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Should I Be Spontaneous – or Plan My Show?

Will McFarlane of Blues CounselIt’s a question we get a lot. And the answer is yes.

“Don’t confuse me, Tom!”

Sorry! But the real answer depends on multiple things.

I can count on one hand (maybe two) the artists I’ve worked with over 20 years who don’t think they are great with spontaneity.

I admit, I really don’t understand their self-perception. Because when I give them room in their show to be spontaneous, they’re constantly doing the wrong thing… or they don’t have any idea what to do.

They may have the right idea conceptually, but they don’t understand the show from the audience’s perspective. Or, more often, they haven’t worked on the fundamentals enough to correctly deliver (musically, visually, verbally) the part they are trying to communicate.

All that ends up happening is a lot of misdirection.

Great spontaneity comes out of a plan… a form… a structure. And a really great spontaneous artist has developed the skill through repetition and tons of woodshedding. A few (I admit) are naturally gifted to actually pull it off! But the best of those artists realize that the natural gift isn’t enough — they have to develop it as well.

You can develop spontaneity. I’ve helped artists to do that over and over. But it’s a process! Just like going from confidence to authority to charisma — so is going from planning to spontaneity.

One reason I’ve been spending more time lately working with young artists is because they are most often a blank canvas. I don’t mean they have no ideas or aren’t creative. What I do mean is that they are more willing to learn. If I present the fundamentals and concepts correctly, they understand this is a process (just like anything else), and as I give them things to work on, they develop as artists onstage.

I’m not trying to be critical of you seasoned artists, because quite frankly your creative ideas and skills are more formed and complete. You’ve probably found your style — one that fits your personality musically. But you also (oftentimes) just want “tips” to make your show better.

A few “tips” can certainly help a show. But in many cases the show really needs a complete redo. The artists who submit themselves to this process (even if they have been onstage for 20 years or more) see a big difference in the response from their audience. Even more importantly, they feel a big difference.

I worked recently with Will McFarlane (who played with Bonnie Raitt for 6 years and has been onstage for decades). Will’s response to only 45 minutes of rehearsal using my Method was, “Working with Tom was both maddening and liberating — when he finally got me to break through my self-consciousness, he imparted an amazing sense of permission. My live shows haven’t been the same since.”

So, should you be spontaneous? Or should you plan your show? Yes! First the form, then the spontaneity. A constant tension between the two. Each in the right place at the right time.

Do you leave room for spontaneity in your rehearsals? What does that look like for you or your band?


Photo courtesy Bob Hardick at the Christian Musician Summit Northeast

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. Wow. As a creative dancer and choreographer for 10 years, I can attest to the truth of this post. Practice and skill makes spontaneity the best!

  2. Thank you for the insight!! I have been on stage for 1 to 2 years and that part of it is really something i have to work on, it doesnt come naturally to me. I will focus on planning better:)

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