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Musicians’ Most Common Mistakes – Part 6: Mistaking Winging it for Spontaneity

This blog and video are the sixth in a series we’ve put together to answer YOUR questions!

We began by answering one of the most asked questions:

What are the most common mistakes musicians make in their live show?

In video blog #1, we described the first mistake: Your songs don’t all sound the same, but they all look the same. 

Video blog #2 addressed mistake #2: Misdirection.

Mistake #3 blog: They don’t create moments.  They play songs.  

Mistake #4 blog: Most people don’t rearrange their songs for live.  They go and they play the song just like it’s recorded.

Mistake #5 blog: Not understanding their audience.  If you can’t draw the audience in you’re in trouble.

The mistake we’re addressing in this blog (#6) is: Mistaking winging it for spontaneity. 

Boy this one happens ALL the time. Artists think when they go out onstage, (we’ve been told this as musicians all our lives), ya gotta be spontaneous.

I  can tell you this, if there’s one thing I have, it’s perspective. I’ve worked with over 300 artists. 

As they say in the south: I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but after 300 artists and putting in that much time with artists you start recognizing things. 

I don’t care what your day job is, (if you have a day job), people do the same things over and over. There’s nothing new under the sun.

If you’re in customer service, there’s nothing new. If you work at a Starbucks, there’s nothing really new. 

So with what we do, it’s not new to me when somebody says, “Man, I wanna be spontaneous”.  Well what you wanna do is create spontaneity, but spontaneity comes out of form. 

And I will say this, honestly, that out of the 300 artists I’ve worked with not every one of them can really be spontaneous. 

They don’t have that gifting. They don’t have that thing that says, ‘I’m going for it’ here.  Well, let me say this: They have it, but they haven’t developed it.

So instead, we mistake winging it, (We go out and make it up as we go onstage), as being spontaneous. “Yeah, I just feel it tonight.” You know, that kind of thing.

Listen. If you want to be spontaneous then go out onstage, you artists, and write the song while you’re onstage. So you have an hour and a half show: write the song, write the melody, write the rhythm…go.

Well, you wouldn’t even think of doing that. You write your songs, you learn them, and then you go out and perform them. But performance is the same thing.

So you want to think, “How do we construct a show? How do we construct this thing that will capture and engage people, create some moments and in some ways make their lives better?”  

Could you imagine making a movie with, “Okay, I got an idea now for a movie let’s go out there and make it!”  I mean, it’s ridiculous. 

Has anybody done it?  Sure. I think Caddy Shack had some of those elements.  But those are exceptions to the rules and there still was a story line to follow. 

Winging it is not the same as spontaneity. 

What we want to do is create space in a show for spontaneity, if we do this right.  We leave the right amount of space; we have the right arrangement that allows for the spontaneous moments.

And we know when we’re doing those parts: okay you have space here. You can do it short. You can do it long.  How long should this part go on? …As long as it works.

On a night when the audience is not with you it’s not the best time to do a lot of spontaneous stuff.  It’s really, really nice to know you have a plan and that you’ve worked things out beforehand.

Amy:  Do you remember that Pearl Jam video?  They did a show in St. Louis. I can’t remember the name of the song, but Eddie Vedder spotted a girl who was signing, doing sign language, and before the song started he invited her on stage. 

He saw she was signing in a really cool almost fluid-like signing that was really beautiful, so he brought her up on the stage and had a spotlight put on her. He went into the song and everybody was focused on the girl signing. It was really amazing. 

After Eddie’s vocals were done and the song was still going, he went over to her and danced with her. Everybody in the room was mesmerized by this. 

That was a spontaneous moment, I believe. (Tom: Oh yes!”) He acted on his instincts and said, ‘That’s really beautiful. Let’s highlight that, highlight her and bring attention to that. It was cool.

Also it was very selfless, took the attention off of him and the band but it made them look all the better.  

Tom: There are so many spontaneous things.  I can think of Bono doing some things that worked and somethings that didn’t work, particularly in the early days.

Remember when they did the event at Wembley (Stadium) and he thought he was going to get kicked out of the band because he jumped down into the audience and tried to make something happen and it wasn’t happening the way he had envisioned it.

But, that’s a whole other story.  When you get to that space…whatever. 

But I’m just trying to say that one of the biggest mistakes is mistaking winging it for spontaneity.  Because with spontaneity, you have some form and you create space for that spontaneity, then we’re headed the right way.

If you have questions, please let us know.  We’ll work on including the answers in future blogs.

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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