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Creating Magical Moments In Your Live Music Performance

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Part two of Echoes’ interview with renowned live music performance producer Tom Jackson

To kick off a live music performance, many bands simply string together three or four songs, back to back, and don’t stop to listen to the audience. According to veteran live music performance producer Tom Jackson, "That’s the equivalent of meeting someone for the first time and talking non-stop for 15 minutes without listening. No one likes that."

Here are three of the common on stage mistakes that musicians should avoid if they want to really build a rapport with their audience during a live music performance.

Live music performance coaching1) Talking too much. some artists are blessed with the gift of gab, but simply talk way too much. It’s more effective to pick a few spots in advance during your set where you can open up and create a moment by sharing a personal connection to a song.

2) "I Let My Music Speak for Itself." This artist thinks he doesn’t have to speak with the audience other than mention a song’s name and say "thank you" afterwards. That’s a mistake and a lost opportunity to let the audience get to know you as you build your set. Remember, converting an audience member into a fan can only occur when they feel they have gotten to know who you are as a person.

3) Resorting to clichés. "Is everyone having a good time tonight?" isn’t the best line. Unless you happen to be Bruce Springsteen, the answer for most of your audience is probably, "I have no idea!" So try to avoid clichés that don’t really help you connect in some way with the members of your audience during a live music performance. Instead, if you actually take the time to learn how to engage and read an audience, you will make much more money out of your performances and at the merch table.

You use the concept of pouring your personality into your show to engage the audience. What are some ways the artist can do this besides the obvious intro such as "I wrote this song after a romance went on the rocks…"
Back to the comparison between Eddie Van Halen and Vince Gill. They each use tone, phrasing and song selection as a few ways to put their unique personality into their show. That’s what defines their voice musically. First, though, they got to the point where they never have to think about what they’re going to play and how to do it effortlessly. They put in the 10,000 hours to develop their own style. Some people may display their personality on stage through clothing or staging, but that’s not enough.

One of the best ways to put yourself into the show is through tweaking the arrangement for a song, so that you can pour yourself into it. For most artists, the song is in control, not the artist; especially if it’s arranged for radio, with a tight predictable song structure. When I’m working with an artist, what I do to help them create moments is to identify themes and characters. First, we’ll look for the themes inside a song for the best spot to modify. This is often an extended intro, a solo or even the bridge, that can be developed into something really cool. Once we’ve identified the theme, we’ll next decide which character or member of the band will pour their personality into that moment. A good example would be a song that has a short 8- or 12-bar guitar solo on the record. For the live show, that solo can be extended as long as it is effective and the guitarist is the character who can really be featured musically and visually on stage.

Another example might be a tune that has a vocal bridge that’s passionate, but short and sweet to be radio friendly. If that bridge can be developed into an emotional moment, then it doesn’t matter if your vocalist repeats it two, three, or five times to let the maximum emotion pour out. Just watch a video of Bono or Springsteen take a bridge or chorus and work it that way. By the end of that moment, every single person is up on his or her feet screaming.

I have a simple rule: Sing fewer songs, create more moments. When asked to play a half hour set, most bands immediately think, "How many songs can we fit in?" Instead, if they thought "How many moments can we develop?" they’d be much further along. Not understanding how to create a moment and constantly seeing where they best fit into your set is going to limit your success.

Some of our readers are in bands, but quite a few are solo performers. What are some suggestions to help them use your methods?
Number one, you have to tell yourself, "I am the band!" There is a lot one musician can do right away to expand his or her sound, such as using a guitar for percussion, getting a loop device to set up some patterns to play or sing against, or switching instruments for a few tunes. We think it’s all about the song and the lyrics — and there’s no question, songs and lyrics are huge while performing. But they are not enough by themselves, you have to ask "How can we engage an audience using our songs?" We’ve got to tear a song apart, get to the sections that can be developed, and turn them into a moment that will get the audience to respond. Get them to laugh, dance, sing along, clap or cry, some moment that will connect with the audience emotionally is how you will make them fans.

A singer/songwriter doesn’t have the drums and screaming guitars, so there is a subtler spectrum that you work from. Something as simple as taking one step to the left to play a rhythm guitar part, or moving from standing at the mic, to getting on a stool and doing a more intimate mini-set can make a big difference. Doing a song a capella, changing the tones on your guitar, scratching the strings, whatever you can develop to stand out. You need to vary the ways you connect with your audience visually, musically and emotionally over the course of your set.

I’ve recently been working with an artist who performs with a band and who also built a strong solo set. That way, she can go into a label or manager’s office and have the same kind of impact. She is now able to perform so well and spontaneously in any situation that she can win every time she picks up her guitar. Of course, a singer/songwriter has to lean more heavily on their verbal skills and their songs than a band. But even a solo artist has to change visually, because if your songs all look the same, they will start to sound the same. Every audience hears with their eyes, 55% of their impression is formed by the visual image you put on stage.

What are some of the elements that make for a good set-ending song? Is it energy, message or just your best song? How much does the venue affect what song to use?
I always like to close a concert leaving the audience wanting more. Ideally, the closer can be an original, but I like a song that starts kind of low and then builds, builds, builds and pushes the audience along with it to its peak. That way it will demand an encore. How you do that will be different in a club than in an arena but in both situations, the audience has got to understand where you will be taking them. And then when they get there, everyone will feel satisfied.

Ultimately, though, a good show has plenty of energy, it’s not only about jumping around. And it’s not just about performing the best songs, having the best voice, or the tightest band. Those are all important elements, by you have to look at yourself through the eyes of an audience member. The audience is largely ignorant of the gear you use and what notes you are playing. To a musician, all that stuff matters, but it is useless information to a general audience member.

