Why You Need a Live Music Producer (And Don't Even Know It)
By Wade Sutton, Rocket to the Stars
"The vast majority of income for most bands is brought in by their live shows, yet most of them spend little or no time trying to make those live shows more entertaining for their audiences."
That is a quote I scribbled in my notebook nearly five months prior to me writing this article. I was in Nashville for the annual Tom Jackson Boot Camp, a two-day crash course in live performance instruction, music promotion, and networking. Tom, considered by many to be the best live music producer in the world (and a very good friend to Rocket to the Stars), was talking about the manner in which many bands and performers prioritize their time and energy when it comes to rehearsing for their shows.
Here is the thing: Many people SERIOUSLY pursuing music as a career, mostly those in cities like Nashville and Los Angeles, understand what a live music producer brings to the table. I'm talking about performers actively pursuing development and doing everything they can to improve at their craft. But a lot of artists outside that specific group don't even know what a live music producer does, let alone works with one.
And that is a big part of the reason why so many artists are having such a difficult time standing out from the crowd...
"MEET TOM JACKSON"
Live music producer Tom Jackson has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jordin Sparks, and more! He travels the world instructing singers and bands on how to improve their live shows so they are more entertaining for audiences. He has spoken at representative events at Berklee College of Music, the Noise Music Conference in New Zealand, and Canadian Music Week in Toronto. Tom is also the author of "Live Music Method" and creator of the "All Roads Lead to the Stage" DVD series.
"SO, WHAT DOES A LIVE MUSIC PRODUCER DO?"
"A live music producer takes an artist and develops who they are on stage," said Tom. "They help the artist find "moments" in their songs that are memorable, and helps them deliver them visually in a way that their audiences understand."
The term "moment" is extremely important when it comes to live music production. Think of them as specific things that happen during a live show that leave such an impression on audiences that fans remember and talk about them years later. When everybody attending a Garth Brooks concert sings "Unanswered Prayers" and Garth acts surprised even though it happens at every concert? That is an "emotional moment". When pyrotechnics are shooting from Gene Simmons' guitar and fake blood is pouring from his mouth during a KISS concert? That is a "visual moment". That time when your favorite band took your favorite four-minute song and turned it into an unexpected 12-minute ear orgasm that could never be played on the radio? Yea, that is a "musical moment". They are planned meticulously and then strategically placed at certain points of a live show for maximum emotional effect.
"Moments are when an audience gets so quiet you can hear a pin drop or when you do something that creates a standing ovation or your audience is brought to tears," Tom added.
Simply put, these things don't happen by accident...even when they appear to be entirely spontaneous on stage.
"WHY INVEST IN A LIVE MUSIC PRODUCER"
We were only a few minutes into our interview when I came at Tom with a question I know many artists ask when live music production is brought up: In terms of expenditures and income, why should an artist shell out large sums of money to a live music producer, whether it be you or anybody else offering that service? What is the impact on a band's bottom line?
"Because creating moments during a live show results in artists selling more merchandise," he said firmly. "People who experience moments want to be able to take something home with them that allows them to relive those moments."
It isn't uncommon for bands working with skilled live music producers to see increases in merchandise sales. One example Tom and I discussed had to do with a band that had been performing for a period of time.
"We went in and started working with this band on their performance skills," he explained. "About a week later their manager called and said their merchandise sales had increased by 600%. They were doing the same songs they were doing before we worked with them but now they had moments in their show. And that isn't uncommon."
So if hiring a live music producer can result in a positive return on the band's investment, why don't more bands do it?
"Because so many bands are spending their money on the wrong things," Tom told me. "There was a band I worked with that was set to perform at an expo in Canada. They had 20-thousand dollars to use and they were going to spend all of it on recording."
Their thinking at the time, Tom said, was that they would record and produce a CD that could be give out to the audience at the expo.
"But the problem was people at the expo were going to watch this band perform live and decide from that whether or not they liked them," Tom laughed. "And they want to spend all this money on these CDs? What are they going to do? Have everybody wear headphones and listen to it? This is at an expo. You have three songs to impress people with your live performance or you're gone!"
"WHEN EGOS BECOME ROADBLOCKS"
Many singers and bands don't want to admit they need help with their live performances. A lot of them will say things like "I'll turn it on once I get on stage" or "But my shows are supposed to be about my music". Tom launched into another story.
"I once had a phone call from the manager of this band and he was asking me to come in and work with them," he said. "So, I'm standing in line at a Starbucks one day and these two guys are in line in front of me. I could hear them talking and I realized that one of the guys was a member of the band I was asked to train."
Tom introduced himself to the musician and told the young man that the band's manager had contacted him about helping out. When the musician asked Tom in what manner he was going to assist the band, Tom told him about the live performance training.
"He immediately took a step back and crossed his arms over his chest. He looks at me and says "But dude, our show rocks," Tom laughed. "Everybody knew the band needed this help except them. They had good songs, a record deal, and good publicity. But they were winging it on stage and it showed."
So what happened?
"About two years later I walked into that same Starbucks and there he was again. Only this time he was working behind the counter. And I really wanted to walk up to him and say "Dude...you rock!"
"REHEARSING LIKE IT IS SHOW TIME"
Another thing a skilled live music producer does is make sure you are bringing more energy to your rehearsals. They can push you to rehearse with the same intensity needed for your live shows.
"One of the things that made Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player ever was that he was notorious for practicing so hard. You have to go for it in rehearsal," Tom preaches. "And bands need to have that repetition."
"I remember this band I worked with that kept saying they would "bring it" once they were in front of their audience. So I decided to film the show. We watched the tape after the show and you know what?" Tom asked. "It was no different than the rehearsal. What they were saying about turning it on at the show was nothing but a bunch of crap."
"WANT TO MAKE YOUR LIKE SHOW BETTER?"
You have quite a few options if you want to seek help in the form of live music production. Tom's "Live Music Method" book and "All Roads Lead to the Stage" DVDs are highly recommended by Rocket to the Stars. We are also big supporters of his Backstage Pass program which is a subscription service that grants access to exclusive articles and videos on his website. In fact, we believe in the Backstage Pass program so much, we have our own membership for it. You can check into that, the book, and the DVDs by clicking HERE.
If you are looking for a more personal approach, you can hire Tom Jackson or one of his assistants (Amy Wolter and Lang Bliss are awesome to work with) to train you and help develop your live show. Be sure to tell them you learned about their services through Rocket!
One more thing to consider: The 2014 Tom Jackson Boot Camp is scheduled for September 26th and 27th in Nashville. You can sign up for it as early as today and it is an awesome opportunity to learn and network. And, yes, you can even expect to see me there as well!
After spending nearly twenty years as a professional radio journalist, Rocket to the Stars creator Wade Sutton now helps singers and bands all over world advance their music careers. He offers classes and consultations on everything from how bands can better interact with the media to designing their websites and media kits. Wade's articles have been read by people in more than twenty countries and have been shared by top music industry officials and voice instructors, marketing experts, radio stations, and artists. You can learn more about him and his services at www.RockettotheStars.com.