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Improving your music performance starts with a vision

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Getting a vision for your music performance will help you connect to your audience

Not long ago, I wrote an article about the four steps to building a great live music performance. The first step has to do with the vision and planning stage. Making your show special involves thinking things through, or what I call “getting a vision” for the moments that are in your songs and planning how to develop them.

When I help an artist plan their show, I try to get a vision as I listen to their songs. In other words, I want to actually imagine the audience’s response to a song in my head. For one song, I’ll see the audience jumping up and down, or grooving to the beat. For another song, I envision them laughing and high-fiving each other because they’re having so much fun. And on yet another, I may see the audience with tears in their eyes and a hush come over the crowd as they are moved by what you’re singing.

You need to do the same thing with your own songs as you plan your music performance. To do that, I suggest you sit down and study your songs in several ways:

  1. Listen to them inside your car, listen to them playing on your stereo, listen to them through headphones and without headphones, etc.
  2. Listen with only one side of the headphones on so you hear just one channel at a time.
  3. Listen with a variety of EQs.
  4. Listen at different times of day: first thing in the morning, just before you go to bed, etc.
  5. Read through the lyrics without the music.

Spend time on each song, brood over it, get some input, put on headphones, listen to the rhythm. Look at it differently, like looking at a coin. Flip it over and describe the other side. It’s the same coin, but it has different characteristics.

Think about the different parts of the song that might be developed (so you get that reaction from your audience that you envisioned). I most often look for the not so obvious themes the writer or producer brought to life in the recording, but might pass by a live audience because it goes by so fast:

  • Is there a cool musical theme?
  • Is there an outstanding melody line?
  • Is there a meaningful or clever lyrical section?
  • Is there a great rhythmic part?
  • Is there a moment in your song, because you are so close to it and because you’ve played it a certain way, that you have missed until now?

If it’s got a good rhythm thing going on, pull that out and develop it. Every audience loves rhythm. I don’t care if you are a singer or songwriter, you can use your guitar to develop rhythmic things. Or if you are part of a band, perhaps you can create a moment in your music performance where you do a breakdown with everyone in the band playing the drums. The audience wants to groove, whether it’s a waltz or a rocking number or an African rhythm. Find the cool rhythm and develop it.

Perhaps you have a good vocal line in your song. It could be in the melody or in the background. If so, develop it. Pull it out. Make it a vocal moment that stands out. Now you are moving from just singing a song to making moments in a music performance.

Is there a simple melody in one of your songs that you could get the audience to sing to? When people go to a show, they want to participate and not just watch. If you can get them singing a simple melody, that alone can create a moment for the audience.

Be careful here. You’ve played your songs a hundred times, so it may be hard for you to listen differently and to discover the moments in your songs, but press in and do it. Take the time and make the effort.

It is at this point in the process that most artists voice their frustration. They aren’t frustrated at the required work to pull the moments out of the songs, but at the fact they need to do it at all! They know all the cool parts in their songs, and after all the hard work of writing and learning the songs, why does it need to be different for a music performance?

If you have felt this frustration, you need to remember that 99% of the people in your audience are not musicians. Your great musical lines, parts, and lyrics go right by them, and as a result, they have no emotional connection to the song. That is precisely why you need to dig deep, pull out, and uncover the moments for your audience. If you don’t, most of them will miss it entirely. That’s why this is so important.

Most of you artists reading this have the ability to be successful from stage. And if you develop your songs into “moments,” your rehearsals will be more creative, your performances will be more fun, and you’ll find yourself developing more and more fans!

