In episode #111 of the CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast, Kevin Breuner interviewed live music producer Tom Jackson.
As a performer myself, I must say this was a rather thought-provoking interview.
So, I thought I would share what I got out of it.
From Record Producer to Live Music Producer
Tom Jackson states that most recording musicians are aware that to get the most out of their recording experience, they need to hire a producer.
This makes a lot of sense – while most professional musicians are skilled at their craft, it still takes a producer to know what is going to stand out on a particular track and how to make it “pop”.
Therefore, it stands to reason that a live music producer could help you bring out the best moments in your live show, right?To get the most out of your recording sessions, you must hire a producer. Click To Tweet
Creating a New Experience with Your Live Performance
Jackson goes on to say that your live show should be a completely different experience from your album. When you think about it, many performers (especially independent performers) play their songs in live situations exactly as they do in the studio.
That doesn’t mean all independent live shows go badly. On occasion, the stars align and everyone loves your performance, even if you played your songs exactly as they sound on your album. But Jackson says this is the exception and not the rule.
He also says that winning over 70, 80, or 90% of your audience should be the norm, not the exception. Your live performance is a failure if you’ve only won over 10 to 30% of your audience (that’s about how most performances go, isn’t it?).
So, if you want to maximize your earnings and results as a performer, it stands to reason you would want to perfect your live performance game.
Don’t be Too Precious (My Precious)
Apparently, most musicians are quite precious about their live show and are unwilling to make any changes. They believe everything should happen spontaneously.
But Jackson notes that he adapts his method to musicians based on the personality and esthetics of the band. It’s always with the best of intentions, with the goal of improving your show.
Rather than relying on spontaneous bursts of inspiration and unscripted movement (most bands would be horrified to learn how minimal this typically ends up being), you can build moments of spontaneity into your show. Basically, improvising when it’s most appropriate to improvise.
My Takeaways From This Interview
Ultimately, I think this interview helped me look at my live show in a new way.
What I got is that you can’t depend on the strengths of your songs to capture the audience. So, you must help them stand up and pay attention to the melody, the violin solo, the groovy bass part, hook in the chorus, or whatever the focus is.
There are different ways of accomplishing this, but I think most of us can agree that your live show is just as important – if not more important – than your album.
Think about it. Your album only needs to sell you to your prospects once. Your live show needs to sell you to your potential fans over and over.Your album only needs to sell you to your prospects once. Your live show needs to sell you to your potential fans over and over. Click To Tweet
The Verdict: Live Music Producer, Yea or Nay?
I must give this an emphatic “yea!”.
Getting a live music producer to help you (or, at the very least, getting yourself acquainted with Tom Jackson’s methodology) is absolutely beneficial to your gigging efforts.
There’s a lot to learn, but you’ve got to go back to what was said earlier. Imagine winning over 70 to 90% of your fans every night and having them bum rush your merch booth. This is what you want, and it is possible!
Get the vision or the “why” first, and let the “what” take care of itself.
But Wait… There’s More!
You didn’t think we were done here, did you?
I had the opportunity to put Tom Jackson’s suggestions to use for one of my shows and wanted to report on the results.
That’s right. We’re going to look at a real world case study and see if this live music production stuff makes any sense.
Note: I didn’t immediately go out and buy all of Jackson’s stuff (I did eventually interview live music producer Kevin Pauls), but after listening to the interview I mentioned above, a lot of stuff clicked for me and I gave it a try.
So, I knew I wasn’t getting the whole meal deal, but I knew my show could improve just by using what I had learned.
Live Music Production Case Study: David Andrew Wiebe Band
Again, in case you missed it, all I did was study the Tom Jackson interview and apply his suggestions. I didn’t get any live coaching for this.
So, on May 21, 2011, I had the chance to perform in one of the theaters at Calgary Life Church. It was the first time the entire five-piece band had played together (gulp). Good thing some of us had a history together.
Here are the ideas I took from Jackson, how I implemented them, and what happened next:
I Turned in the Direction of the Musicians Playing the Most Compelling Part
As the guitarist and lead singer of the band, I’m often glued to the mic. So, this wasn’t exactly easy.
But I still found ways to turn in the direction of my band mates when they were playing solos, melodies, or other compelling parts.
This draws attention to the thing the audience should be paying attention to.
I Stepped Forward When I Was Playing the Most Compelling Part
When I had a solo or breakdown to play, I moved towards the audience instead of pulling away.
I wasn’t constantly drawing attention to myself, but I did when I felt my part needed to be appreciated.
As a lead singer, though, you can’t exactly get people to look away all the time either.
I Got into Character for Each Song
Specifically, we had a progressive acoustic instrumental in the middle of the set.
During the “reggae” section, I bounced up and down. This got a reaction from the audience, who laughed and enjoyed the performance.
Key point: Jackson says you don’t want every song to look alike, because every song of yours is different, and your movement on stage should reflect this.
…And These are The Results
Lo and behold, just doing the above made a big difference at the merch table.
Now, I wish I had numbers, but alas, this was nine years ago!
For this show, we were collecting donations for the Japanese Red Cross Society earthquake relief, and considering we didn’t get the audience turnout we were hoping for, we did well.
We didn’t do too badly with CD sales, pre-sales, and tips, either.
The audience had a good time, and we got lots of positive feedback after the fact. We were even invited to perform in front of another church congregation (more ethnically diverse), which we did at a later date. Always a good sign when you’re getting follow-up opportunities.
If little adjustments like the ones mentioned here can make a difference, there’s no doubt in my mind this live music production thing works!
Live Music Producer, Final Thoughts
Here at Music Entrepreneur HQ, we used to promote Tom Jackson’s Onstage Success. At some point, they discontinued their affiliate program.
But I figured this post still had the opportunity to help you, so I kept it and updated it over time.
Live music production is awesome. And it can make a massive difference for your show.
Although we won’t be sending you over to Onstage Success (for reasons already mentioned), there is still a next step we can recommend.
See, Tom Jackson has a hardcover book called Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method.
It isn’t cheap. Then again, it’s a cost you could easily recover with one paying gig.
So, if you want to keep going, grab your copy of Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method now.