Stage Performance Guide For Your Bluegrass Band
By Mandolin Cafe
November 28, 2010 - 8:45 pm
Stage Performance Guide For Your Bluegrass Band, by Mark Johnson
Stage Performance Guide For Your Bluegrass Band is a new publication designed to help bands connect with their audience and be more entertaining on stage. Too many bands know how to make good music but lack the skills needed to be truly entertaining.
The author, Mark Johnson, says, "For a band to be successful they need to realize that it's really not about the music, it's about the audience. It's about giving them what they want. They want to be entertained and make a special, emotional connection with the band, and that takes more than just music. At a live performance, what goes on in addition to the music is at least as important as the songs themselves."
A partial list of topics discussed in the book include:
- How to grab the audience by their emotions and make them love you.
- How to exude confidence on stage without appearing arrogant.
- How to use comedy to really connect with the audience.
- What to do if something goes wrong on stage so you don't embarrass yourself.
- The importance of adding emotion to your vocals to better connect with the audience.
- How to deal with stage fright so you can perform with power and confidence.
- The importance of your front man doing a good job of connecting with the audience.
- How to get the focus off of yourself and on to the audience where it belongs.
The 60-page book is available in PDF format for $15.00 USD, or for the printed version add $2.00 for shipping & handling (US & Canada). Purchase with PayPal, check or money order.
Stage Performance Guide web site
Post a Comment
You may leave a comment if you have a Mandolin Cafe Forum account. Clicking "Post a Comment" below will take you to the forum where you can complete this action. Please note that once you have, your comment will appear both on this page and on our forum. YOU MUST BE LOGGED IN to your Mandolin Cafe forum account to comment.
Just like any lying, pandering politico telling "the folks" exactly what they want to hear. Gotta, "play to the base".
Assume the role of Uriah Heep. (Dickens, not the UK band!)
From the economic side, it's realistic (but depressing) advice. So if you want success, you've got to buy in (or appear to buy in) to the biases, stereotypes, and worldview of your targeted audience. (Look what happened to poor Natalie.)
But I suppose the guidebook takes a more pragmatic approach...since few of us possess the talent, artistic integrity, and good luck to allow the music to speak uncompromisingly for itself and without some modicum of audience accomodation.
(If so, we'd all be playing avant garde jazz and art music.. ; )
I respect your opinion but can't agree with it. This would be true if the book was directing the readers to be a Branson-style family values band complete with sushi as bait jokes, bib overalls, corn cob pipes and blacked out teeth. The book--yes, I have read it--is a lot more subtle than that. There's nothing about selling out. And yes, I know, some people like that kind of entertainment.
Myself, I'm happy to play gigs where I know we're background music and don't have to do much more than sound good, but even that has its own set of rules. I like to work, so some simple and sound advice goes a long way. The truth is, this is more about evaluating and correcting a lot of fundamental mistakes many bands make. There's a check-list at the end and you can't go wrong evaluating yourself as a unit.
Just because a band plays exceptionally well does not automatically make them entertaining, and being entertaining does not necessarily mean you've sold out. It's a lot more complicated than that.
So the more I can just be myself the better.
But I have mostly done small gigs, more intimate venues, and I am not sure how well that would work on a larger stage. I can easily imagine an audience where being me would not be the best idea, at which venue I should not probably be playing.
I wasn't even thinking of the bibs, haybales and all that. The stereotypes and such I was thinking of were those that would be directed towards the various folks on the other side of the "culture war", in addition to reaffirmations of the ole time religion, apple pie and Uncle Sam. Maybe not the latter these days. The band must be 'perceived' as having the same "views" as their audience, which ranges from pure pandering (in the case of performers who have a different worldview in private life) to just avoid anything remotely controversial.
Haven't read the book and it isn't something I'd order myself as I have no aspirations to play the BG circuit. I thought the author's quote was revealing in terms of how one looked at and dealt with music/performing in relation to it being a "business" or as an "artform". (or whatever degree of blending of the two).
For a good book on the "business of music", there's the out-of print Making It With Music: Kenny Rogers' Guide To The Music Business, which you can find used for a buck or two.
FWIW, it appears to me (from what I read on the page) to comprise the basic tenets of music performance advice, presumably from a BG perspective. i would expect that it contained at least some bits of useful information (always bring back-up batteries, extra cords, etc.). The description seems to suggest that the book discusses psycho-socio phenomena of performer and audience, and what to do with that.
But to equate it out of hand with overt shams? Perhaps Niles is reacting more to the somewhat hyperbolic style that the premise is presented ("it's not about the music; it's about the audience," etc.).
