In an age where fewer people seem to be buying music, no matter what your style or genre, an artist’s live show is becoming even more important. Many artists are ONLY making money from playing live, so without a doubt, this is where you’re going to want to shine. We’ve spoken before about things to do to improve your live show with things like video-taping yourself, but Adrian Try over at Audio Tuts has composed a list of 8 great things to think about, whether you are a seasoned veteran or putting together your first live show. After the jump we take a look at Adrian’s analysis.
1. Project an image
Bands and solo performers project a sense of style in everything
they do. Make sure you’re aware of the image you are projecting, and
make the most of it.
Your sense of style doesn’t just come from your music – it is
reinforced by the way you dress, your set design, the way you move, the
things you say, the equipment you use, and even your advertising
material, including posters and website.
Successful performers put an enormous amount of thought and work
into the way they perform. You are there to present a show, not a
random selection of songs. You don’t want to just turn up, stand on
stage, and knock off one number after another.
Think through how one song can lead into another. Plan when to reach
a climax, and how to come down from the high. Think of how your
clothes, set design, and the way you present yourselves reinforce your
band’s image. And be consistent.
2. Design your set
Designing a set can be as simple or as complex as you like. But
start by being practical. How many people will be on stage? Are they
mobile, or tied behind keyboards and drum kits? Who needs to be
positioned together? Sketch out where everyone will be on stage, and
where they can move.
If most of you are mobile and able to move around on stage, make the
most of it. Plan when and where everyone will move. Add some
interaction between singers and players. Use humor if appropriate. And
work out how you can make the high point of the important songs
If most of you are chained to an immovable instrument, work out how
you can design your set to make the most of it. You might use platforms
to make some players more visible. You might set up several keyboards
in different places. If the drummer has a huge kit, where can you put
him, and how can you make the most of it?
Make your set as visually appealing as possible, but also make it
flexible. You may have to set up in all sorts of venues, and on all
sizes of stage. What will you use as a backdrop? Do you need to consult
a designer to get the color scheme and other design elements right?
And be sensible. If you’re playing in a small venue to a small
crowd, and don’t have roadies, you won’t want to spend half the day
3. Make the most of lighting
Lighting can be extremely important, and extremely expensive! It adds a sense of mood and excitement second only to the music.
To make the most of your lighting, it needs to be carefully
choreographed and rehearsed. The lighting guy is a performer in his own
right. He has to learn his pieces like any other band member, and
projects an atmosphere with the lights the way you do with music.
If you tailor-make the lighting for the music, the result is
worthwhile and unique. It sets the mood and greatly influences the way
the crowd respond to each song.
4. Get a reasonable sound
If you are used to the rich layered sounds that can be produced in a
studio, you will have to modify and simplify the arrangement for a live
performance. Unless you’re willing to play along to backing tracks or
sequencers, you are limited by the number of musicians in the band, and
have to make the most of them.
Pick out the main themes, the important licks, and the song’s
groove. Choose sounds that are similar to the recording without
necessarily being identical.
The point of a performance isn’t to accurately reproduce the sounds
off an album – that’s an impossible job. You’re there to entertain the
crowd, who are looking for a good feel, strong vocals, and visual
excitement. If you’re doing a cover from an album the audience are
familiar with, your sound should be similar without being identical. If
you give them a good performance, they won’t care about the difference.
5. Justify the expense
By now you might have your calculator out, adding up the cost of the
set, costumes, lighting, instruments, mikes and PA. Then there’s the
cost and effort of transporting it from venue to venue. As you do the
math, you realise that you’ll have to charge more for entry to your gig
than anyone would be willing to pay.
You have to be sensible, and adjust your expectations to what you
can afford. Rather than a complicated set that costs a fortune to build
and a semi-trailer to carry around, try to come up with some creative
ideas that give a similar effect with less. You’d be surprised at how
much creative thinking can slash costs. Even famous bands need to
simplify their sets when traveling overseas.
6. Don’t predict the audience
Whether you are performing in different countries, different cities,
or just on different nights in the same venue, the audiences will
respond differently. You can’t predict it, and shouldn’t read too much
into your performance (or talent) if you receive an unfavorable
reaction one night. You don’t know what tomorrow night will be like.
It’s all part of the experience!
And if you worry too much about the audience’s reaction (or seeming
unresponsiveness) while on stage, your performance will suffer. If
you’re enjoying yourself, the audience will probably enjoy themselves
too. There’s nothing worse than a performer feeling sorry for
themselves, or a performer trying too hard to please or get attention.
7. Get it on video
Don’t underestimate the value of a good video. In these digital days we don’t just listen to music – we like to watch.
Get someone to capture you on video at some of your concerts, and
spend some serious computer time presenting it well. You don’t want to
look amateurish. Placing a good video clip on YouTube or your website
lets you reach a wider audience, and gives your band great exposure.
8. Some advice for beginners
When you’re new, people won’t know what to expect. You’re likely to
get very mixed reactions, expecially if your sound is an “acquired
taste”, or appeals to those who enjoy a specific music style. Don’t
take an unresponsive audience too much to heart, and remember that it’s
difficult to gauge how you are coming over to the audience when you
Work at your sound. Work at your image. Make sure you are
performing, not just playing your instrument. And be positive.
Especially when you are on stage!
by Adrian Try