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The Emerging Artist
The Value Of Live Performing - Songwriting Skills
By Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin

2001, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

Pretty much every weekend, you can find me out playing live. The band I play in, the "Len Turner Band," consists of Len Turner, my good friend, fellow musician and agent (on sax, flute, clarinet and vocals), his wife Jan (on lead vocals and guitar) and the best drummer in the state of Florida, Jim Lynch. The four of us have been playing together since 1991, which proves that we're either crazy, or that we love each other. We specialize in "classic pop"(songs that Sinatra, Benett, or Ella Fitzgerald might have, and very often did sing), and we cover styles from big band to top 40. We occasionally play for "the public," but most of the time we play at country clubs, yacht clubs, and at private parties.

So why am I spending so much time talking about my band? Because I want to talk about the value of performing live.

Some of you may be just starting out as songwriters, and maybe you haven't done much performing yet. In a previous "Muse's Muse" column ("Three Key Questions for Every Songwriter") I mentioned that the best way to find out who was going to listen to your songs was to play live as often and in as many places as possible. That's just the first benefit from live playing. Performing for an audience also has an effect on your songwriting.

At the same time, live performance makes you a better performer! It may sound funny to put it that way, but what I mean is that you can practice, practice, and practice some more, but nothing develops you as a live performer better than live performance.

Naturally, you should prepare as much as you can before you go out on stage; however, practice in front of a mirror is only part of the equation. How you deal with your nerves or stage fright, and how you react and interact with an audience can only be practiced in front of an audience. To sum it up, live performance will teach you what works! Live performance can teach you much about where you are as a songwriter, and can have some beneficial effects on your songwriting skills.

So what can performing live do for your songwriting? First, you'll be motivated to do your best work. Before you ever get in front of an audience, we would hope that you have labored hard to make your songs the best they can be. There's nothing like knowing that you're going to be presenting your creations to real people to make you work diligently on them! Before you perform your songs, you'll want to take some time to brush up on what you know about the craft of songwriting. We recommend many useful books on songwriting at our website, and there are certainly many resources to be found through the Muse's Muse! Honing your skills, of course, is something you will continue to do for the rest of your life.

Secondly, when you begin to regularly perform before an audience, you'll notice little flaws in your songs that have slipped through during rehearsal. Perhaps you'll hear a line that looked good on paper, but doesn't sound right when sung. Perhaps you've written an unnecessarily difficult to sing tune. You'll become acutely aware of much more concerning your songs, when you begin to gauge the response of your listeners. You'll begin to more closely scrutinize your work, knowing that you will present it to an audience who most likely has never heard it before. You'll want your songs to have an impact, and make a lasting first impression. We're not advocating being overly perfectionist, just that you be diligent in your craft.

Thirdly, as you gain stage experience, not only will you begin to learn who your audience is (the demographic), you'll learn which of your songs they respond to. If you discover a song in your program that gets a strong response, if the applause is especially prolonged, or if people comment on the song when speaking with you after the show, then it's a keeper! That's a song to be lovingly polished and properly recorded. If a certain song tends to meet regularly with an indifferent response (although most likely, no one will boo!) then this may be a song that needs work. It is very rare that a truly great song will always receive an indifferent response. Perhaps the song is too long, hard to understand, or has an unmemorable melody. The song may be salvageable, but you must be willing to work at it. Every now and then you may need to just set a song aside, and try another one in its place. As the great comedian and raconteur George Burns once said about performing, "No matter how funny you think a joke is, if they don't laugh, take it out. The audience tells you what's funny." Of course, he as talking about jokes and not songs, but the principle is the same. No matter how much you like a certain song in your set, if no one else seems to, take it out. You may be able to rework the song and try it again.

Fourthly, when talking with people who come to your shows, you may be inspired to write about a certain subject you've not yet dealt with. Suppose you have an after-show conversation with one of your listeners, and he or she tells you a story about their children, or their parents, or their dog. It may be a happy, sad, or funny story. In this way they give you a new way to view a subject, and may inspire you to write about it. Perhaps they will share their struggles with you (and you may find yourself acting as an amateur psychologist sometimes if you talk to enough people and are friendly and approachable). Your advice to them could take the form of a song, which has the potential to speak to many others who are going through similar things.

Finally, you'll be motivated to keep writing new and better songs. There's nothing quite like the feeling of writing a song that people respond favorably to. You'll always remember the moments when someone tells you that your song really spoke to them, that it meant a lot to them, or might have helped them in some way.

A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.

Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.

Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.

You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at

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