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3 Keys to Being a Great Singer AND Having a Great Show

Country singer with hatBeing a great singer doesn’t always equal having a great show.

For that matter, having great songs doesn’t necessarily equal a great show either.

Being a great singer with great songs? Well, that helps… but it still doesn’t equal a great show! Let me explain why, by telling you about a recent concert review.

I love reading live show reviews. Recently, many reviewers have been driving home the point that a live concert needs to be more than just singing songs. (Of course, Tom Jackson has been teaching that for years!)

Sam Smith was in Music City, performing at the esteemed Ryman Auditorium in the heart of downtown Nashville. A reviewer for The Nashville Scene was at the show and had some interesting observations I really want you to read and hear

Speak with some thought put into it

The first comment that stood out was “the pale singer’s stage presence was poor; consisting mostly of smiling bashfully like an overgrown English schoolboy in between little bits of banter to ask people if they had bought the album (which seems kind of a pointless question when you’ve sold a million copies).”

Sounds like Sam hasn’t worked on his speaking skills or thought about really setting up what his songs are about to help us get more out of the lyrics.

When an artist in not prepared, they tend to rely on cliché bits that don’t say a whole lot. For example, my CD comes out next month, how are you doing tonight, hello Cleveland, you can find me on Twitter… Not that any of these are inherently bad (except for hello any city!). But if that’s all you can think of to say, you’ve got some homework to do.

Put thought into this ahead of time… give us a glimpse into who you are, and why you write what you write.

Have some variety

The writer went on to say, that the crowd was enchanted by Sam’s voice and the old-timey feel of his ballads.

Then hemakes this observation; “…Smith can carry a theatre show with his gorgeous tone alone but he’s still a little too timid onstage. With such emotionally-driven lyrics, he could benefit from a little roughness or anger to contrast those smooth, sad moments.”

This makes our point that you need variety in your show. No matter how well you sing and play, if all your songs are in the same range/style/feel, you could lose the audience.

Create some moments

Those different moments take us on a journey. The reviewer says he “…wanted higher highs, and lower lows. We came to this show expecting a good cathartic cry, damn it. We left with a general sense of melancholy, unsatisfactory and unshakable.”

People want to feel something at your shows! Touch their hearts, make them laugh, and yes, make them cry if you can.

They want an experience.

At the end of the show, Smith quipped “Believe it or not, I’m a happy person. Hopefully the next album will be f***ing happier.”

Well, even if the album isn’t, his show needs to include some happy. And a little rage probably. Higher highs and lower lows, the writer said. Bring us that, because that is what we – the audience – want!

Who else has experienced a concert that left you ‘unfulfilled’? What was it lacking? I’d love to hear your comments!

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. Very good!

  2. Gabe Greenwood says:

    I get the message you are trying to send, but give Sam Smith some slack. He’s had to go from a shy featured artist with a relatively small following to touring for audiences of ten of thousands of people. Sam probably didn’t have any time to develop the stage presence and proper concert banter you wanted from him, because his fame was so meteoric, with the album release, tours, Grammy wins, and now this gig in Nashville, all happening in LESS than a year!

    • Amy Wolter says:

      I would probably put some of the blame on his handlers for this Gabe. Sam obviously had time to spend in the studio….equal or more time needs to be spent working on the live show. The record label cares about selling the record, so time and money is all directed toward that end, and when it comes time to step on stage, well, you’re already supposed to magically KNOW how to entertain an audience! Tom can tell you he’s been called in to work with the latest youtube phenoms at the last minute to ‘hurry up and fix’ an artist who has no experience yet or an artist who’s hit the charts already and gone out and – being forced into the limelight prematurely – fallen on their face on national tv. This stuff needs to be worked on from the start, so by the time those doors open for you, you’re ready.

      • In his native UK, he was the most heavily promoted (and I mean, with paid advertising with expensive television ads) new artist I’ve heard in years. He could pick out a few covers if he doesn’t have the adequate range of material.

  3. Nothing worse than paying $100 to see a band just stand there. Rock me for my hard earned bucks!

  4. Far too many concerts I’ve been too have been unfufilling because of the above reasons. The artists think that a show is about singing and playing songs. Thank God there is a Tom Jackson and an Amy Wolter to help fix this problem in todays music biz!

  5. Amy Wolter says:

    Thanks for weighing in Lori! SO key to know how to keep an audience engaged and interested. When the hits are gone, will they still want to come see your shows? We know artists out there still making a living live, long after radio left them behind…all because their shows are worth seeing!

  6. Great to know that grammy winners and massive worldwide stars are making mistakes too, makes me feel better about my shows!

    • Amy Wolter says:

      Unfortunately Martin, yes, MANY stars don’t get it. They’re riding on the success of radio and youtube, but are not always equipped to connect with a live audience.

  7. Thank you Amy for sharing this! I’m about to do my first house concert and I’m taking this to heart. I’m thinking about the setlist and the song order and all I’ve learned from your bootcamp last fall.

    It’s very revealing to read some excerpts from a reviewer for a “big time” artist – it gives me confidence to play big on a small field!

    • Amy Wolter says:

      House concerts are a bit different so it will take some thought putting together your set. It’s a much more intimate setting and requires you to get more personal and ‘organic’. Wrote a blog about this awhile back…let me see if I can find it for you!

  8. Shrimp Scampy says:

    Good stuff Amy!

  9. Last year, I drove a few hours to see an “intimate” show with one of my favorite songwriters. He’s great with his band, but this show was horrible. It was all I could do to force myself not to leave early.

    He equated “intimate” with slowing everything down and removing the groove that makes his songs memorable. He was great talking to the audience, but even this couldn’t save his show. Very unfortunate.

    A show with just a few acoustic instruments can – and should – still rock. 😛

    • Amy Wolter says:

      Disappointing isn’t it Leanne! Doesn’t have to be this way for artists doing an acoustic show. There are so many ways to make it interesting for audiences….just need to take time to plan and work on it!

  10. Gr8t article Amy! I keep telling my students this when I ask them to do things out of their comfort zone for our recital shows and explain the importance of approaching with a plan, while still being open to some spontaneity.
    Afterwards, the parents notice the difference and see that I offer more than other voice teachers. So grateful for the training I have received and continue to get from you guys!

  11. Thanks Amy! Great info….extremely helpful 🙂

  12. Amy Wolter says:

    I’m sure the wisdom you are passing on to your students is much appreciated Paul! There’s no replacement for your years of experience. And thanks for your support of Onstage Success!

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