So, I agree, it's not how well you play, it's how well you perform. Gotta play well, but not perfectly. A few agent-friends won't even listen to a demo cd any more, they want live performance recordings, and hopefully, a full-length DVD from a show. Doesn't have to be great quality, but no you-tube stuff. They really like it if an artist started out by busking. There's no better way for an artists to tell what works and what doesn't than the daily take in the instrument case.
I agree, Scott. It is much more complicated than that! It IS about the audience. There is a real art to just "knowing the audience." Sometimes you can win the audience with your skills, but sometimes not. When AKUS was touring with ADAM, Dan, Ron, Barry & Alison the first time......I guess in the early-mid 90's, they mainly just sang & played. There wasn't much entertainment value beyond their incredible skill. But the skill was spectacular. I saw them about 8 times, and that's just my opinion. As the years went by, they became much better at connecting with the audience.
Musicians/performers each have their own niche. Some are able to connect with any audience any time.....some struggle. For me, I have seen some entertainers who could wow the crowd with humor (John Duffey), some with stories (Ron Thomasson), some with amazing talent (Tony Rice), and some with an innate ability to just "connect" and pull at your heart (Larry Sparks).......and some have it ALL.
But you certainly don't want to bother telling a long story if you're playing a church supper and your band is basically background music.
It's complicated. That's why I'll get the book.
Considering that the medium is a two-way interaction, it's hard to remove or minimnize any of the elements--in this perspective, its difficult to separate performer, music, or audience as they are all equally important. I can understand the efficacy of overemphasizing the element of the audience (as the book does in its promo) since many newbie performers will be focused more on themselves and the music--so conveying the importance of the audience's experience is fine. But I can see where this perspective may seem overly compromising--overly focused on catering to an audience. There is certainly something to be said for the uncompromising musician who plays what he feels. Such an artist will likely feel undervalued and unappreciated, but hopefully will also understand the milieu in which he dwells and accept the circumstances of the choices made. This, too, could be seen as "success": the performer performing what is important to him or her--engaging the audience on his/her own terms, and challenging the audience to expand their frame of reference.
But I imagine that the author of the book offers an operational defintion of "success"--which I presume is more along the lines of "popularity" and being booked for lots of jobs, rather than scuffling for gigs. And I realize that we're talking about BG, and not jazz or other "art" music--where the music is the important element: at some of the best shows that I ever attended--everyone on stage was pretty much just standing around tapping their foot, or sitting in chairs...and without much verbal interlude, etc. Obviously, different genres propogate different audience expectations, and success isn't always overt. It seems that the book's perspective is akin to parenting--where everything is done for the child's benefit.
Mea Culpa: I work in some bands that bore the patoot out of me...but it pays the bills...
This book doesn't offer a lot by way of new information or specifics. What it does do is focus on the fact that you're on a stage, with all that that implies. It covers the basics, such as keeping a constant connection with your audience (i.e. never forgetting, or appearing to forget, they are there), smiling and looking like you're enjoying yourself, projecting confidence without appearing arrogant.
The book isn't about "selling out" or anything like that. In fact, it says almost nothing about the actual material you perform. It assumes you and your band can play and have worked out your songs from a musical perspective. If not, it advises you to do that first and worry about what the book covers later. It also seems to be written from a bluegrass perspective but it certainly general enough to apply to almost any performer, even solo acts.
If you've been a performer for any length of time, chances are you've already thought about most of what's in this book. There is nothing in it that's particularly new or earth-shattering. Regardless, while reading it I was easily able to think of a number of bands (some of which I've been a member of) that do not pay very much attention to the points that are covered. We all could, I'm certain.
Does the book advise you to become a musical prostitute, willing to do anything to please an audience? No, not at all. In fact, Charlie's comments about various performers having different ways of relating to an audience are some of the most pertinent. The book recognizes that not everyone who steps on a stage are going to have all the gifts that would allow them to become a complete entertainer. It is written with an understanding that most folks will have to work within the limitations of their personalities and talents as entertainers. It's main point is that you have to do what you can. It reminds the reader that the show starts the moment you're introduced and doesn't end until you're off the stage.
That said, Niles' post resonated with me. I appreciate the author's point that the entertainment business is a business and you have to treat it as such. But there is also something to said for not being completely consumed by the goal of pandering to your audience to the point where you become a cardboard cutout, willing to be painted with whatever brush you think will help you fatten your bank account. The author appreciates that too. He says if that's the main thing that's motivating you, perhaps it's worth considering why you even want to be a performer in the first place.
