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Three keys to a compelling music performance

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From the audience’s perspective, confidence, authority, and charisma are three ingredients to a memorable music performance

What does the audience really pay attention to when you’re standing onstage? Is it how great your music, your playing, your singing is? No, it’s not those things… it’s who you are.

Let me explain: Most of the people in your audience are not musicians, so when it comes to musical things, they’re ignorant. That doesn’t mean they’re stupid – they just don’t understand musical things.

That’s not an excuse to be bad musically! In fact, I want you to be as good as you can possibly be. But what an audience picks up on (especially when they see you for the first time) is how confident you are, how much authority you have, and how charismatic you are onstage.

Confidence, authority, and charisma aren’t about how much you move around onstage. I always say, “Who you are is more important than what you do.” Now, what you do onstage is important, and I’ll talk about that in my next blog. But this concept is so important I call it the foundation for your live show.

Artists who appear to be most confident from the stage are those who are prepared. They’ve developed a vision for their show and planned it out, their show is creative musically and visually, and they’ve developed the musical themes in their songs into “moments” for their audience. They’ve arranged their songs so they can pour their uniqueness into the show.

Authority comes from the inside out. Those with the most authority onstage have developed a belief system and wrestled with themselves, coming to the conclusion that this is their calling in life. It’s not just a way to become a star or make some money. And they’ve learned how to listen to and lead an audience.

Both you and I have been told many times that people just have “it” (charisma) or they don’t. I disagree. Charisma can be developed. I’ve worked with multiple artists over the years who are confident, learn to walk in authority, and develop charisma. Like many things, it’s a process.
One of the key components for developing charisma is taking risks, both in rehearsal and onstage.

Artists I’ve worked with who have confidence and authority also have a spontaneous instinct inside them – they sense when something should be done, even if they’re not sure what it is! But they will come up against a wall every artist I’ve worked with comes up to: fear. The fear to take risks. Artists with charisma have simply developed that sense of when they should take risks and they’re not afraid to act on it.

Make sure you’ve done the proper preparation for your show. Wrestle with yourself when you come up against your wall of fear – walk through it! I promise, you’ll see a better response from your audience when you’ve laid a good foundation.

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Music performance guru Tom JacksonTom 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. A regular contributor to Disc Makers Echoes blog, 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.

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22 thoughts on “Three keys to a compelling music performance

  1. WOW! … AS I WAS READING THIS BLOG I THOUGHT “THIS GUY IS REALLY IN TUNED WITH WHO HE IS, NOT ONLY AS A MUSICIAN, BUT AS A HUMAN BEING”! I didn’t realize till I got to the end of the blog that it was by Tom Jackson the same guy who made a LASTING impression on me when I attended his workshop at the Immerse 2018 conference in Nashville. Tom you read a scripture from the Bible and I quote “.. remember the poor” and that thought has stayed with me since! You made an LASTING impact on me I wanted to tell you at the end of the workshop but there were too many people waiting to speak with you so I’m saying it now, THANK YOU for sharing your knowledge and expertise, and more so for sharing your “wisdom”!

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  3. Enjoy reading your tips all the time. I am 60 years old and I started singing seriously when I was 5. I’ve been playing guitar for 45 years now and have been in many bands of all sizes including solo gigs. I have something to add to the above subject. When you take the stage even in a bar or night club, be aware that at least some of these people have been waiting for you . . .YOU!! You have to understand just how cool that is, that people are taking time out of their lives and money out of their pockets to be entertained by you. It’s a big responsibility but also a hell of a lot of fun. To the musician who doesn’t have a lot of gigging experience, there is the tendency to stay internal, to stay inside yourself, much like we do when we practice or rehearse by ourselves. The audience will pick up on this almost immediately. So when you walk onstage to begin the gig or set, look directly at several people in the audience to establish a two way contact. Maybe even raise your arm to wave hello if you’re comfortable with that. Remember to smile, even if you are a bundle of nerves. Making an initial contact with the audience with a smile on your face makes them very receptive to you and will also calm your nerves. Know and believe in your heart-of-hearts that they are really wanting to listen to your music and they also want you to succeed. Stage fright is something everybody who has stepped out onto a stage has experienced, even well-known stars. So you are not alone. Nobody goes to hear a musician make music and expects to be disappointed, whether it’s your songs or covers, . They want you to do well, and the quicker you establish a give-and-take rapport, the calmer you will be and the more receptive your audience will be. So as you are walking to the stage take 2 or 3 deep-as-possible breaths and let all the air out of you lungs each time. This will lower your blood pressure and soothe your nervous-ness. And to get rid of the stage fright, be thinking how well you are going to perform, how well-prepared you are (and you do have to be well-prepared with all of your music). And smile because you are about to do one of the most fun things there is in the world to do: entertain people, move their emotions and draw them into your music. When this happens, I can’t tell you just how great you feel, but it does and it’s so much fun to play for people. That stage fright nervousness becomes a satisfying adrenaline rush pretty quickly. And by way of being an unexpected benefit, you do play and sing better. Cheers and best of luck!!!

