How Important Is Your Live Show To Your Career?
Tom Jackson believes that the most successful artists are those who are amazing live performers. A few weeks ago, Stevie and I attended a two day bootcamp with live music producer Jackson and his team to see how we could improve our own performance. I was not disappointed.
In his many years of experience working with everyone from big name artists like Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, or Jars of Clay to up-and-coming indie artists like the Canadian country duo The Reklaws, Jackson has learned that fans don’t just come to a live show to listen to music. They come to feel emotion. What they crave is to connect with an artist, and to have their lives changed.
As for merchandise, most fans don’t buy a CD because they want to listen to the studio version of the song they heard live. Merchandise, Jackson says, is a prop that help fans relive the emotional moments of a live performance. The merchandise is a memento, and the emotional moments in a show are what it’s all about.
The Steven Spielberg of Live Music Performance
Tom Jackson teaches musicians how to make their live stage show remarkable. He helps artists deliberately create emotional “moments”. Jackson is the Steven Spielberg of live music production. This is the science of stagecraft and performance art. He teaches musicians how to use moments to create true fans, because it’s those moments that bring people back again and again to see your live show. It’s those moments that create the word-of-mouth buzz that propels an artist forward.
Jackson has created a structured set of techniques called the Live Music Method to create this magic. The two day Tom Jackson Live Performance Bootcamp we attended in Nashville gave us an introduction, really just a a small taste, of what he has documented in his book. Jackson and his asscociates, Amy Wolter and Lang Bliss, used these techniques live at the Bootcamp to great effect, and they also use them when consulting one-on-one with individual artists or groups. Jackson tells the story that the proof is in having one of the managers of an artist he worked with come and tell him their merchandise sales had gone up by 600%. After watching Tom, Amy and Lang work, I believe it.
It’s important when evaluating any type of career investment to be up front about how much it will cost. In addition to four days of our time away from performing, practicing and recording (two days of flying to Nashville and back, plus two very full days of Bootcamp), here is our cost breakdown:
- $800: Bootcamp tuition for two. $399 per person for the two day Nashville Bootcamp. Bands get a flat rate of $1200 for 3-6 people. Jackson’s team also does one day Road Show Bootcamps, although none is offered as of this writing.
- $820: Airplane tickets for two. Seattle to Nashville roundtrip.
- $250: Hotel. I got a great rate, three nights for the price of two, and we stayed out by the airport where hotels were cheaper. This hotel also included breakfast, a time and money-saver.
- $99: Car rental. For four days, gas included – again, I shopped around and got a great deal online.
- $150: Food. Breakfast was free at the hotel, lunch was free at Bootcamp, but we splurged a little one night at dinner and airport and airplane food are expensive.
- $75: Showcase performance critique. We put up some extra bucks to perform at the evening showcase and get a personal written evaluation from six judges, including Tom, Amy and Lang, as well as a live personal makeover on stage from Tom. This was very worthwhile.
- $80: Guitar rental. We didn’t want to shlep a guitar on the plane.
- $2274 Total for two people. Or $1137 per person.
The Best $1137 I Have Spent In 2013 To Date
“Now, success means different things to different people. It may mean making and recording your own music, or being able to play your music regularly in your area to fans who love you… But where that success you dream of will ultimately come from is your live show.” – Tom Jackson, OnStageSuccess
If you could spend a thousand dollars this year on anything to enhance your musical career, I propose that spending it on enhancing your live stage performance will probably yield the greatest tangible return.
Sure, you could spend it on recording one or two demo songs, doing a low-budget music video, printing up press kits, or hiring a publicist for a month, but in my opinion, there is no better return on investment than making your live show the best it can be. I am not exaggerating when I say that in 15 minutes, Jackson can make over your stage presence and the intro to your song, and you will rivet an audience within the first minutes of your performance. I saw this demonstrated over and over many times during the Bootcamp, and experienced it myself when we worked with Tom in our showcase performance.
The two day bootcamp started at 9:30 AM Friday morning, and ran to about 5:30. It ended a bit earlier on the second day due to an early dinner break before the showcase, which ran late into the Saturday evening hours. Each day was jam-packed with information and guest speakers. The two day Bootcamp is about much more than live performance production. This one also included bonus guest speakers Brett Manning (Singing Success) on vocal techniques, Bob Baker (Mr. Buzz Factor) on marketing your live show, and Lori Bumgarner (paNASH Style) on artist styling – clothes, presentation (although unforunately Lori had to cancel her talk due to illness). During breaks, there were also several tables to visit and chat with representatives of the guest presenters, purchase books, and learn about branded merchandise (T-shirts, posters, etc.).