If you are serious about having a career performing your music, you have to learn to answer the questions, "Why does the audience go to a show?" and "Why do they pay attention?" If you do that and learn to engage the audience, and to bring them on a journey through your set, which is filled with moments that they can follow, you will have a viable career. You just have to learn to exceed audience expectations every night while you build a following. It really is that direct.

Tom Jackson is a world renowned live music producer, author of the book Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method and the All Roads Lead to the Stage DVD series, and master at transforming an artist’s live show into a magical experience for the audience. Tom has worked with hundreds of artists in every genre, including major artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jars of Clay, and more. He also shares his expertise as a speaker at colleges, conferences, and events worldwide. For more information and more blog posts and videos, go to

Keith Hatschek is a contributing writer for Echoes and directs the Music Management Program at University of the Pacific. He’s also written two music industry books, How to Get a Job in the Music Industry and The Golden Moment: Recording Secrets from the Pros.

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Keith Hatschek bio pic

About Keith Hatschek

Keith Hatschek is an author and educator who spent two decades in the music industry prior to joining University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA where he directed the Music Industry Program. He’s written four books and more than 100 articles on the music industry. His latest book, The Real Ambassadors: Dave and Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong Challenge Segregation, tells the story of the famous jazz musicians’ five-year struggle to create a jazz musical challenging segregation at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

11 thoughts on “Creating Magical Moments In Your Live Music Performance

  1. Pingback: How To Improve Your Live Sound With Music Theory | Disc Makers Blog
  2. Tuesday / Septtember / 2 / 2014
    Dear Mr. Jackson: How are you to day, Tom I read your e-mail, thank you for writting, and you are right, in every thing in that you said, about this musical busyness. I also could learn a lot from you. I have played at a lot of concerts From 1980 to 2011. But at this time 2014 I have’t did much. I a’m a lot older know. But I still love playing and singing and writting new songs. I love writting, Counter Song’s, Contemporary Song’s, Gospel Song’s, and some Blues Song’s. But I still would love to get some Concert’s to play and perform at.. I t’s really not how old you are, but how much you put out, when you do perform for the people that come to these concerts, that like your songs and how you do perform and also get them singing with you on some of the cover songs you sing. And to have fine with them, I love doing this with them so there invalid also. And also promote your manager also
    that got you there. Also to see how much the your promoter, would get also for these concerts. We could talk about it for a contract with each other. Also Tom for give my spelling if it’s wrong ok. I a’m hoping to hear from you. So have a great day and God Bless. My Son Also has a band, He’s a good singer also. There Called Rage’n Country.

    Mr. William C. Bushey:
    Singer, Perforer, And Songwriter
    Billy Chas. Bushey
    Phone 1- (218 ) 722- 7315 You could call me, If you would like to also.

  3. Hi, My name is Mr. William C. Bushey. My singing and performing name is Billy Chas, Bushey. I am a songwriter
    singer, an a musician. I have played at fairs, and some outdoor concerts. In Minnesota, Wisconsin, and a big outdoor concert in Chicago, in 1994, I have played at fairs and some outdoor concerts from 1980 to 2011. In 1980. I did a album in Minneapolis, Minnesota. and it was a gospel album. I made a 1’00.00 albums at that time and sold them all and kept 4 for my family. I sold a lot at Music Land, at the Duluth, Mall in Duluth, Mn. And at fairs that I sang at. also. For $10.95 a album. I also did a CD at a Inland Sea Recording Company in Superior, Wisconsin in 1987 and it was the songs that I wrote and cover songs also. I write country songs, gospel songs, contemporary songs, and one blues song. and I also sing cover songs that I like. In 1993. I did have a Audition at DollyWood as a singer and intertainer. But at that time, they need a full band and I dent have my bad with me. And they really felt bad and so did I. But they said, that I was a really good singer and song- writer also. She also said, that they only had a few limited number of position to fill. I also have my songs
    ( Register at the United States Copyright Office in Washington, DC.20559. ) And at this time I do make my own CD. And a lot of people like them and want to buy them. And I have sold a lot of them for $ 9.95 at fairs and other places that I sing at. Will I am still singing and playing at fairs and other places. If you would like. I would send you a CD with two cover songs and one song that I wrote. I don’t like give my songs out, even if I have them in Washintion, DC. But you can hear how I sing on the cover songs. But If I did have a promoter. I would have a contract with him. That would be the only way I would go. So if you would be interesed in me, and my songs. Could you let me know. I would need your address to send you one of my CD. I don’t like putting them on my computer for companys that that wan’t to hear them. If Interesed let me know.

    Mr. William C. Bushey.
    Mr. Billy Chas. Bushey.
    Singer, Songwriter, and Musician.
    or Call 1- ( 218 ) 722-7315
    Have a great day

  4. “Sing fewer songs, create more moments” is excellent advice. Fans remember a concert that gave them an emotional, experiential connection. We generally do not remember one more good song from yet another band in the lineup of bands that played that night.

  5. Thanks for spelling this out so clearly. There is a lot to learn here, even for someone who has been in the business since 1968! Our previous lack of stage presence has been our falling down. Since we teamed up with my wife, who really likes to explain our music to our audience, things are much better for our band.

  6. Great artical here, I have been saying most of this for years now,problem is most musicians really dont know what the hell is going down with playing music. The dating and marriage was a great way to understand it!

    keep it the great articals

    Brian 😉

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