#111: Tom Jackson – The Live Band Makeover

While up at the ECMA music conference in Canada, Kevin (our host) witnessed Tom Jackson’s live-performance-makeover session. Tom works with a band and helps them make improvements to their live show and the audience watches the transformation take place before their very eyes. After the session ended, Tom and Kevin sat down to talk. This podcast is the recording of that discussion.

Those of you who have been listening to the podcast for a long time may recall our interview with Tom Jackson way back on episode 43 (January 2009). It was an extremely popular episode that created a lot of discussion, so if you may want to go back and give it a listen.

This episode will undoubtedly generate discussion as well. Be sure to leave a comment or call our listener line. The details on how to do that will be at the end of the show.

Tom is offering a special discount on his video series exclusively for CD Baby artists.  Find out more HERE.

  • I used to bang my head against the wall trying to figure out why every person at our shows didn’t hang on every word of every song or why the audience didn’t roar with applause after each song. But then I took a break from gigging, and got out to see some of my favorite bands. I realized that I don’t pay attention the whole time I’m at a show. I get a drink, I bump into someone I know and talk a while, I sing along sometimes, I laugh at the banter if the effort is there, I pay attention when “a little something from our new album” comes up, and repeat. Moments are not only created on stage, sometimes the crowd moments of their own, or picks and chooses the moments they want to participate in.
    No doubt Mr. Jackson knows what he is talking about. We as bands should keep swinging, and give what he says a try. Leave no stone unturned! Just don’t be disappointed if the crowds don’t always show appreciation for your efforts. Though they don’t always show it, they know if you’re trying or just going through the motions. My only concern was with stage placement….some of the stages we play on are the size of the drum rises in other venues, and taking a step forward to “pressure the crowd” would put you in the crowd.

    Great interview, love the podcasts, thank you!

  • Carl

    Great show, I’m sold, I just bought Tom’s program!

  • I really appreciated this podcast….I showed it to 2 different bands I am working with currently. A lot more bands need to hear this!

  • @Mike Dean: “some of the stages we play on are the size of the drum rises in other venues, and taking a step forward to “pressure the crowd” would put you in the crowd” …

    … there’s this guy called Ken Stringfellow. He’s in the Posies and used to be R.E.M.’s tour-keyboard player. And he used to come to Vienna, Austria a lot to do soloshows with his own material. Those shows took place in different sized venues and stages, but sooner or later he always ended up right in the middle of the audience, mostly even without a microphone performing one or two songs and telling stories in between (or sometimes vice versa). Even though most of the audience members wouldn’t know his songs, what made them come back each time he was in town was his ability to make every evening a unique experience by going with the flow of the evening.

    I guess what I want to say is that there are no limitations to what you can do on or off stage as long as it connects you to the audience.

    And yes, thanks for the interview!

  • Love the podcasts Kevin and liked this one, though not as much as I remember enjoying Tom’s original interview. Two points (one tongue in cheek)

    I run a business teaching people how to create ‘moments’ when they’re doing podcast interviews and Tom makes the typical error which is to answer a question, then interrupt oneself to make a tangenital point, and then interrupt that point to share an annecdote and only eventually come back to finish the point and finally finish answering the question. You can learn how to avoid this trap by buying my 7 DVD lectures series podcast interview success at podcastinterviewsuccess dot com

    but seriously I know there’s lots of naysayers out there, but I get what Tom is doing and see the validity of it. I’m sure there’s a few more of us out there. I felt that way too much of the interview was about trying to justify what he does rather than helping us put some of the stuff into practice. Maybe he was just fried after a long day of lecturing…

  • Tom-

    Thanks for coming back to the show! Most of your advice during this episode involves moving and posturing, approaching the audience and whatnot. What if you’re tied to a piece of furniture?

    My act is a two-piece like the Dresden Dolls- I’m on keys, my partner’s on drums. We can’t exactly move around (and don’t you dare say “keytar”, gotta wait until I have a three-piece for that). What kind of advice can you give for guys like us that have fixed stage positions?

    Fortunately, I’m on a wireless headworn mic so I can walk around between songs, but during the numbers both of us have both hands busy behind stationary instruments.

