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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8 thoughts on “Rehearsing with a purpose”
First off, let me say that I really enjoy and appreciate this blog. I think it is important to be well practiced and spend plenty of time in rehearsal. Then when you are on stage, that is the ideal place for improvisation. When you do something on stage, you will get that instant feedback. At our Modesto recording studio, we encourage artists to try new things and record multiple takes or even multiple tracks of the same song. It is also important to then revisit the music when you are not burnt out from playing and recording for a long time.
‘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.” ‘
But is it a better band? Doesn’t matter how fun it is, in the endgame. Especially for bands that play intense, dramatic, or very complicated music, how much fun your band is having onstage (and, of course, in rehearsal) is irrelevant as that is not the sort of vibe you want to aim for anyway. I’d be hesitant to fire the “wet blanket” – what if they have valid points. But maybe it is just that I am the wet blanket, lol.
Re: Ken McCray
Perhaps your family would invest the time to read your post. You put your heart into words that cut deep, but also ring true. There is no faulting a man who wants his family/band to do better. Nobody loves the band like Mom and Dad! Hang tough and read your post to them.
My only problem is my band members are my family. My son in particular is always derailing any ideas other than his own. They are better that me in a lot of ways musically but I gave each and every one of them their start. I look at myself as a coach who sees where they are and where they could go but they refuse to listen to me and anything that they have agreed with me on it is because someone else their own age told them the same thing. We’re doing OK but not what we could be doing. I go along with what they want because they will quit if I try to implement something they don’t want. So I go along with it and I grit my teeth at some of the things I hear coming from them to which they are oblivious. Accelerating tempos. Mundane stereotypical chord progressions I IV V. They also can’t tolerate their mother or I not getting something immediately when I put up with them over the years and still do because I hear where they can go not where they are at. My son will not let me tune my own instrument and his guitar neck is warped and then says I retuned my instrument when I did not. It just went “sharp” on it’s own. I can’t just fire them Unfortunately they are the best I have come accross and I have to live them 24/7. In short I need some kind of motivation to get them to see beyond where we are musically in the present and to stop accepting mediocrity.
this article really nails it; me and my crew don’t always jive just right and the key points here are exactly what we focus on to get us all on the same page. alotta times, one person being ‘a little off their game’ can throw a wrench in EVERYTHING; if the drummer’s too tired and just not feeling it, it can not only be hard to push the song out, it can feel like pulling teeth, and if that starts happening, communication really suffers then people start getting frustrated and it’s only a matter of time, usually just a few minutes, before someone is ready to storm out. we’ve found that being focused on syncing with the Holy Spirit is the BEST way to get past the frustration and not get pissy w/eachother, but if ya don’t have everyone in the group ready to put themselves LAST and put Him FIRST, something is going to suck and make the performance less than 100%, if not ruin it completely. i hope this doesn’t sound all ‘preachy’, it’s just how us folks who work hard THEN play music have to be to get good vibes after a hard day. i haven’t drawn a paycheck in almost 3yrs, and i’m busier NOW than i EVER was working 40-50hrs; i depend on Him showing up and being my strength, which i’ll admit, i lose sight of sometimes. it’s His grace that keeps me going. i hope this is encouraging to someone. (and, no, i don’t always blame the drummer, my drummer is my wife and she works harder than anyone else in the band; give that xtra hard working member of your band a break whenever u can!)
The thing to remember is that rehearsal and practice are two entirely different things. The other is to have a game plan and rember as I’ve always said, only perfect practice makes perfect. The same goes for rehearsal! Go big or go home;-)
My former band used to have pre-practice meetings. A couple of days before the rehearsal we would meet for a drink and draw up a practice plan with specific goals for the rehearsal.