The Bootcamp agenda:
- Developing Confidence on Stage – Tom Jackson
- Tom Jackson Live Music Method – Amy Wolter and Lang Bliss
- Discovering and Rehearsing Moments: Artist Makeovers – Tom Jackson, Amy Wolter and Lang Bliss
- Conquering The Small Stage – Amy Wolter and Lang Bliss
- Brett Manning of Singing Success
- Graphing The Perfect Set List – Part 1 – Tom Jackson
- What We Do – Tom Jackson and Live Makeover
- Lori Bumgarner of paNASH Style
- Bob Baker on Marketing Your Live Show
- Graphing The Perfect Set List – Part 2 – Tom Jackson
- Evening Artist Showcases
For more of a flavor of the bootcamp and some of the many pearls of wisdom dropped by the presenters, you can search for the event hashtag, #tjpbootcamp and read some the live tweets using Topsy. You can also read an excellent overview of the bootcamp at Tom Jackson’s website written by Amy Wolter. Here’s also another account of a prior Bootcamp from singer-songwriter Tricia Mitchell.
“Charisma Is Authority Practiced”: My Bootcamp Highlights
The best parts of my weekend in Nashville at Tom Jackson’s live performance bootcamp were:
- Learning that the only ways that you should move from place to place on stage are: skip, run or walk with authority.
- Being reminded that performing is really NOT about me: the number one job of an artist is to love their audience.
- Watching Tom and his associates, Amy Wohl and Lang Bliss, improve individuals and duos almost instantly (including me and my partner, Stevie).
- Realizing our setlist was all backwards.
- Listening to vocal coach Brett Manning imitate the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Participating in a group sing-along with music marketing guru Bob Baker, AKA Mr. Buzz Factor.
- Getting made over live on stage by Tom (scary! but rewarding).
- Having to get up and sing in front of a bunch of really good vocalists and a 6-person showcase panel of experts… with a cold.
- Winning an hour vocal lesson with a Brett Manning teacher from Singing Success as an evening showcase Top Performer (humbling, because it meant I needed it!).
- Meeting a bunch of really talented musicians who are all serious enough about their careers to invest their time and money in this bootcamp.
- Meeting Megan, one of the members of Tom’s team, who had been absolutely a joy and super helpful via email prior to the Bootcamp (as are all the members of his team).
- Going home feeling like I got my you-know-what kicked as a performer, and motivated to put what I learned into action.
One reason it’s taken me a few weeks to write this post is that I wanted to see whether the techniques we learned at the Bootcamp paid off. Over the past weeks, we have re-arranged our set list, added some on-stage banter, a “dinking and talking” intro to our first song, and changed the arrangement of one of our songs to create some “moments.” Just this past week, Stevie and I performed at our regular local venue, and put the tips we had learned into practice. The feedback we got from a few of our regular listeners was that our performance was the best it’s ever been.
We also received our one hour singing lesson (won at the evening showcase) via Skype from Jason Catron, a Brett Manning associate and accomplished vocal artist now living in LA. I have taken vocal lessons in the past, but, like the workshop, this was a very concentrated set of personalized instruction that I felt gave us a remarkable number of actionable techniques to try.
A Few Other Tips
- If you are thinking of traveling to Nashville to attend one of Tom’s Bootcamps (I recommend attending one of the bootcamps where Tom himself is teaching the main sessions), think about working some other meetings into your agenda. I met up with my Twitter acquaintance, Wes Davenport, during our trip, and also met Bob Baker and his wonderful partner Pooki, so the trip worked on multiple business levels for me.
- We rented a beautiful Martin acoustic guitar from SIR (Studio Instrument Rentals) in downtown Nashville instead of bringing Stevie’s guitar on the airplane. It was about $80 extra to do this, but worth it not to have to carry it on and off the plane and worry about checking it and having it damaged. They were awesome – open on Saturday afternoon and very accomodating about letting us drop the guitar back off on a Sunday morning.
- There is a distinct Christian vibe to Tom’s operation. At one point he talked and showed a short movie clip about the charity work he is doing and how to associate yourself with a cause as a musician in order to further your career (“cause marketing” with such groups as ChildFund International and Feed The Children). If you are uncomfortable with any of these things, just be forewarned that they will come up. We are not Christian (although Stevie used to be very much so in the past), but this didn’t really bother us. It’s clearly a big part of what Tom does, and is in no way a requirement for attending the Bootcamp.
- One of the presenters, Lori Bumgarner, was unable to attend at the last minute due to illness. She was to present on artist styling and personal appearance, which I was very interested in learning about (what female performer isn’t?) While I was diappointed not to hear her live, she did offer attendees access to her online presentation on artist styling. I also bought her book, priced reasonably at $10.
- Be prepared to showcase. Stevie and I really didn’t prepare enough for this amazing opportunity, and we were also both significantly under the weather. There were some very accomplished artists in attendance, including vocalists who teach. There were also some amazing young performers with natural talent. This is not the typical open mic, casual coffeehouse experience. Bring your best game as a performer and you will be challenged and rewarded accordingly.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience at the Tom Jackson Live Performance Bootcamp. It’s important to me that you, my readers, know that I am not an associate of Tom’s, and I don’t get anything for promoting this workshop. But I think Tom is exactly right that honing your live show could be the best thing you can spend your time and money on, because it will reap a big reward for you as an artist.
Please share your thoughts on performing, your tips, and your experiences!