Improving your music performanceImage of piano player via

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. To start learning the process of a great live show, check out

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9 thoughts on “Improving your music performance starts with a vision

  1. I think you are all right and also all wrong. Great moments in performances are not invented by the audiences visualizations or yours, but are the product of extremely well written material that can move a person emotionally and rhythmically. The pace of the show and how you build your set will add to the audiences experience, but nothing can replace the quality, or lack of, the material being presented. The better the performance of the song the better the response. My example for this is The Last Waltz with the Band. Great music from a band that wrote great material and did nothing to present it but to perform it with no gyrating bodies and sexy ladies to try to make up for the lack of superior song writing. It still comes down to great material. Visualize this.. crap in, crap out. How about taking all that energy to actually write better material and hone your craft to a higher level. Louie Louie is still Louie Louie… we gotta go now…..

  2. Every song at every show has to have a moment – one moment, preferably several highlights, and a big finish or a downbeat finish that leaves them mouths agape or craving a beer. I feel that if you wrote the song from your heart the moments and highlights are there or can be developed. If you can’t convey that “moment” to the audience-this is my experience-then maybe you haven’t found the beats in the song. For me, songs can be similar to plays where you have to know those pauses inside out, upside down, and backwards. For those unfamiliar, I’m not talking long pauses. Micro-pauses is maybe a better way to say it. “I……wanna rock and roll all night. …..and party every day.” is a common pause as is “We will…We will…rock you……..” Contrast to “The Blower’s Daughter” “And so it is……just like your said it would be. Life goes easy on me…most…of the time.” And of course that great Damien Rice hook, “I can’t take my eyes off of you.” sung differently each time. (just my two-cents).

  3. I agree with Tom. It’s very important to have a vision for your show. It’s not terrible to play your songs and sing them well. But it’s so much better to give the audience something they will enjoy and remember. I’ve seen other bands play and the ones that did something different and interesting I remember. And, when the band is tight and sounds good, that brings the whole experience to a higher point. So, that’s what I strive for. Well written songs, great musicians, tight performance AND a vision. Whether that vision be a type of show, dancers to accompany the band, light show, background visuals, or simply an entertaining way of playing the songs, do
    something to make the crowd remember you and your band. Rock on! Gordon

  4. The answer to the Stevie Wonder question can be answered with the title of one of his best albums “Inner Visions”!

  5. If you’re not following Tom’s methodology you are most likely missing out on tons of fans and sold merch at every show. Get the book & DVDs, improve the show and then report all those sales to Soundscan through us.

  6. Musical performance has nothing to do with vision. It has to do with the ears and listening, first and foremost. Does Stevie Wonder visualize his songs? 😛

    i’m just saying to consider choose the operative words more carefully. Audialization. Maybe that’s the problem with modern pop: too much visualization and not enough listening. Sure a good look is important, but it’s not fundamental and not even necessary. Creative scope and a good ear are.

    1. I think “vision” in this context is referencing The Imagination, not the act of using ones eye balls. What you call “creative scope”. (Likewise, scope could be considered an optic reference). This is appropriate and useful language.

      Also, one might argue that musical performance has a LOT to do with the visual experience (more so now then ever) and, as technology evolves and proliferates, the demand for a unique experience will probably insure that visual considerations remain essential to engaging the audience.

      It takes the development of a skill set to write great songs. A different skill set to master an instrument. Recording great songs requires unique considerations and different skills. And performance is yet another skill set. The concert audience shows up to see something and experience the moment(s). They’re not there to listen to your cd. Yes, the sound waves are a piece of the puzzle, but performance is much more than an exercise for the ear. I’m quite sure that Stevie Wonder has given much attention to developing the visualness of his performance.

    2. David, you’re misinterpreting what Tom is saying. Visualizing means seeing something in your mind, not actually physically viewing it. This is not referring to choreography, but overall presentation, which must include sound and visual. Stevie Wonder absolutely does visualize his music – his mind creates the idea, the theme, the piano riff – the entire breadth of the song. He has singers and dancers around him on stage to stimulate our other senses, because obviously he must sit at his piano, but even then he moves around as only Stevie can/does. Tom is trying to teach musicians to put on the most complete, focused and highest quality performance possible. It isn’t enough to simply walk on stage and play a song…even if you play it perfectly.

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