Your songs don’t sound the same, they shouldn’t look the same when you perform your live music show
If you watched a video of your live music show with the sound muted, would it be hard to tell which song you’re playing? Does every one of your songs look the same when you’re performing?
I ask this question everywhere I teach, and usually I can hear a pin drop in the room. The most common response I get is, “What are we supposed to do?”
First of all, I believe your live music show should be as creative as your music. One of the keys to a great visual show is to keep the integrity of the song. The music will tell you what the song should look like. There should never be movement just for the sake of movement! The song, in a sense, is the script.
From a musical perspective, the reason you sing different melodies and lyrics, have different rhythms, change tones on a guitar, and switch instruments is to capture the essence of a song. Musically, it’s a no-brainer. But visually, it’s a huge problem for almost every artist I see.
I always wrestle with how (in a short article) to give you things you can take away and start using, but here are five things you can work on to get started with being more visually creative on stage.
1. Intentionally move to different places on stage. Own the area you’ve moved to and don’t be in a hurry to leave it. In other words, don’t wander. When you wander, you lose authority.
2. Singers, use the right mic stand and learn how to use it. If you’re a front man/vocalist who isn’t playing an instrument, there is no reason to use a boom stand.
3. Singer/songwriters, when playing your instrument and not singing, take a step to the side of the mic stand and engage your instrument. This will direct the audience’s attention to what you’re playing and set up anticipation for your vocals.
4. When asking an audience to clap along with you, put pressure on them. For example, say “help me out” or “put your hands together,” step forward, and look them in the eye. And if you’re in a band, everyone who is not playing should be clapping, too – otherwise you’re telling your audience it’s OK not to clap.
5. Guitarists, do your solos from different spots onstage. Don’t stand behind your pedals to play the entire night; don’t even go to the same spot when you move. Find another spot or two to play your solo on the other side of the stage. Not only will this change pressure on the audience, but the people on the other side of the venue will feel connected to you, too.
I hope these ideas help a little. I’m really just scratching the surface with ideas and fundamentals that need to be a part of your live music show. Let me know how they work for you!
Performing guitarist image via ShutterStock.com.
Tom Jackson, 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, is a 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 highly demanded speaker at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.
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17 thoughts on “Improve Your Live Music Show – Get Visually Creative!”
“”If you watched a video of your live music show with the sound muted, would it be hard to tell which song you’re playing?””
Wow! absolutely amazing! you literally just changed my entire outlook on my live shows. I am putting together a set list right now and I’ve been struggling. Now, I know exactly what I am going to do. I am not going to make a set list. I am going to make a show script. Each song in a specific order, performed in a specific place on stage, done with an artistic concept in mind for the meaning of each song. I’m being completely honest here. This was probably the most sound advice I’ve read anywhere, and I’ve been googling my butt off for the last 2 weeks. thank you.
What if you are a classical musician reading music with a small ensemble or orchestra?
When you have a true band size performance stage this is welcome advice.
As a solo performing tunesmith, sometimes you’ve barely got enough room to set up and not get knocked down by
customer traffic flow. You get what you play for when it comes to postage stamp venues.
I appreciate your views and articles.
Do you have any suggestions for a solo or duo that is seated? Other than stand up I suppose. We play small clubs/bars and often space limited..
Very constructive help. One of the things I’ve also done is to slant my keyboard so that the crowd can see me playing the keys. It’s actually easier on my wrists. Seeing that I’m actually playing what I do live is important.
There was a time a long time ago when I had a mirror behind me. That got plenty of comments 🙂
But doing only one nighters now makes that impractical. Thanks again.
NIce note , nice info … Thanks from Panama City DiskMakers.
I was excited to read your article. I’ve had thoughts how can I improve doing a solo act. Lighting is always a way to create mood. I’m thinking now how to create videos in the background. I’m thinking this could have a nice visual effect to my music. Somehow have a different video for each song I’m playing or would that be too much?
As a solo,, trying to think of ways to be different and entertaining. How to create the ‘Wow’ factor.
OK, fine for performers who are able to move around. What about keyboard player/singers. Actually a one man band. I am glued to all my buttons, keys, boom mic and foot pedal. Any tips on making that more alive? I’ve always wondered if standing in one spot would be boring to the crowd…but I have no choice. Otherwise none of the above tips apply for me.
There are a couple things that keyboardists can do to improve their stage presence — one is simply creating energy behind the boards with your body language. Some more suggestions — pick moments to lean back and turn your face to the sky with two hands on the keyboard or place one hand on multiple keyboards (how cool was it when we all saw Rick Wakeman surrounded by the dream assortment of keys with his arms outstretched, playing two boards at the same time?!), use your body language to make it seem powerful. Try some dramatic sweeps or one handed solos and really get into it. With a one handed solo you can play with one hand and engage the audience by turning towards them at the same time. Let your body energy flow with the dynamics of your music. If you’re a good soloist, a strap on keyboard can add a lot of possibilities for roaming the stage. Finally and most importantly, the biggest thing you can do is simply smile and let folks know that you are having a blast playing your boards. Hope this helps, Michael Lewis
Thanks for the great insight. As a solo performer, I forget these things and usually stay in one spot. I appreciate the insight. RpT