When I work with an artist on their show and they don’t have the knowledge of, or lack fundamental skills onstage, I am severely limited at helping them emotionally connect to an audience. People who see them won’t be able to recognize their uniqueness – they end up being like everybody else!
It’s like asking a guitar player to play a particular part on their guitar, but if they don’t have the knowledge or skill, then we have to do something less creative or unique.
Before I was a Live Music Producer, I worked in a recording studio for six years. Every kind of artist came through! And each of them was unique and intent on making a great original record. But I noticed that conceptually (and paradoxically) all great records were the same. Great songs, great sounds, great tones, great feel, emotional playing and singing, etc.
The techniques of recording didn’t change much from artist to artist. We used similar microphones for all the artists; we mic’d the vocals and instruments, often with the same mics we used for other artists. Certain instruments usually went direct to the board. The artists used similar instruments: Stratocasters, Les Pauls, Telecasters, Twins, Marshals, Korg, Yamaha, Martin, Taylor.
They all had a producer, who hopefully would pull out of the artist that uniqueness, while keeping in mind the audience the recording was intended to speak to. They all used chords like G, D, E, A, minors and 5ths. They used the same scales, played in 4/4, some swung in 3/4. But the point is, there were similarities in all the recordings.
In fact, I found that a lot of these great (unique) artists were being mixed by the same guy. I was in New York, at the Hit Factory, visiting with Chris Lord-Alge who was mixing Denise Williams, when in came James Taylor’s producer to drop off the master for his latest record. He had just finished one of the 900 artists he has mixed. Was it Collective Soul? Dave Matthews? James Brown? Madonna, Springsteen, or Prince? How could that be? Wouldn’t he make them all sound the same or at least similar? He was using the same tools, same speakers, same room, same effects.
No, no, no! And this is where we make a huge mistake onstage! We think if we use the same tools that others do (for example a headset) we are like Madonna or Garth or Britney or…? Or if we learn technical skills of movement or placement, we’ll look like the Backstreet Boys or a Disney act. How about one-on-one communication? Zone communication? Listening to an audience? Applause cycles? Trade offs? Leaving space for authority and spontaneity?
I could go on and on – but here’s the point: using these tools or learning the technical skills of onstage performance doesn’t cause you to be like someone else any more than using a Telecaster makes you Vince Gill. Vince has his own style – and his knowledge, his technique on guitar, and his equipment help him express himself. Vince would not be the same guitar player if he only knew three chords!
So don’t avoid learning the psychology of a show, how to rearrange songs for live, the technical skills of stage, or the tools. Learn them. Practice/woodshed them, master them, so you won’t be hindered by what you don’t know.
It’s how you use these things to express yourself that makes you unique… not that you don’t use them.