So you wanna be in a rock band?: To perform, perchance to entertain
As mentioned last time around, more and more once-popular havens for mohawkers and moshers are closing down. While I believe this is partly a generational phenomenon (god knows I did everything I could to sneak into punk shows when I was underage, but that trend seems to have lost its appeal among the millenials), I also think it is due to the fact that the working musician has lost any sense of “professional” status in contemporary society.
Because of so-called advances in audio technology, anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can cut a decent sounding record if given the right producer and enough Auto-Tune, even if said individual( s) lacks talent altogether. Add to this the “wired” state of the world, social networking sites and video games like GuitarHero, and essentially you end up with a situation wherein everyone thinks they're a bloody rock star.
To make matters worse, I'm not sure if it's because we've become lazy, oversaturated or too selfobsessed (perhaps a combination of all three?), but generally speaking, audiences and venues alike have developed a preference and higher regard for artists playing covers as opposed to those courageous enough to share with the world pieces of themselves. Come on, the fact that a glorified karaoke contest that weighs in more on marketability and looks as opposed to its contestants' actual compositional ability is responsible for pumping out numerous recent top-selling artists speaks for itself.
Given the current situation, how is one to stand out? More importantly, how is one to develop a following? And no, Twitter and Myspace stats don't count — I'm talking about real people coming out to real gigs. In one simple phrase, you need to perfect the difference between “playing” and “entertaining.”
Perhaps an example would prove illustrative: Last year, I was lucky enough to score floor tickets to witness one of my favourite childhood bands live in the flesh, No Doubt. While I was totally stoked to see them perform, I was bummed that Paramore was selected to open the show. Now there's no question that Ms. Williams can most certainly hold a tune, but their music quite simply just doesn't do it for me. Despite this, that night Paramore earned my seal of approval for managing to match No Doubt in terms of energy, showmanship and stage presence — no easy feat. On top of this, I was impressed to see that they are a band of genuine musical talent. By that, I mean lip-synching proved unnecessary as they rocked much harder in person than on anything I've ever heard recorded by them. Taking into consideration their continued success I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.
If I am paying good money to see your act live, then it is YOUR duty to deliver the goods and give us a show worth coming out for again and again. Hitting every note with precision is impressive, but it is NOT enough — if I wanted to listen to the most polished audio example of a given act, I could simply pop in their overproduced album.
Live shows are supposed to be about an experience — one that allows you to feel intimately connected to the artists you're witnessing. A lot of bands rely on special effects and frills in order to turn their performances into experiences, and unless you're going for a gimmicky kind of deal akin to Kiss, most of the time this sort of thing indicates that you're trying to overcompensate for a genuine lack of ability. So what do I suggest instead?
As a rock musician, the most important asset you can possess is Attitude. Honest to god, it's no lie when I tell ya that at times I feel as though half of my job as a performer is to also act as a stand-up comedian. Audiences come out to see bands live who make them feel as though they are, in part, responsible for how the show goes. In other words, it is all about feeding off of each other's energy. If there are moments where you can directly include them (such as clap or scream-alongs), capitalize on them and when you're rehearsing, plan this shit out in advance!
While being able to successfully pull off your sound live is important, it is more important, in my view, to be a true entertainer, even if that means you flub up in a minor way here or there. That, my friends, is being a musician. That, my friends, is being a professional.
What one needs to acknowledge is that irrespective of the less than ideal circumstances musicians are facing right now, the live show has always been and likely always will remain the most effective method through which to recruit fans and sell merch, that is, if it's done effectively. I know I'd rather be told that I rock harder live than on any album I've released, how about you? In other words, if you need Auto-Tune to sound tuneful, maybe you should consider an alternative vocation.