#112: Roundtable – How to Improve Your Live Show

Lots of launches this week! MySpace Launches a Facebook App. Google finally launches its cloud music service. YouTube launches top 100 music video charts and CD Baby launches a new widget store.

The podcasters discuss last weeks episode with performance coach Tom Jackson. Phone calls from our adoring fans and more!

Psst! Are you tired of paying yearly fees for digital distribution? Switch your music to CD Baby and get half-off: www.cdbabylovesyoumore.com

Stage dive by boris kramaric on Flickr – Photo Sharing!


  • Are you new to the podcast??? I just want to encourage anyone who has recently started listening to also listen to earlier episodes. In the last 3 weeks I’ve listened to all 111 past episodes! They are jammed packed with essential information for the indie artist and indie label manager.

    A big thumbs up to the CD Baby team.

    Enjoy your musical journey
    Priscilla Angelique


  • I had never thought much about the visual aspect of my show till the last few years. I am learning more about Building moments. and as a result our shows are getting more and more engaging. The Music has always been tight. but the show was lacking. now we have a Story moment, a moment where we expand the stage and go unplugged into the audience. an extended instrumental moment. a solo moment where the other band members step off stage. something as simple as sitting down on a stool for a song, can shift the attutude of the show. Keep up the good work. this is the kind of content that keeps us all on track and focused.

  • John Peacock

    This is a subject that interests me a lot (though I must confess up front I’m not a living exemplar of it – though from my observation of other performers and some of the more disciplined bands I’ve been in have convinced me it’s true).

    I suspect that a lot of what Mr Jackson is talking about is stagecraft, which is different from choreography or theatricality, but regards what is effective in presentation on stage. It’s things like the whole band walking onstage at the same time, picking up their instruments and beginning together, which effectively marks the beginning of the performance. The audience wants to give their attention to the band, but if the band members are wandering on and off… have they started … yes? … no? … the guitarist is playing something … no, wait, he’s gone again … is that the drummer? … their attention drifts, and the band has to work harder to try (and most likely fail) to win it back. Coming on together and making the first note played the first note of the first song is a simple declaration that the band are On. It actually works. It somehow signifies intention and confidence.

    Sometimes to get that confidence you have to practise things like walking on and off stage – which might seem silly, but when you’re in the dark with trailing cables and flight cases to step over, at least having some idea where you’re going really helps. You’re not walking out into unknown territory: the stage is a familiar place, and each player knows how to get to their instrument with a minimum of fuss. A few minutes doing something apparently pointless at soundcheck saves precious seconds at performance (where the seconds are more valuable than the pre-show minutes ever were), and can give you that impact I was referring to.

    And that’s all before you’ve even played a note.

    Whatever happens on the stage when the audience are looking at you is part of the performance. Everything. Including the vague noodling between songs, the incomprehensible in-jokes and back-chat with friends (these are things that I’ve noticed losing lots of people). Also the standing around vaguely not knowing what’s happening, the uncomfortable shuffling…

    The question is whether one wants to be performing these things.

    (It’s perfectly acceptable, I suppose, if one does – some bands have made a virtue of shambling, such as The Happy Mondays or Oasis. I don’t really like those bands very much, but I’m not suggesting you can’t choose to shamble. It’s just that most people don’t think there’s a choice.)

    I’d suspect the first skill to learn, before one starts moving around, is to be still – not the most interesting thing in the world to watch, but miles better than unmindful flailing. If one is able to be still, then the movements that one chooses to make are intentional, meaningful, liable to have an effect. Having that discipline is a lot like the discipline of being able to tune one’s instrument or play the songs cleanly and competently.

    One practises things (even things that are supposedly spontaneous – putting on a guitar, walking onstage), so that when one does them they come automatically, the way one wants them to be done. Then they become things you don’t really need to think about any more.

    Sometimes things that are effective are counterintuitive: the late, great Ken Campbell (not a musician, but a legendary British theatrical madman) said once that he could ask anyone to do one thing – they come on from stage right to deliver a message to the king, who is at the back of the stage in the middle – and know within five seconds from the way they did it whether they were a natural actor. But even if they’re not a natural, that technique can be learned. And having learned it, one can move on to more interesting things.

    (No, I didn’t say the way the tyro actor should come on stage. That is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  • In this most recent episode, Kevin’s mic was much louder than the other mics. I’m a long-time listener and look forward to every episode. On this one I had to keep adjusting the volume up and down to hear everything. Perhaps a little more attention to levels and/or limiting in the future? Maybe it was the burritos’ fault. Thanks and keep up the great work!

  • @John Peacock – totally agree.

    Re: Oasis shambling – if you listen to the beginning of their breakthrough hit Cigarettes and Alcohol it has a very shambolic intro – footsteps, whistling, amp hissing, then the songs starts. The guitars come in and the hissing remains only to be gradually faded out.

    That’s right. They overdubbed amp hiss. In other words even the bands who give every impression of ignoring Tom’s advice to create moments are still working hard to create their own shambolic moments.

    PS – (claim to fame) Ken Campbell bought me a drink once!

  • Wow. Priscilla. I think you set a world record!

    The Bolt

  • John Peacock

    I should have left that bit out, actually – I regretted putting it in as soon as I hit “post”. I have an old resentment to Oasis, as I was temping in a lot of offices when their first two albums came out – on repeated exposure, something you just don’t like very much can become something you actively hate, and those albums seemed to be on every office stereo in London. Of course, their albums were carefully made – I meant as a live act, they seem like a pub band plonked into an arena – and the canny production wasn’t entirely up to them (much like Chris Thomas’ production on Never Mind the Bollocks). The track I like most of theirs is the title track of What’s the Story (Morning Glory), which, as far as I can tell, is half a song, repeated twice – I’ve often wondered whether it’s the same recording just spliced onto the end of itself. 

    Very jealous of the Campbell bevvy. I never actually met him, though I was a huge fan (not sure why, as he was probably the most approachable man in Britain… oh well). He certainly knew a lot about cleverly presenting the apparently shambolic. 

  • Building moments has become my favorite topics. We all know that first you have to have talent and practice your songs. The real trick is frame those songs in a memorable performance.

    Last night I saw Ray LeMontagne. He has the songs he has the musical chops. his show on the other hand was the most lackluster I have ever seen. it was a beautiful evening at an outdoor venue and there were people leaving in droves half way through his show…. Performance is everything