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To Do and To Don’t

I am frequently asked to write a list of things an artist can do to make a great live show. The trouble is, I often think that might look a little over-simplified… like learning how to perform onstage consists of “5 easy steps.”

When you learned how to play your instrument, did your teacher give you a list of 5 things to do and send you home? Probably not.

It’s no different with what you do onstage. In order to be the best you can be, you need to study, practice, rehearse, study more, practice more, rehearse more… it’s a long process.

But in the interest of boiling down the main concepts I teach (so it can be included in a conference brochure or a workshop flyer), I’ve come up with 5 things you should definitely “do” or “not do” to make your live show a great one:

1) Do be spontaneous – first in rehearsals and then onstage. You practice the music, dynamics, tempo, tones, melodies, and harmonies of your songs… so learn and be creative with what you do onstage, too! That starts in your practice room, and then in the rehearsal room. Then when you get onstage, you’re not just winging it.

2) Don’t play your songs live the way you recorded them for radio (unless your song is a massive hit on radio). Your audience’s expectations are different at a club or concert hall than they are when they turn on a radio. When you play live, you need to remember your audience is not only hearing you, they’re also seeing you. Your communication is musical, verbal, and visual.

3) Do learn how to rehearse. Rehearsal involves the musical, the visual, the verbal, the rearranging of songs that were written for radio so they work live, and more. It’s where you develop moments, get creative visually, practice transitions, shape what you’re going to say, create the order of songs/set list, and add media/technology. (And rehearsal should not be confused with personal woodshedding and practices!)

4) Don’t let your songs all look the same. They don’t sound the same, so why should they look the same! One of the keys to a great visual show is to keep the integrity of the song. The music should tell you what the song should look like. The reason you sing different melodies & lyrics, have different rhythms, change tones on a guitar or switch instruments, is to capture the essence of a song. Musically, it’s a no-brainer. But visually, this is a huge problem for almost every artist I see,

5) Do find the “moments” in your songs. Learn how to help your audience emotionally connect with you and the song by bringing out those moments for your live show. One reason people come to your concert is to experience “moments.” Contrary to common belief, they don’t come just to hear you sing songs. They want to laugh and to have fun. They want to be emotionally touched in a way that brings them to tears. They want to be so inspired it gives them chills. They want to groove. They want to “feel” the music, not just hear it!

Hopefully, these ideas will get you thinking about what’s involved. Then take the next steps: get my book or DVDs, come to our Bootcamp, have one of my associates work with you on your show… it may not be “5 easy steps,” but I know you can learn how to do it!

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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