Making Your Live Show Yours

Dear Tim Sweeney:

Recently, I played a show with an artist your company is working with. Besides the fact that he had a lot more people there than I did, I really took notice that his show stood out far greater than mine or the three other bands playing that night. Instead of just coming up as the second band and playing, he "changed the stage and the vibe of the club to match him." When I asked him how he came up with the idea, he said you helped him understand that your live show has to be a "visual" reflection of you and your music and not just depend on playing great live. Can you explain to me what I should do?

While it is hard to give you exact ideas without talking to you in person or over the phone (which I am happy to do), I can give you an overview of my philosophy and how you can start to use it until, we have a chance to talk.

One of the problems why artists and bands don't sell as many CDs as they would like to at their shows is, they are "visually" boring. When you put yourself in the place of the fan who is watching a show, you are more stimulated and focused on an artist who is moving around and interacting with the audience. While this is not a cue for you to jump all over the place, especially if your music doesn't reflect that or to give long drawn out stories between the songs, it should serve as a reminder that while people are listening to you for an hour, they are also looking at you.

The easiest place to start is to simply video tape your next show and see where you need to move around more and talk more. But that's not the purpose of video taping your show. You will notice, once you get past the "how dumb you look reaction" that we all have, focus on the stage and background. It doesn't visually change from one artist to the next. Nothing motivates you visually to pay attention for long periods of time. So with those pictures of the stage in mind, here is what you are going to do.

Get away from all distractions. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and your CD playing on your Discman. Write down random ideas and thoughts as each individual song is playing. Incorporate into those thoughts, how you would visually present them at your next show.

Then ask yourself, what "props" can I bring on stage that doesn't take up a lot of space and will cause people to stop and take notice. For example, I have an artist who's album has a constant theme about family life. She simply found a small kitchen table at a thrift store with four old fashion chairs. She places them on the side of the stage with plates and silverware to represent the place where her learning process about life first began. Then later in the set, two friends come up and simply remove the table and chairs and replace them with an old fashion lamp, end table and straight backed living room style chair.

During the transition which takes about two minutes, she talks about the songs on her CD and how they go from her early learning experiences at the kitchen table, to one on one discussions with her father in the living room. While the props where not some lavish or elaborate decor, it changed the audience's perception to where it made them want to stop and focus on her and learn what the songs were about. Dozens of people at the show who didn't even come to see her remarked, how she reached out to them personally and they wanted to buy a CD as a "Thank You."

In your own case, these same props probably won't work for you. The point is, are there ones that come to mind that you can use to change your fans focus?

The props can be practically anything. They don't have to change during the show. They can stay there the whole time. But lets not stop there. I challenge the artists I work with to tell me what else can they do.

What about the lighting? Does it have to be the same as everyone else's? Can you have only a spotlight on you with the rest of the stage dark? Maybe only a blue light? What about the drinks the bartender serves that night? How about long forgotten ones that would be different for people to try? How about a new concoction you can make up as the "band's drink?" The club can have it on special that night.

The point is, there are literally hundreds of things to do. Don't sell yourself and your CD short by only focusing on playing great live. While it is very important, the visual presentation and the impression you will leave with new fans will not only sell you twice as many CDs, it will create a tremendous word of mouth which will help you double your fan base.

Until we have chance to talk over the phone, review some of the other live show ideas I have in Tim Sweeney's "Guide To Successfully Playing Live". Then call me directly at 909-303-9506 and we can discuss what you can do specifically.

Author Tim Sweeney is head of Tim Sweeney & Associates, who are entering their 18th year of being, "the only true artist development company in the world."

Tim is one of the music industry's most sought after experts and consultants, and has written several influential books including "Tim Sweeney's Guide To Releasing Independent Records".

Tim Sweeney