Personally, I'm a counter-culture kind of guy. Jazz is my main thing. One of the things I like about it is that there is very little asked of the musician other than to simply play to the best of their abilities. You can go to a jazz show and run very little risk of being pandered to. But I'm not a mainstream person. I don't own a TV, go to very few movies and, in general, don't have a big need to be "entertained". But I also know that this is rare. I play bluegrass and, in that realm, the material covered in this book could be very helpful. But it's unlikely you'll read anything in it that will make you say "wow, I never thought of that".
And that brings me to the final thought about this publication which is that it's a bit thin. I felt the author could have gone into greater detail, included specific examples (without naming names) of perfomance dos and don'ts and maybe done a sort of play-by-play in real time, showing how a band can be entertaining for every second they are on stage. Still, I bought the book mainly as a conversation-starter. I'll pass it around to my bandmates and some other musical friends and, if nothing else, it will get us having a converstion we need to have if we expect to get hired.
I don't suppose that Miles used this guidebook.. ; )
Time nor interest allows us to learn every request that is hollered from the peanut gallery...........we respect the gallery, but we have limits.
The best of the best have the ability to keep the audience in the palm of their hand in any environment.
I saw Riders in the Sky perform to a packed audience at Gettysburg about 14 years ago on a Saturday afternoon. You could have heard a pin drop as we listened intently to the perfect harmony, yodels, stories and continuous one-liners. There wasn't 2 seconds of wasted time with their performance.
I saw Glen Campbell in Hagerstown about 7 years ago. Only about 300 of the 1100 seats were filled. Glen played all of his hits, plus the hits of numerous country and pop stars of the past 50 years. He played every instrument to absolute perfection. He walked to the end of the stage and spoke with the audience and included his band in his stories and jokes.
Johnny Cash was in Hagerstown about 25 years ago and played to a packed house and us in the palm of his hand; what a sincere, sentimental and gifted performer. He engaged the audience and was spectacular.
Mac Magaha performed at Opryland about 30 years ago and no one wanted to miss anything he played or said. What a performer.
Skaggs came to a packed house in Hagerstown in 1984. He noticed a lot of kids in the audience and asked them all to come on stage and sing along with "Honey Don't You Open That Door." He played everything. His band took a break while he sang 2 acappella numbers and then wowed us with his fiddle. (he talked less in those days)
Ronnie Robbins (Marty's son) had us laughing, singing along and sometimes crying at his show about 25 years ago. One of the best shows I've ever seen. What a talent!
Of course, these guys don't need the book. However, showing a passion for what your playing and inviting your audience into your show is more than a jam session in the corner of a ruritan building. You need a passion for what you're doing and you need to convey that to your audience and include them. If you want to play Cabin in Caoline instead of Free Bird that's fine. Just play it with passion! Skaggs & Jim Mills played it with passion, but so did John Hartford, and they are 2 incredibly different versions of the same song.
Break a leg!
Once upon a time i read Pete Wernick's (Hot Rize) book How to Work a Band. It was wrote back before the computer craze, so check lists were done on legal pads. Blank contracts forms were placed on copymachine platens, etc. At any rate, the interesting part was all the "stuff" that was considered by these gents. Professionalism. Punctuality. Dependability. Lots of thing musicians let slide.
Another big thing i brought away from the Tim O. & Sam Bush Fretboard Journal interview,
was the care for that "connection." A given human, can play a given
instrument, at a given ability, but the magic is to get past the
fascination with the tools and actually put them to use.
i wish we could have more of this type of thread somewhere that wasn't deminishing the primary purpose of this section.
instrument, at a given ability, but the magic is to get past the
fascination with the tools and actually put them to use.
i wish we could have more of this type of thread somewhere that wasn't deminishing the primary purpose of this section. End Quote
I concur. Larger aspects creep into many threads--and I'm perhaps guilty of steering many of these threads "off-topic"--but there's so much water in the well that runs together..
Haven't read the interview you cite, fj, but it seems they were discussing the larger aspects of the art--the water in the well--which is something that interests me as much as the particular forms of the music, instruments, amd playing. I suppose that we can conduct ongoing discussions on aesthetics, philosophy, pedagogy, etc., with dedicated threads in the "General.." forum, but the larger topic--the Art of Music--is like a fire that is poked in all of these threads--which revives the fire.
Regarding the first part, it's instructive to consider the "primitive" or "naive" musican or artist who may not possess or render advanced technique, but is able to execute convincing work nonetheless. I think of the difference between the master jazz musician and the rural fiddler, for example. But what's really interesting to consider are the similarities among them: naturally, the forms of expression are disparate, but they can be equally evocative and entertaining depending upon many factors: general musicianship, audience expectation, etc.
