List of Entries...
Respect Your Audience
Why Do We Do It?
Live Performance

This Performing Life

Jim writes: I decided to add these additional thoughts on performance to my site after sharing the stage with another act at a gig I recently performed at. My comments about that gig are the subject of my first entry below.
If you find just one thing of interest on this page, it will have made your visit here worthwhile and that should be enough for both of us. As always, these are just my opinions, and you can take them or leave them. Ultimately, we all have to find our own way in this business, and learn what works best for each of us.

Respect Your Audience
Nothing annoys me more than a group or soloist using a paying gig as an excuse for live practice. 

Of course, to a certain extent we all do that. After all, we are all learning something every time we step up to the microphone and open our mouths to sing. And each gig enables us to practice skills in communication and live performance we can not otherwise get. However, as I have written in my companion piece, Courting The Act, you should at least have enough respect for the paying audience to know your songs well before you take to the stage. 

This was brought home to me recently at a gig where I shared the stage with two other acts. As a soloist, I opened the show with around 40 minutes of my own material. I was followed by a local performer who I have seen on several occasions also performing as a soloist. This time however, he was performing with four other musicians. To say they were under rehearsed would be an understatement. 

So disorganised was the lead singer, that he even lost track of the time he was on stage. Instead of the band performing a 45 minute set, they were on stage for just 30 minutes. This, despite that fact that he and several other members of the group were wearing watches the whole time. To compound the image of amateurishness, three members of the group had music stands set up on stage so they could read the lyrics to the songs, or follow the chord charts for each piece they were performing. 

How could this happen, and how can you avoid this happening to you? 

The answer is very simple - draw up a set list, practice it over and over again, and stick to it when you are on stage. 

Creating a set list and working through it before the gig, enables you to time the length of the performance, and iron out any bugs before the show. Since you already know how long you are booked to be on stage for, you could even take to the stage without any watches at all and still perform the whole set list and get off stage at the right time. Of course, you should always allow time for song introductions or changes of instruments if these are important elements of your act.

I still remember watching a gig at a folk festival I attended some years ago where the performer, having been told she had five minutes left of her performance, proceeded to spend a full five minutes introducing her last song, and then another five minutes singing it! This type of thing does not endear you to festival, gig or venue organisers at all.

If you want to be taken seriously as a performer, you should reciprocate - with the audience, the venue, and the organisers. Practice in the rehearsal room - not on the concert stage.

"I just dig music that has passion and heart. The only criteria is that the artist is creatively driven, has some kind of idea and substance about them, and is passionate about what they do."

Paul Curtis, Rip It Up, #574, May 18-24, 2000



Why Do We Do It? 
One of my contributions to the local music scene involves me in the running of the South Australian Folk Centre, which is located in the Adelaide suburb of Thebarton. The Folk Centre was established in May 2000, and for several years I have been working as a voluntary barman in the venue. This has given me the opportunity to see many local, interstate and overseas performers doing their ‘thing’ on the Folk Centre stage.

To say it has been an eye opening experience, is an understatement. I have seen the Folk Centre packed to the walls, and I have seen brilliant musicians and great songwriters performing to a dozen people, when they should have been standing in front of a full house. I have also been present when nobody – and I mean absolutely nobody (apart from venue staff) – turned up for a concert performance. Thankfully, that has only ever happened once or twice.

For a struggling singer-songwriter, it is a sobering experience to witness these performances in front of small audiences, especially when some of these acts have traveled hundreds – or in some cases, thousands – of kilometers to perform at the venue.

Why do they do it? In deed, why do we do it?

Is it ego? Is it the quest for fame and fortune? Is it because we are exhibitionists, or because we have masochistic tendencies that causes us to get on stage - sometimes in the most unfriendliest of venues?

While there may be elements of all these traits, I believe we do it because we have to. Because when the bug bites, you have to scratch it! And that's how it is when the performance bug strikes. 

For 30 years or so, I was quite content to write my songs and for the most part, keep them to myself. While I fantasized about getting up in public and performing my songs, it was just that - a fantasy. Sure, I performed from time to time at low key events, or while away on camps, or at parties, but I had never really been bitten by the performance bug. It was never something I craved. It was not as if I grasped at every opportunity to get up in public and strut my stuff. On the contrary, I almost had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the spotlight, to sing a song or two.

Then, in my late 40s, after years of feeling ambivalent about performing in public, I began to get more and more comfortable with standing in front of an audience and singing my songs. Over a period of many months I started getting a taste for public performance. The more I did it - the more relaxed I was about performing - and the more I looked forward to doing it again.

While I haven't been completely bitten by the performance bug, I certainly look for opportunities to sing and entertain much more than I ever did. Why? Because I have this need to share my music, my world view - as expressed through my songs - with a much wider audience than just myself. Because, it seems that the things that concern me and occupy my thoughts, are also things that concern many other people as well, and by expressing myself through my music as I do, I and my audiences are able to share these common experiences and concerns.

Of course, there is also an element of ego and exhibitionism involved. On stage I am not the same person as I am off. On stage, I seem to develop a different personality. I'm much more confident, and outgoing. I seem to be able to express myself better, and enjoy being the centre of attention.

The next entry, Live Performance looks at this area in more detail.


Live Performance
Live performance is such a strange 'beast'. I still haven't really managed to get a handle on it. By that I mean that I still haven't quite worked out what the relationship between performers, their choice of material, and the audience is.

I'm reflecting on this, soon after my big gig at the South Australian Folk Centre in front of a relatively small audience of around 40 people. Ok, it may not have been 'big' in terms of numbers, but it was big in terms of structure and length.

I rarely do full concerts. Most of my performances are in the 30-45 minute range. These types of gigs force you to work fast and don't encourage a slow leisurely pace. You have to get on, do your songs, and get off without taking too much time to build or shape the performance. The adrenalin is pumping all the time, and you are always conscious of the clock. It is hard to relax with these types of shows.

Performing for an hour and a half, over two sets, is something else again. You have the time to tell stories, build peaks and troughs into your performance, test out newer material, make mistakes and laugh at them along with the audience, and generally relax and have a lot more fun.

But it requires a lot of other skills that short performances don't always utilize. The main one is to do with 'pacing'. That is, the ability to maintain your energy levels evenly across the whole performance. You don't want to 'burn out' by the end of the first set. You have to pace yourself so that you still have plenty to give in the final set as you build the performance to a great climax.

To this end, I wrote the words "SLOW DOWN" on the bottom of my set list, in an attempt to remind myself that I didn't have to rush through the gig or the songs I was planning to sing. This seemed to work for the first few songs, but then as I started to relax and enjoy myself, I forgot this note, and let the pace of the story telling and the rhythm of the songs dictate the pacing of the show.

By the end of the first set, I felt very confident and happy to keep on playing, but the format of the show required a 20 minute break. At the end of the break (which probably went for more than 20 minutes), I went back for the second and final set. However, I felt that I had lost the momentum and energy I had created by the end of the first set, and I'm not sure that I ever got it back.

The lesson I learnt here is to keep the breaks reasonably short, and to not get distracted by talking to family, friends, and other audience members more than absolutely necessary, as I run the risk of losing the momentum and energy I've talked about in the previous paragraph.

In essence; once you are 'in the zone', you want to stay there for as long as possible, since you may never quite get to that special place again during your performance.

All these, and many other things have to be considered during a live performance, and I hope to return to this theme in future entries. By the way, if you have any questions you want to ask about performing or songwriting, drop me a line. For what they are worth, I am more than happy to share my views on these matters.



© 2002-2007, Jim Lesses

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