Performing For The Audience

This month I'd like to talk about the importance of actually entertaining people while
performing. I recently had the opportunity to hang out with my friend Steve Vai at a
couple of his shows (Nashville, TN and Atlanta, GA) on his current tour. Boy, I
was wonderfully entertained by not only his musicianship and guitar playing
but also by his ability to entertain the spellbound audience. Both shows were
great (and long) but the Atlanta, GA show really stood out for me because I was
able to secure a seat in the audience and really watch the 3 hour plus show.

I really got educated on the importance of "performing" for the audience
and not just standing there playing great guitar that went over the average
person's head. I've seen many a killer guitarist bore me to tears because it
simply, on an entertainment level, was not entertaining. Think about it people. That is kinda the point isn't it? To entertain the audience. Not by just your fingers flying over the fretboard, but by putting on some kind of show. What a
concept! Keep in mind that you may even be entertaining yourself by playing all
these great licks that you worked so hard on, but it simply flies by the
audience's ears.

I've attended many great "guitar hero" shows that from a studious view
was very educating but on an entertainment levels left me sleepy and bored.
Seriously, when's the last time you saw an awesome guitarist in a small club one
evening and then a few nights (or weeks) later went and saw someone like...
oh, I don't know... say Kiss or Metallica in a arena? Of course, I'm speaking of fans of Hard Rock / Heavy Metal music. But seriously, how many times have you had this happen and just had a much more entertaining time at the Kiss concert? Or, have you ever wondered why Aerosmith is playing big stadiums and so-and-so, the awesomely great guitarist, is playing some shabby little hole-in-the-wall club getting paid $30.00 a night to play for 10 people?

Many of the time it's because so-and-so may be playing great guitar but is not "entertaining". Listen, that's what this business is about. That's why it's called the "Entertainment Industry". Because you're supposed to entertain people! Again, what a concept!

Something you may want to try doing is booking a gig at a local club and video taping the gig. Sit down the next day and see if you and a few of your friends find the show entertaining. A couple days after the Vai show I watched his 'Live At The Astoria' DVD and found myself, once again, being very entertained by his performance. I once asked Steve about performing and he had commented that he had learned to "play to the people in the nosebleed section" when he was playing with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. that's something many of us may never do. Get a chance to play or tour in large venues like the ones those guys played in the eighties and early nineties. So you kinda have to take his "advice" and really focus on playing to the guy all the way in the back of the bar.

There are different ways to keep an audiences attention as well. You don't always have to perform stage antics and whatnot. Check out the Rolling Stones for example. Keith Richards and Ron Wood are not running around the stage tossing there guitars around there necks like Yngwie Malmsteen. They just... look cool. They do, however, have a great light show and large big screen monitors. Now most of us are not playing venues on that level nor can afford the cost of putting on a major scale production like that. So in that case you really have to either be very "active" on stage or be creative when putting on a show.

My band has used large TV monitors spread out on the stage all playing the same scenario reflecting the instrumental music that we're doing. Sometime we'll even have all the screens playing different things just to portray multiple moods/feelings/scenarios. We also bring out our own lights and fog/smoke in addition to the house lights. This way we know that a certain mood will be reflected on stage every night for certain songs and if you're using a house light guy, he'll hopefully understand the cues - for example, don't have the lights up high and bright on the ballads and so-forth. Depending on what kind of lights you get, it can get pretty expense but it's really well worth it. It's a show damn-it! Act like it. Or I should say perform like it.

What about posing? "I'm not a freakin' poser!" you say? Well, I once read
an interview with Randy Rhoads where he spoke about Ozzy teaching him how to
"pose". "What Randy Rhoads a poser?" Never. What was meant by "posing" is that
when you're not moving around and such, keep in mind that sometimes people
have cameras in the audience and take pictures while you're performing. So you
don't want to have a really goofy picture of you looking all bored and stuff
possibly show up in a magazine, the Internet, etc. So when you're not moving
around... strike a pose. Hey, you think all those cool pictures of Joe Perry
(Aerosmith) or Zakk Wylde are natural. Well, sometimes they are but I guarantee
you that most of the time they are striking poses and looking cool for the cameras. Think about it. It's more pertinent than you think.

Okay that about wraps it up for this month's "advice column". Keep
sending those letters in with anything in the music industry you might want me to
address or cover. I read all the mail so don't be shy. Thanks again for tuning in.

Toshi Iseda is one of the pioneering players of the 7-string solidbody electric guitar. His music takes the listener on a journey through musical soundscapes, sonic tapestries and over-the-top guitar.

His instrumental CD is entitled "Full On!".

Toshi Iseda