And this is often where we go wrong in our experience and regard of the arts. Often, adults "appreciate" the nascent efforts of the child's crude drawing or coloring--we display them on the fridge or in our offices. But we often do not celebrate and encourage an equivalent effort in music. Perhaps visual art is sufficiently benign that it does not impinge upon our senses in a pernicious manner in the way that poorly played musical instruments enter our ears. Too often, I find myself encouraging an adult who was given too much negative feedback in their nascent efforts at music, and consequently abandoned their aspirations and efforts to participate musically throughout life, no matter how meager. This is sad. My daughter's high school choir teacher is an example: she seems overly concerned for the musically aesthetic outcome of the performances--which are of course amateur, at best--at the expense of encouraging and including more of the youths in the performance, which is what the audience of parents are really interested in--not an "art" experience. I remember that my own high school choir teacher was very intense--scary even--and was known more for her temper and impatience among the teaching faculty.
I think we're a little crazy with this music stuff. The classical rigid pedagogical approach has discouraged as many people as it has enabled. There should be much more of an emphasis in folk music--and its general relaxed view of orthodoxy--in the schools. We would have so many more folks in our society enjoying and participating in music, instead of standing in the shadows listening while their high school instruments, and singing voices, lie dormant in the closet.
You have hit upon an important point to consider. I think school music programs should provide instruction on learning forms of music that can be participated in for life. Folk, bluegrass, and oldtime music have active scenes in most parts of the country. You don't need to be a virtuoso to be involved. What percentage of students in the high school marching band, orchestra, or choir will continue on after school?
Conversely, I had a couple of memorably discouraging experiences--I'm sure there were others, but these stand out:
In High School music appreciation class, the teacher of course taught the standard Western Classics curriculum. One day, he solicited the class to bring in music which we liked, for deconstruction and critique. Sensing the set-up, the class passed on this opportunity --except for one especially confident kid who had the courage to bring in Led Zep IV, which the class supported with approving nods of agreement. Still wary of the set-up, when the teacher asked, "which song?"--no one volunteered a song. The teacher queued-up track one, and started in with a quick and haughtily dismissive critique of "Black Dog" with a condescending sneer intended, presumably, to demonstrate the clear superiority of the classical ouvre over this trite pop music.
The other: one day I proudly played, for my classical guitar teacher, an arrangement of a Greg Lake nylon-string guitar solo on one of those early ELP records that I'd worked out that week. With condescending disapproval, my teacher quickly conveyed that this was trite and hardly worth spending time with.
From these experiences, and others, I learned to encourage the musical efforts of others, no matter how nascent or amateur. Of course, we need to learn the materials (techniques) of music before we can render its elements. But, nothing discourages persons in their early musical development and subsequent enjoyment more than the expectation of a fully developed musical rendering. We should be able to accomodate experimentation with music as permissively as we do with the child and a box of crayons. Personally, my kids have keyboards, ukuleles, recorders, concertinas and scads of percussion instruments at their regular disposal--just as they have easy access to crayons, pencils, and pens--and they know that I like to hear them playing with musical instruments as much as other activities. It's noisey in our home, but I think the environment that easily encourages kids to experiment is valuable.
You have hit upon an important point to consider. I think school music programs should provide instruction on learning forms of music that can be participated in for life. Folk, bluegrass, and oldtime music have active scenes in most parts of the country. You don't need to be a virtuoso to be involved. What percentage of students in the high school marching band, orchestra, or choir will continue on after school? End Quote
Which is precisely we've tied in our fiddle club with our concert series. Regular attendees (of any age or talent) get free workshops from the visiting musicians, like Claire Lynch's whole band, or Bearfoot, or Alasdair Fraser, or Hanneke Cassel, Jeffrey Broussard, etc. We're not trying to supplant the classical music of the high schoolers and younger, just trying to give them an "out" for when they just want to rock n' roll. An additional benefit is in ear training. The local independent violin and music teachers in the area, who are all trying to get kids into highly-placed positions in competitive regional orchestras, ALL say that the kids who regularly attend our workshops and sessions pick up stuff quicker, and can change on the fly much more easily than those with only sight-reading oriented classical training. Make no mistake, there's no substitute for the technique you develop with classical training, but adding in various "folk" styles adds another dimension.
I have to admit I love hearing the kids use humorous put-downs of one of their friends playing saying things like "Oh, that's soooo Sligo" or "hmph, well, if you want to go all West Mabou with it, I guess it's fine."
Going by the comments above, this book doesn't cover that at all.
So - will somebody please write a book that does???
I guess Kenny Baker never read this book, then?
Don't think he lacked too many "gifts", either....