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Moments or Musicality?

There is a mindset that we Live Music Producers have to combat when it comes to educating musicians on the importance of a good live show.

It’s basically the belief that they must be musically perfect.  Every note correct, every lick and scale stellar, every voice flawless.  And so the artist must stand still with correct posture, or sit down, or stare at their instrument to achieve this “perfect” performance.

People come to see people

Well, I have news for these artists.

This may be important to a very small percentage of your audience; but for the majority of us, it will be dull to watch and very forgettable.  I know, because I’ve seen your concerts.

If I wanted musical perfection, I would have stayed home and played your CD.  But when I get to a show, I want to be a part of it! I want to experience a memorable performance.  I want to see moments on stage!

I ran across a book that drives this point home, chapter after chapter: “The Show I’ll Never Forget” (Sean Manning).  It is a compilation of concert experiences recalled by various writers and music critics.

There are recurring themes in many of the experiences.  These themes serve to make the point that a live show is about the moments and the experience the audience has, not about perfection.

In one chapter, David Gates writes about hearing bluegrass legend Bill Monroe sing years ago at the Ernest Tubb Record Store in Nashville.

He writes, “I heard Bill Monroe with about nothing left of his voice; he sang a fragile, gentle, unbearably sad and sweet ‘Wayfaring Stranger.’  I’ll bet nobody who was there has ever forgotten it either.”  He also spoke of hearing Soviet pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, saying “…even I could tell she flubbed some of the passage work, but it didn’t matter.”

Writing about Led Zeppelin, Diana Ossana says, “I no longer remember the order of the songs, but I vividly remember moments…the slow build and release in ‘Ramble On,’ the complex rise and fall of emotion in ‘What Is and What Should Never Be.’  Everyone stood, then we stood on our seats…afterwards, none of us wanted to go home.  We wanted to hold on to the experience of that live music as long as possible.”

Of a show by Redd Kross, Carl Newman recalls, “I didn’t know as I watched Redd Kross that I would chase their cool for years.  All that time I watched them I was just so blown away.  In the moment.  So ‘in the moment’ that I wanted to chase that moment after it ended, figure out the formula for manufacturing that moment.”

Some pretty strong reactions, right? And some of these concerts were being recalled from decades ago!  Notice none of the people reliving their experiences goes on about how perfectly the artist played or sang?

When the audience wants to “chase that moment after it ended” or ‘”hold on to the experience of that live music as long as possible,” you know you’ve really connected with the audience!

THAT, my friends, is your goal.  Of course, learn to play well and sing well and write well.  But work equally hard or harder on creating a live experience that your audience will make an emotional connection with.  Trade the sometimes unreachable goal of musical perfection for the attainable goal of memorable performance.

I would love to hear from you.  What live show has stuck with you and why?  What were the moments that you wanted to hang on to and how did you feel?  Can’t wait to hear your stories!

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. I went to a Garth Brooks concert once and it was the most incredible show I had ever seen. We were there 4 or 5 hours! He swung from a rope at one point from one side of the stage up over the audience and back over the audience on the other side. He was all over the platform. It wasn’t just that we knew his music, married to Garth as Tom says, but he truly entertained and engaged us. He surprised us and just seemed to have boundless energy. Especially knowing this was his 5th concert in a row in Orlando, all sold out and all with the same intensity as I had heard co-workers talking about the shows on previous nights.

    On a personal note, I find it most challenging in small churches to move and engage. There is no place to go save maybe a step or two back or to the side. Any tips for those situations? Or maybe you could do an article on “engaging in a box”. Thanks!

  2. I used to LOVE going to see the Jonas Brothers concerts when they were still together. I watched them go from small, disengaged crowds to completely selling out the Dallas cowboys stadium in just a few years time. I remember one show I saw them play when they were singing their ballad called “Hello Beautiful” and halfway through the song, each of them started to rise into the air on a platform while they were singing. They rose all the way to the top, about 50 feet in the air and completely stopped the song. Everyone in the crowd just lost their minds. I’ll probably never forget that show or any of the shows I saw them perform because they always put their heart and soul into every performance no matter if it was 70 people or 70,000 people. I will never be the Jonas Brothers, but I am confident that I will someday soon be able to put on shows that will touch people’s lives the way I was touched by the Jonas Brothers.

