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Musicians’ Most Common Mistakes – Part 1: Your Songs Don’t Sound the Same, But Look the Same

Amy: Ok Tom, What are some of the biggest mistakes artists make when it comes to their live show or live performance?  What would you say those are?

Tom: I wrote a few of these mistakes down, because this is probably one of THE questions I get asked the most.  (In interviews, on the radio or on the internet stations)  So let’s start with this mistake:

Mistake #1: Your songs don’t all sound the same, but they all look the same!

If you’re going to make a living doing this, you’re going to play 45 minutes to two hours a concert.  (I’m not talking about a club band, though this applies to them too or to any kind of artist.)  In your concerts, your songs don’t SOUND the same.  

You’re using different tones, different lyrics, there are different rhythms, different melodies, they sound different…

But, the problem with most artists is the songs don’t LOOK different.

If you’re songs don’t sound the same, why do they look the same?  And, they shouldn’t!  Now I’m not talking about randomly saying ‘Hey let’s do this, let’s do that’, I’m talking about, using the song as a script.  If the song’s rocking: you better rock.  If it’s sweet: it better be sweet. 

Let’s say Amy here is playing a show and I’ve never met her but she comes to me and she says “Listen, I know what you do and can you come run lights for me tonight for my show?” 

And I say, “Whoa, I don’t know about that cause I’ve never heard your music.” 

So Amy says, “Don’t worry about it.  The lighting board is this: There’s a big green button, a blue button, and a red button. 

If you hit the blue button, for example, the lights are awesome.  A little smoke comes out of the ground.  One light is in the center of the stage. 

If you hit the green button; it’s kind of got a groove going on.  It’s kind of cool, not too bad, not too big, not too small…got more energy than the blue one. 

If  you hit the red button: The lights go crazy….there are lasers…things explode!” 

Now, obviously every one watching (or reading) this could run lights then, because if Amy’s got a song that’s really, really up, what button would we hit?  The red button. 

If we’ve got a really touching song, we’d hit the blue button. 

A song that’s kind of got a groove going on, not too high not too low, we’d use the green button.

Obviously, we know what we’re supposed to do with the lights, but most artists don’t know what to do with their bodies. 

For example, there are four ways of getting someplace on stage.  Do you know them?  Most people do the same thing, I don’t care if the song’s rocking, I don’t care if it’s sweet: it’s the same all the time.  IF they move.

Also, I’ve worked with guitar players who are doing six solos in a night and they do all the solos from the same place all the time, (from behind their pedal-board most of the time.) 

One solo is majestic and sweet, one has got some really cool rhythms going on, and others are blazing. 

To an audience; (because we are talking about communication here, 55% of communication is what the audience sees with their eyes), if they see the same thing over and over, after awhile they’re gonna start thinking that the songs sound the same because they look the same.

There are so many little things… (whether you’re doing a solo thing or you’re in a band)… there are so many combinations you can use to create what we call a ‘pressure change’.  So the audience stays captured and engaged.

You see an audience goes to your show for three reasons.  They go to be captured and engaged, to experience moments, and to have their lives changed.  So are you capturing and engaging your audience with what you’re doing on the stage? 

Now, some of you are saying ‘Of course!  Are you kidding?  You know, it’s me, we rock!’ 

I’m not talking about YOU being captured and engaged I’m talking about YOUR AUDIENCE being captured and engaged. 

So, what we do by changing pressure, and again the song is the script, by changing pressure, you will keep the audience engaged.  And, you need to learn how to do that.  There are techniques that I use, and they don’t box you in folks, they free you up. 

Techniques that will keep your audience captured and engaged: Movement on stage, placement on stage, where to go, when to go there, why to go there. 

Why would you go to this side of the stage and then over to the other side of the stage instead of staying in the middle the whole time?  Because most artists do that.

A lot of artists send me their videos and say ‘Hey you gotta check out my show cause we rock!’.  And, sure enough they do the same thing everybody else does over and over and over again.  And it’s a mistake.

So that’s one of the biggest mistakes.  The songs don’t sound the same, they shouldn’t look the same.

If you have questions for Tom and Amy, please leave them in the comments and we’ll address them in future blogs.  Thank you!

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. Hi Tom,
    I am starting out as a singer songwriter and I desire to record some new songs I’ve written. Cost is an issue for me and wonder if you have any ideas on how to record at a low cost. I would be so elated if I could just record one or two of my songs! My songs are to encourage and bring hope to those who are oppressed or feeling alone. I sing in Spanish as well and I feel ready to branch out and share the gift God has given me. I’m also looking for other songwriters to co-write with. Thank you for all the wisdom you share for singers and musicians.

    Blessings to you!

    • Hi Graciela, Thank you for your message. I would check in your area to see if you can find someone who has a home studio. There are quite a few new methods to record your music. You no longer need an expensive studio. We handle the “live” show, but not technical aspects. I wish you well! Sincerely, Susan

  2. Love it. No need to be a boring Tree on stage!

  3. Well said as always Tom. Most performing musicians just don’t get it that they are PERFORMING musicians.

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