Click play to watch this live performance video critique
“Why Is Live Performance So Vital?”
Everyone wants to be a singer. Everyone wants to be a star. But I’m always surprised when I find out that some of these same people have never sung in public, never been on stage, never performed with a band. It’s one thing to enjoy singing, and it’s another thing to love it and be comfortable enough to sing in front of people. There’s no substitute for performing live in front of a crowd. This is where you really learn how to read your audience, measure how you’re doing, what you need to improve on, what works and what doesn’t. The stage is where you put all your talent, personality, and even your acting to the test! Can you entertain? Are you good enough, unique, and talented? Does your audience feel your music and enjoy listening to you? Are you giving them energy, excitement, and goose bumps? Do they feel what you are communicating through your songs? Can they relate? Do you interact with your band, playing off one another and making the audience feel engaged in the fun and pleasure of making music? It’s impossible to know any of these things if you’re not out performing regularly to learn and grow as a singer, as a musician, and as an artist.
“How Do You Prepare?”
One of the best ways to learn how to be a great entertainer is to study other singers and bands. You can critique someone’s performance by how they make you feel, how they look, sound, move, talk, etc. If you left feeling that your attendance there was worthwhile, that’s a good thing. Have you ever felt ripped off for spending money on a ticket for a concert or live show? Maybe the band was boring, maybe they did not interact with the audience at all, maybe they sounded terrible, or you could not hear them very well because the drums and bass were drowning out the vocals. Maybe they played such a short set; you felt you did not get your money’s worth. Maybe the artist was arrogant and you did not like their attitude.
To prepare yourself for live performance, you must practice, practice, practice. Practice getting your vocals perfect as well as being in excellent voice by warming up and singing correctly, using your stomach not your throat, and properly breathing. Practice what songs you will sing in each set, so there are no dead spots in your show. Sing songs everyone knows and loves, along with a few of your originals to try out. Let your audience know you wrote the song and why you wrote it. Keep the music constantly flowing from one song to the next, only to stop briefly to introduce something interesting between a song or two. Give lots of eye contact; let everyone know you are a happy to be there. Try to coordinate your wardrobe with the band, so that everyone looks like they fit together; complement each other, to give a polished and professional look. Practice interacting with the band; choreograph certain moves during instrumental solos, for example, so you’re not just standing there like a stone. The audience will feel at ease, relaxed and comfortable if the band looks relaxed, confident and like they’re having fun on stage. Don’t talk too much on stage, and don’t be unfriendly either. Do what comes natural to bring the audience in and make them feel welcome and excited. Make sure at least one person in the band does great harmonies with your lead vocals. It adds so much to have great background vocals on the songs you are singing.
My A&R guy, David Harper and I attended a showcase last Thursday night, October 13th, at the Cadillac Ranch on Broadway, in Nashville. An artist I represent, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia was doing a live show for some talent buyers, to try to get more bookings. This was the very first time I got to see Ryan Casper perform with his band. We had produced Ryan’s cd of many excellent songs that he co-wrote with some of the best songwriters here in Nashville, and I already knew of his amazing vocal talent. But performing in front of a crowd is a whole different experience. I listened and I watched, and I also observed others around me to see what kind of reaction Ryan and the band were getting from the audience. Ryan played the guitar excellently. He was exceptional on his vocals, too, and he did not say too much or too little. Great songs, no dead time, great range and pitch in his singing, but I would liked to have seen the band dressed up more for their show, and Ryan up there without the ball cap on. You have to look like a star on stage!!!”
They were all well prepared in their musicianship, no complaints there. But there was one very important missing piece of the otherwise complete puzzle…they were not engaging the audience at all. It made me feel uncomfortable to see each member of Ryan’s band, despite how great they played, not moving on stage, no eye contact, no smiling or communicating any excitement or enthusiasm in their body language. I felt bad for Ryan. He was working so hard on that stage, like a one-man show, with no one coming to his aid. The band had not taken the time to practice how to move together, interact with one another, or how to “entertain” the crowd. The band needs to support the lead singer, and vice-verse. It was like being in a boxing ring, Ryan’s getting beat up by his opponent and there’s no one in the corner running to bring him water to drink, wipe the sweat and blood off his face, or treat his wounds. The band is his cheering squad, his support on that stage. If I were a talent buyer “entertainment value” is definitely something I would want to see in a live performance.
We took some videos of Ryan’s performance to show what could be improved upon. They are a great band and can be amazing once they learn to choreograph their movements and learn to “act”, or come alive on stage, as a team, not just “Ryan the singer, and his musicians”. A band really needs to work together to be in unison, to flow smoothly and in perfect harmony as a group.
There was another band that got up to perform after Ryan was finished, and we stayed to hear them. The lead singer was pretty good, and the band was more lively, they had more energy and better stage presence. My only complaint was the couple of minutes between songs, what we call dead time, that should have been filled with music, if they were better prepared with their song set selection. But this band involved the audience. An example, is that the lead singer introduced a couple that he had heard just got engaged. He had them come up to the front of the stage while he introduced them, and then he asked them to slow dance while he sang them a love song. It might be a little cheesy, but he was entertaining us. We enjoyed it, and it kept our attention. This kind of audience participation makes you feel like you are a part of the music, the song, and the celebration. You’re not just watching, you are involved, and that’s the difference between the two artists we observed last week.
I’m impressed with the artists I represent who get out and sing as often as they can, even if they are not being paid very much for their performance. It’s hard work, its dedication. It’s a lot of sacrifice practicing with a band, working out all the kinks, conflicts of personalities and egos, jealousy, etc. Rarely do band members get paid for rehearsals, so it’s hard to stick together through the tough times. But I can see the difference it makes when these individuals have the passion and the patience, and the love for the music to hang in there. I’ve seen many artists improve in so many ways, with their vocals, their stage presence, their confidence in interacting with the audience, even their personality. It’s wonderful to see people like Amy Gass who was so timid and not a very strong singer now perform so confidently, singing beautifully, and looking comfortable and happy on stage. She gets better every time she performs. And she gets better every time she records. Practice makes perfect!
One of the greatest bands I have ever seen or heard in my life are, the Eagles. Wow, they are perfection in the ultimate degree! The songs, the voices, the musicians! It would be hard to top that incredible band! That’s what I call tight. It’s obvious that the Eagles have been performing for years and years, perfecting and polishing their “act”, until they are so intertwined musically that they no longer have to think about what they are doing. It comes so naturally. Bands need to work together to be tight. Make it look and sound effortless. Then you’ll get the big bucks and have them yelling for more!