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

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

We dealt in our last column with the way live performing can affect your songwriting. In this article we will talk about what playing live does for your performance skills. Much needs to be done in preparing to perform, getting your songs in shape, rehearsing, learning how to plan a set list, etc., but there are things you learn from performing that are impossible to learn otherwise.

So what will you learn from live performing that you won't learn in rehearsal?

You'll learn about two-way communication. Not only are you communicating with the audience, they are communicating with you. They'll let you know if the message of your song is having an impact. You'll find out if your delivery of the material is effective. You'll learn how to sense the mood of your audience. Are they with you? Are they paying close attention to everything you do? You'll learn how to keep their attention. The audience will let you know which songs are effective in content and performance, and which ones need work.

You'll learn not to take what some people tell you too seriously. If you get a chance to talk to audience members after a show, many of them are going to love everything you did. They'll be so excited at meeting a real live performer, that they'll tell you you're the greatest thing ever! But have you ever heard a performer who, in your opinion, was not as good as they could have been (to put it nicely) and then heard someone say how great they were? They make you wonder if you were listening to the same person. Be grateful when someone praises your efforts, but be wary if they seem to "go overboard." If they say, "You're really good, why, you're better than (fill in the blank)" it doesn't mean you've arrived!

Playing live helps you learn how to deal with your fears. Maybe you suffer from stage fright, or fear of rejection. Most of the time, the only way to deal with these fears is to face them head-on!

You'll learn how to pace yourself. You'll find that you can't go all out all the time. You'll exhaust yourself and your audience. You'll discover the value of having a plan of action for when you step on stage. You'll get better at creating set lists, and building an effective program.

You'll learn to be resourceful. What if something goes wrong in the middle of a song? You'll figure out a way to keep going. You'll learn how to think on your feet. At some point in your career, you will have to deal with:

  • breaking a string
  • the power going out
  • an amp that decides to die
  • an unruly audience member
  • a mic not turned up
  • a cable going bad
  • forgetting your lyrics and/or the chords
  • singing the wrong lyrics
  • singing the wrong song
  • any number of strange and unforgettable things

You'll find effective ways of dealing with these "disasters."

You'll learn how to put on a good show even when you don't feel like it. There will be nights when you'd rather be curled up on the couch watching a brainless movie. You just won't feel like performing, and you'll wish you were anywhere else but at the venue, about to go onstage. But you'll go on anyway, and give a great show. This is what Broadway performers call being a "trooper." The show must go on! You'll find that you can give a lively and meaningful performance even on an "off" night.

You'll learn that if you completely blow it, it's not the end of the world. There will be some performances where it seems as though nothing goes right. You hit enough wrong notes to fill a symphony, the sound is all wrong, your voice is cracking, and your guitar refuses to stay in tune. You feel quite sure that when you finish, the audience will rush the stage, loudly demanding that you leave town and never return. You're waiting for the tomatoes to come hurtling through the air at you. And yet, when the night is over, you're still standing. You find that folks liked your singing and your songs, and don't seem to remember you making any mistakes! Indeed, you'll find that you're never as bad as you think you are. There'll be another gig, another chance to learn and improve.

You'll learn whether you have the drive and desire to pursue music as a profession. Can you put up with the headaches and irritations of being a performing songwriter, and maintain your passion for performing your songs? Are you willing to push through the less-than inspiring gigs, the indifferent audiences, the unreliable sound systems, the inconvenient colds and sore throats, in order to get to those nights where everything works? Are you willing to endure the uninspiring times in order to reach those magical moments when the audience is with you, the sound in right, and everything "clicks?" The arena of live performance separates the doers from the dreamers. There are countless would-be songwriters who have never written a song, and there are countless "closet performers" who have never sung a note in front of an audience. The dreamers stare at their empty songwriting notebooks, and stay in their closets. The doers get out there and keep trying until they find out what works for them.

As you perform more often you'll gain the confidence that comes from knowing that you've learned to hold the attention of an audience for a considerable length of time. You'll have confidence in the proven power and effectiveness of your songs and your delivery of them.

Finally, you'll learn to watch other performers in a different light. You'll be looking for techniques you can adapt for your own performances, and mistakes to avoid. So here's our word of encouragement: get out there and play for people! You have so much to gain, and nothing to lose.


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 http://www.soloproductions.net/.

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