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July 19, 2011 by  

“People hear live music with their eyes,” Tom Jackson. The first time I heard that, I didn’t get it at all. Then I realized that it is completely true.

We are in a new world where making it in the music business is not just about having a cool video and a radio hit. If artists are not able to perform live and tour, chances of success are very low. Sure, there is the odd YouTube sensation, but without a follow-up live show, initial interest will dwindle.

To sustain a career in music, artists need to develop an amazing and compelling live show. Working with Tom Jackson over the past few years has really opened my eyes as to the importance of spending a lot of time creating a live show that creates memorable moments and really connects with fans. Fans who get excited about a show and feel a connection to the artist will run, not walk, to the merch booth. And that, my friends, is where the money is being made. Tom Jackson has produced a series of DVDs which really drill down into live performance. These are a must have resource for emerging artists (

Kevin Pauls, another live performance producer, recently gave a talk to this year’s Peak Performance Project Top 20. ( One of the stories was of a band who spent a year writing songs, six months recording and then 2 days rehearsing for their big tour. What is wrong with this picture? Winging it or being spontaneous on stage is not only over-rated, it is also great way of getting nowhere in this business. I am not talking about changing who you are, I am talking about taking what you do and making it amazing in a live setting. This means not only looking at the way the band is set up and how it moves, but also on song arrangements. The bottom line is that songs are not set in stone, they are mutable and need to be re-arranged for live concerts. This means thinking about longer intros, extended solos, more dramatic break-downs, crowd participation and space to explore those key elements that already exist in the songs.

Mike Snider is co-head of Paradigm Talent Agency (Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Toby Keith, Aerosmith). He was asked questions about how they’ve handled changes and challenges in the industry. Mike says Paradigm now has to count on “how (artists) are doing on radio and on the road… There are so many people out on the road. Bands and artists – that’s the only way they can make money.” So if as a recording artist 90% of your income is from live performance and merch, then why is so little time spent on developing the live show?

I remember when I was touring in the early 90’s with Rymes with Orange, we would get back from the road after a few weeks and dozens of dates to finally declare that the live show was coming together. It took 20 shows of finding happy accidents and things that worked to put a great show together. So, we had 20 crappy shows to get to the first really good one? That is a bad model.

If I was starting out now, I would set up my band on a stage the size of the majority of the tour dates for rehearsal. Then, we would spend at least one day per song figuring out the best arrangements and the best way to have the band move and be set up. Then, once we had the entire set figured out, we would program the set to maximize the impact on the audience, taking into account the pressure on the audience.

I like to say that as a band you should always be playing for a bigger room than you are actually in or you are destined to stay in that size of room. You should be busting out of whatever room you are in. Looking for an agent or a manager? Blow them away live. I also notice that a lot of great bands are forced to make changes to their sets once a light man is introduced. Don’t wait for a light man to get an idea where you need to be in any given song. The spontaneity lives within the form (that I stole from Tom Jackson).

If you can play a show and change a person’s life, even a little bit, you will have a fan for life – and a career in the music business.

Bob D’Eith July 19, 2011