    • Kathryn, many many artists may never reach that level, but you CAN create moments that will bring even a small coffeehouse crowd to tears…or to their feet! Thanks for sharing your Jonas Bros story 🙂

  3. Tom Cutts says:

    Amy,
    This topic resonates with me completly. I played a festival this summer. Due in part to several last minute band personel changes some songs went better than others. Near the end of our 45 minute set, I played a jazz R&B song with my outstanding soloist. There seemed to be a quietness over the audience. After the set, I critiqued my set, citing my perception of how it went, and my concern over the seemingly sudden quietness of the audience. My son’s response was amazing. He said that when that song was performed, everyone in the audience and vicinity stopped to listen. They didn’t want to miss a moment of the performance. He said it was special and memorable.
    I think this is what your talking about. Thanks for the awesome insights. I will be gleening as much as possible.

    • EXACTLY what I’m talking about Tom! If you remembered to video your show (as everyone should to keep learning and growing) you will probably see what your son and the rest of the crowd expereinced. Way to go!

  4. Oh I believe it. That buy-in for what has been conducted during a show and has drawn people in with impression. I’ve seen a bazillion artists over the years and still do, but certain concerts stand out for one reason or another particularly the ones that blew me away because I was impressed AND surprised but what I saw.

  5. I saw the band Disciple a few years ago and it was truly life changing. I don’t really remember any lights or displays they had. They did have them, they just paled in comparison to the band. The band was extremely talented and connected with the audience on such an emotional level that I broke down in tears several times. They were so passionate about what they were saying that it just energized everyone. I saw them again recently and experienced the exact same emotions. They are utterly fantastic.

    • Seeing the passion an artist has for what they’re doing/saying is huge.Makes you want to get on board, no question! Just goes to show you that the lights, etc., are just icing on the cake. So if your show ‘tastes like cardboard’, then all the audience is getting is just unfulfilling calories. Sweet and pretty but no substance underneath. Thanks Rachel!

  6. This is such a timely thing to read, and well said it is too. Recently in some workshops Ive attended, many tremendous professional jazz musicians have lamented that “live jazz is dying”, and that “people don’t come out see live jazz anymore”.

    Ive given this matter a lot of thought, and what is written here is spot on. It has given me some ideas with which to put forward, about creating “shows” rather than just “live jazz”, because I think (largely based on what Ive got from material here) that people want to come and *see* something and have an experience, not just watch a bunch of (talented) musos bang away with their instruments. It needs to be more. More entertaining, more perceived value for money, and maybe blended with comedy or other things as part of an overall package.

    Thats my thoughts 😉

    • Yes Hamish, people come to shows to experience something…to make a connection with the artist. Meeting that expectation takes a lot more than just ‘playing the songs well’. It IS time the jazz community pays attention to this. As a matter of fact I’ve recently been talking with an instrumental jazz group in New York that realizes this and wants to ‘up’ their game. Thanks for your comments!

  7. I still remember seeing Eric Carmen lead off for the band I came to see, America, back in 1974. I never became an Eric Carmen fan for the music, but his show was incredible. He was swinging around poles while singing, and connecting with the whole audience on a very emotional level. As much as I wanted to be bored, I could not, and I still remember that concert to this day. America? The band I came to see? They just sang their songs as if the record was playing. They got 20 songs in (I remember counting) but 2 minute songs were still 2 minute songs. Nothing new. I still loved the records but the concert was not inviting, other than them being my favorite band at the time.

    • Thanks for sharing this Jim. Sounds like Eric made the most of that opening slot and came to impress…AND probably walked away with lots of new fans! America gets away with it because they were married to their audience. BUT, I’m guessing once many of their fans saw the live ‘show’, they didn’t bother buying a ticket to see them again since there was really nothing to see.

      • I’ve seen later shows, after Dan Peek left (sad to say) but they got better. I felt more energy and interaction and all in the couple I saw much later. Again, my favorite band so I needed to try again, but so glad I did. That first impression of the live show left me wanting

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