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Without a Vision, Your Show Dies

It’s absolutely necessary for you to develop a vision for your live show. What do you want the end result to be?

Whether it’s a creative project, a business plan, or any endeavor – if it’s worth spending time doing, you need to develop a vision for how you want it to turn out.

A famous proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Let me paraphrase that for your live show: “Without a vision, your show dies!”

So here’s what I mean by a “vision” for your show: seeing in your mind’s eye how a song will be rearranged, how it will look onstage, how it will affect the audience, and how they’ll respond to the song BEFORE YOU EVEN PLAY IT LIVE!

You can learn a lesson from some of the major artists I’ve worked with.  Way before the tour begins, they’re thinking about the design of the stage, the costume changes, the spirit of “that song” musically and visually.  And they’re taking the steps (even before going into rehearsals) to accomplish what they see in their head!

They work on getting the right equipment, the right band, the right instruments.  They prepare physically and emotionally so they’ll have creative rehearsals.

For me, when I work with a major artist, or even when I spend time with an indie, I pick their brain to find out who they are as people and as artists.  I listen to their songs and jot down ideas for each of them.

As I spend time with each song, I start getting a vision for how we can make an emotional connection with the audience and how they will react to the song.  Is it sad, fun, intense, angry…?  What’s the strength of the song – the lyrics, the playing, the melody, the vocal, the rhythm…?  I try to capture the emotion of the song, and I consider the strengths of the artist and the song to rearrange it.

Then I start thinking visually – how the song should look.  You’ve heard me say “songs don’t sound the same, so they shouldn’t look the same.”  How do we creatively present this song to capture a moment visually?  We want the entire audience to get it, not just the artist!

Getting a vision is a mental, creative exercise, and it’s not easy to explain.  The artists I know who do it, all do it differently.  I often work with artists who have been playing the same songs so long, and they’re so ‘close’ to the songs, they can’t think outside the way they’ve always performed the songs, to come up with anything new.

It’s not an uncommon problem.  That’s why people hire us.  They want us to help them develop a vision for their show, or help them accomplish their vision with their show.

It’s not easy to teach people how to do this: it’s like explaining to someone on the phone what you’re seeing.  You’re on the beach watching clouds overhead, and seeing creatures in them, and trying to explain it…it just doesn’t always translate easily.

But try the exercise in your mind of seeing “the end result” of your songs and your show.  You may not be able to design a stage set, have costume changes, or have the budget to do anything huge, but you can get a vision beyond just “playing the song” and hoping the audience gets it.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments on this subject; because this is huge if you’re going to be successful onstage!

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. Antonia Zicovich says:

    Hi Tom,
    You are answering so many questions. Thanks to you I have a clue. You have real things that shy people can grab onto and run with. I had an argument with a friend; is stage presence learned or are you born with it? I am learning. My band member told me it was time for me to grow up and quit acting like an amateur. I’m taking it to heart.

  2. Antonia Zicovich says:

    Hi Tom,
    You are answering so many questions. Thanks to you I have a clue. You have real things that shy people can grab onto and run with. I had an argument with a friend; is stage presence learned or are you born with it? I am learning. My band member told me it was time for me to grow up and quit acting like and amateur. I’m taking it to heart.

  3. Hi Tom and Team,

    Just found this blog. Great stuff. I’m returning to music oerformance after some time off and welcoming every word of advice you are sharing. Live performance is something that I really want to be a WOW factor and you’ve inspired me.


  4. You don’t have to be KISS on stage, but it’s true. a good presentation live leaves the audience with something more. Certainly, when this happens I feel more like I got my money’s worth and it’s almost tangible. It definitely makes me think when the act comes around again, that I will definitely consider seeing them again.

  5. cool, thanks! I was never so aware of the need to create a “story” around the music on stage as since reading your material. The great artists just manage to make it look like magic how they connect with crowds and manage to get everyone to have a great time, but it’s now clear it’s a product of deliberate practice and preparation.

    • Hi Tendai, I’m glad my materials have made you aware of what’s needed in order to create a great show! You’re SO right…it’s in the preparation…So many artists want to skip this step!

  6. Thanks, I agree, helpful for me. However, how do I get the rest of the band to agree when they speak only French?

    • Je ne sais pas. (just kidding!!!) Tom will be doing a webinar soon to answer specific questions. He probably has some ideas in regards to the rest of your band…If they read English…you might leave Tom’s book lying around! Sincerely, Susan

  7. How much is too much personally to reveal? If anything? You say you listen to the artist talk and you find out who they are as people, then develop their show, can you give an example of what you mean here? Perhaps a before & after example? Or is this something you’d really have to “see” in lieu of writing about it?

    • Hi Linda, Thank you for your question. It’s not so much about how much to reveal personally, but about revealing the artist’s personality and developing them to be real with the audience. This will take on different forms depending on the artist. A before and after example would be difficult because there are so many elements that go into this….rearranging the songs for live, bringing out moments in numerous ways, developing elements such as story telling and transitions, finding and bringing out the artist’s fun side and their serious side, etc. It’s about the whole ‘package’..taking your audience on a journey and meeting their expectations. I hope this helps!

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