Echoes’ Andre Calilhanna speaks with live music producer Tom Jackson to discuss how a great live show starts with focused band rehearsal and having a goal for your live performances.
I know this part of what you preach, but I wonder how many bands really think through what it is they’re trying to accomplish with their live show – to understand it’s more than just running through the material.
Most bands, in band rehearsal, even for a big show, will practice for a couple of days, run through the songs to make sure they’re “tight,” work out the musical parts, and then go out onstage and hope something good will happen. They have no idea what they are trying to accomplish.
So what I’m trying to do is to see what emotions are inside these songs, what kinds of cool parts are inside these songs, and to get an idea: this is what I want the audience to do in this song, or this is how I want to move my audience – this one they’re gonna laugh, this one they’re gonna cry, this one they’re gonna be jumping around with us.
But instead, what most artists do is wing it, hoping something good is going to happen. And when something good happens, when the audience responds a certain way, that all of a sudden becomes part of the repertoire. Now they’re discovering when something works, but there’s an easier way to discover the purpose of that song, and that’s in the rehearsal room. You’re rehearsing with that purpose in mind. This is where we want them to sing along, this is where we want it so quiet you can hear a pin drop, this is where we want folks to rock with us… so there’s a game plan going into the show, instead of “Ok everybody, let’s get out there, I’ll throw the football around, and let’s hope we win the game!” There’s a purpose behind it.
In a band, the individual players need to practice on their own to be excellent at their instruments, and the band needs to rehearse so that all the various parts come together. But there’s also got to be a feeling of trust and an environment where, say, as a vocalist, I can take a chance and try something that may not sound great off the bat and have the support of my band. The same is true for everyone else in the room.
Absolutely. We’re so concerned about being spontaneous on stage, but we’re not spontaneous in band rehearsal. Rehearsal is where you work out the spontaneous stuff. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be spontaneous on stage, too, but this goes back to the vision. I encourage you and every artist out there to take those risks and trust that instinct – but rather than wait until you’re onstage to do that and surprise the heck out of everybody, that’s what rehearsals should be like.
A lot of times, one of the first things I do when I’m working with someone is go in and rearrange the songs. In the world of most of the artists I’m working with, the songs are written with radio in mind. Sometimes we’ve got a song that has sold a million copies, and we’re going to change it because one is radio and one is live. One is a TV show and one’s a movie. And then, in that rearrangement, that’s where some of this experimentation comes. Like, “Hey, that is a great drum rhythm. Let’s expand that and take a chance in rehearsal.” And you follow that instinct and you work it out.
Which brings us to something else about creating an atmosphere of freedom in the room to take those risks.
Inevitably, in every band, you’ve got somebody who’ll say, “It’ll never work!” “It’s not cool.” And it quashes any creativity in the room. But if everyone agrees that the goal is to be great, you’ve got to get past that. You’ll never be great, in reality – you may be popular – but you’ll never be great if you don’t take those risks. That’s where the real personality comes out and you start to develop as an artist on top of it. It doesn’t end when you get into the rehearsal room and you’re a good player. It’s when those ideas start floating around the room or somebody has this vision for where the song can go and you follow these ideas, and all of a sudden something can go from good to great. But it takes time and dedication. Anyone can just go over the songs.
So what do you do when you’ve got that person who is the wet blanket in the room?
The easy thing to do is fire them. And I’m serious. I’ve had people come to me with tears in their eyes saying, “Thank you so much – you broke up my band, we got rid of these two guys and now it’s so much more fun.”
Second option is, they’ve got to change their attitude. When I walk into rehearsal, particularly with a new act, I know there’s that one member of the group who is going to be like, “I don’t know if it’s going to work.” And I’ve either got to shut it down, or I come in with my strongest idea first. I’ve told major bands, “Give me four hours on one song, that’s all I’m asking, and if you don’t like what I do, you don’t have to pay me, you can play it the way you’ve always played it.”
And if what we’re doing is working, they’ll see it pretty quickly, because the band is used to playing a song and getting “x” response, and now they’re getting “x-x-x” response, and they’re like, “Whoa, this stuff works!” The same is true in an indie’s case, you can also work together to find those opportunities to create something special in your live arrangements.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
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, go to www.onstagesuccess.com.
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