  • I really enjoyed this podcast, it’s something I had kind of thought of before but nowhere near to this extent. My bandmates used to make fun of me for looking at myself in the window or mirror at rehearsal so I would know what I look like on stage. I’m planning on buying the band DVD soon, wish I could get them all or even a private lesson ( maybe eventually) put this is something I’m really drinking the kool aid on. Tom was also a very etertaining guest as well. I could really identify with his sports references.

  • Sorry I don’t listen to this podcast anymore but Matthew, if you pay attention to the likes of Tom, you’re doomed to fail as just another wanna-be live band. Find your formula, follow it and you will do well. Follow these losers trying to sell you product (their services) and you WILL FAIL.

  • @Matthew Ebel – listen to the voice of wisdom YOU WILL FAIL!!!!! Bwahhaha!!!!

    Just reading your post now –


    good stuff!

  • The program can be a useful tool.

    However, when I think back, there are quite a few bands that do not have much stage presence and still developed a huge following in their heyday. I’m thinking early Echo & The Bunnymen.

    Also, if you are really focused on making good music you can pull people in with the smallest of gestures. I’m thinking of the way Brent Knopf as Ramona Falls opened and continued his set when he opened for the national.

    Here’s a review: http://exm.nr/RamonaFallsWiltern

  • I used to do a lot of musical direction for bands. I lived in Nashville, TN for six and a half years, and on more than one occasion I got to work with Tom during production rehearsals with an artist named Mary-Kathryn. The other artists I was working with were mainly indie acts that hardly ever did any rehearsal, mostly flying by the seat of their pants, and it showed.

    One of my jobs was for a small indie label with a tour that would go out to the same venues every month, but would feature a different artist on the label. Almost without exception the artist would come in and do their show and it was usually passable. And without exception Tom would come in every month during production rehearsals and transform their shows with only a few suggestions and very little prep time.

    If you’ve ever been skeptical about live music production as being not legit, or stupid, then as a pro I would suggest you put aside your presuppositions and listen to what Tom has to say. He will tell you what you should do the first time around, but then you can apply those lessons every time you put a new production together. I am a live performer/artist now, and I still use his methods to this day, albeit now they are burned so far into my conscience that I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

    As for Mr King’s comment above, I completely disagree with his statement. The moment you settle into a formula your audience will know because it will translate into every “bit” that you put together. Also the moment you decide you know all is the moment you decide to stop learning, and is also the moment you stop growing. Don’t listen to the likes of Mr King, or you are doomed to fail! Never be afraid to experiment, otherwise what did you decide to become a creative artist for?

    Keep up the great work on the podcast guys!

  • @Robert Lee King – Ignoring the voice of experience is as foolish as ignoring your instincts.

    @Matt Blick – Thanks, hope you enjoy the blog post!

  • Robertleeking

    Mathew, ignoring fact is worse still. The audience does not give a flying frick what you do or
    do not do on stage. They come to be entertained. Not to experience moments, not to get to 
    know the band nor even to understand the message of the song. They come for entertainment.
    Diversion from their daily lives and troubles.  Like it or not, that is FACT! Think about it. Why do you, go to shows. You do not go to simply hang out. You do not go to see something you’ve never seen before. You go, to be entertained. To be distracted from your day to day life. This is true in ALL forms of performance art.   As for Mr. Jackson specifically, he has no experience. He is NOT a musician, he is NOT a member of a performing nor touring band. He knows NOTHING but he is a very good sales man.

  • In a sense, a music fan is better equipped to judge a stage performance than a performer. But Tom was a touring musician. He mentions this in the interview.

    Tom is no different than a film or stage director that blocks out scenes to create interest on stage. Not all directors and stage managers are actors. Not all lion tamers have been lions.


  • Robertlleking

    H also mentioned he was a very poor one.

  • I’ll ask Kevin, if he got those questions. Sorry if we goofed.

    Apple has all but admitted that it doesn’t make much revenue from iTunes. That has never been their goal. Apple makes money from laptops, iPods and iPhones. That’s the purpose of iTunes–to sell more devices.

    That being said, I find it hard to believe (at this point in the game) that iTunes is not profitable.

    It’s just that making iTunes profitable is probably not a top priority for Apple.

    The Bolt

  • ChristopherMorse

    Love this interview. Tom Jackson has some great concepts that everyone should at least look into.

  • This podcast doesn’t say anything different from the last podcast.  The first one had more meat to it as well.  

  •  The first one of his, was really helpful.  I’m just bummed I spent 55 minutes listening to this one, to not learn anything new.