  4. The blog is great; the suggestions are a positive spark to keep us all grounded and getting better. I enjoy the comments too; so thanks for taking the time to be precise and concise. Cheers y’all, Gerard

  5. Good points! But even the most naturally charismatic personality or visionary must DEVELOP the authority. The Bruce Springsteen you see commanding a stage today is not the dude I saw slouched over keyboard, with guitar practically in shopping bag, at Max’s Kansas City, meandering on about having to catch the last bus back to New Jersey, opening for the now largely forgotten all girl band Birtha (whose most successful member, Rosemary Butler, eventually became a back-up singer for Jackson Browne). He was a mess- literally and figuratively. And the only way to develop is to PRACTICE. You’ve gotta get up there and do it, and be willing to fall flat on your ass. And there is NO one- from the Beatles, to the Rolling Stones, to Metallica, or whoever- who have not succeeded on stage or anywhere else without failing, occasionally miserably, first.

  6. Thanks for the article! Looking forward to reading more in the future and appreciate the references to your books at the end! The Live Music Method is something that sounds very informative and useful, and I will definitely be looking into that. Working as one half of a hip hop duo, the delivery, confidence and crowd control in our performance is key to our success and something we are very consciously working on at all times. Having two performers on stage gives you the awesome ability to play off each other and engage the crowd in creative ways, but also gives you so many other possibilities that might get over looked or never even considered. With that being said, thanks for sparking some creative ideas! Look forward to hearing more…

  7. Good music is still good music and my audience can always here the diff. I know you want to sell your stuff but telling people good music doesn’t count ain’t doing them no favors. I’ve listened to many folks on stage who think and act like they’re the big hit but sound like crap. Good music will always trump persona. With it you don’t have to fake it.

    1. The man has also mentioned “that’s not an excuse to be bad musically.” I agree with this statement a 100% because I know a man who started in my country who made it with no good singing and playing skills. It’s all about confidence, charisma and authority on stage. I made a performance Sunday night and was very successful following this advice.
      Thank you very much for the article man!

  8. This is good information. I was already aware of most of it, but those who haven’t figured these things out yet can certainly benefit from reading this. Good article, Tom.

  9. I was just forwarded your article about the 3 keys to compelling live performances. A friend sent it to me because I perform at occasional Open Mics. I’m a loooooooooong way from being a professional, and I guess that’s the point I want to make. Actually,I just want to reenforce the point you’ve made. I stink on the guitar, and my voice is pretty ordinary, but people seem to really enjoy it when I perform. I’m convinced it’s because I have fun performing, and it shows. I no longer care WHEN I drop the ball up there… I poke fun at myself, and continue enjoying interacting with them. No one is “scoring” my performance (thank God)… they’re simply looking for enjoyment, period.

  10. YES!..Thats very true about the performance you hit the nail on the head I must say…While singing AT A POOL PARTY I just started to move to the beat of the music and one person started doing the very same thing it was kinda comical rally but it works..They see this as confidence…Great Newsletter!! ..g

  11. hello, just want let you know I enjoy receiving your emails, I’m a dobro picker(20 years now, bought it back 20years ago), play lots of gospel music, I play for several music groups at this time, I love what I do!, also I do not use a capo !, well anyways I have found lots of good information in your news letters, so once again thanks for your email’s, have a great day!

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