by Amy Wolter

There is a mindset that we Live Music Producers have to combat when it comes to educating musicians on the importance of a good live show. It’s basically the belief that they must be musically perfect. Every note correct, every lick and scale stellar, every voice flawless. And so the artist must stand still with correct posture, or sit down, or stare at their instrument to achieve this “perfect” performance.

Well, I have news for these artists. This may be important to a very small percentage of your audience; but for the majority of us, it will be dull to watch and very forgettable. I know, because I’ve seen your concerts.

If I wanted musical perfection, I would have stayed home and played your CD. But when I get to a show, I want to be a part of it! I want to experience a memorable performance. I want to see moments on stage!

I ran across a book that drives this point home, chapter after chapter: “The Show I’ll Never Forget” (Sean Manning). It is a compilation of concert experiences recalled by various writers and music critics. There are recurring themes in many of the experiences. These themes serve to make the point that a live show is about the moments and the experience the audience has, not about perfection.

In one chapter, David Gates writes about hearing bluegrass legend Bill Monroe sing years ago at the Ernest Tubb Record Store in Nashville. He writes, “I heard Bill Monroe with about nothing left of his voice; he sang a fragile, gentle, unbearably sad and sweet ‘Wayfaring Stranger.’ I’ll bet nobody who was there has ever forgotten it either.” He also spoke of hearing Soviet pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, saying “…even I could tell she flubbed some of the passage work, but it didn’t matter.”

Writing about Led Zeppelin, Diana Ossana says, “I no longer remember the order of the songs, but I vividly remember moments…the slow build and release in ‘Ramble On,’ the complex rise and fall of emotion in ‘What Is and What Should Never Be.’ Everyone stood, then we stood on our seats…afterwards, none of us wanted to go home. We wanted to hold on to the experience of that live music as long as possible.”
Of a show by Redd Kross, Carl Newman recalls, “I didn’t know as I watched Redd Kross that I would chase their cool for years. All that time I watched them I was just so blown away. In the moment. So ‘in the moment’ that I wanted to chase that moment after it ended, figure out the formula for manufacturing that moment.”

Some pretty strong reactions, right? And some of these concerts were being recalled from decades ago! Notice none of the people reliving their experiences goes on about how perfectly the artist played or sang?

When the audience wants to “chase that moment after it ended” or ‘”hold on to the experience of that live music as long as possible,” you know you’ve really connected with the audience!

THAT, my friends, is your goal. Of course, learn to play well and sing well and write well. But work equally hard or harder on creating a live experience that your audience will make an emotional connection with. Trade the sometimes unreachable goal of musical perfection for the attainable goal of memorable performance.

I would love to hear from you. What live show has stuck with you and why? What were the moments that you wanted to hang on to and how did you feel? Can’t wait to hear your stories!

Amy Wolter, Live Music Producer