point as such. That’s the hardest, but most crucial part to communicate. Great article.

    • Sarah, glad you liked the article! Regarding the restricted by time concept – that’s why I teach artists to take what they recorded in the studio (which is usually exactly right for an audience listening to radio or CD) and create some moments for a live audience (which is a completely different atmosphere with completely different expectations). When an audience has a visual as well as the audio, they get most of their input from the visual, and as artists we need to understand that difference.

Step Up To The Microphone & Leave a Comment