The Problem With Our Live Performances

When you buy or are given tickets to attend a concert, is your expectation merely to see musicians in the flesh or to hear them sing and watch them put on a show? Chances are that most people are hopeful for a real performance when they head out to shows and this is why our musicians must not simply dismiss it as “hating” when their customers (ie we the listeners) complain about artists coming on stage to simply shout over their street-copy singles.

There are a few of reasons why I think the industry needs to re-evaluate its predominant mode of live performances. The first is that it adds no value to the artist’s brand or public image. You jump over the entire stage yelling your lyrics over music I already have on my iPod or in my car. It takes no craftsmanship to do that – the concert promoters might as well doll up some average Joe on the streets, slap sunshades on him, teach him the lyrics to your song and ask him to run all over the place, asking people to throw their hands up.

Secondly, in an industry where music is sounding increasingly homogenous, both lyrically and rhythmically, an artist does not differentiate himself from the others if he gives the exact same performance that everyone who gets on stage before of after him will give – yet this is what happens at most shows. The result is very few memorable performances, if any.

Thirdly, because of the hopelessly poor audio (shouting hoarsely and mostly out of sync over street-copy music) artists kill potential additional revenue streams from post-event marketing, such as DVDs and CDs.

Now, obviously, accompanying musicians and backing vocalists cost money and most labels and stars are struggling with very slim revenue margins. So, kudos artists who customarily perform with a band. My argument, however, is not that artists who cannot afford it break the bank hiring a band. In fact, many foreign artists, when they come here, perform over a CD. The difference is, the backing CDs of these foreign artists are stripped of lead vocals. So, for example, you didn’t hear either Joe or Maxi Priest singing over their own leads (at the MTN Corporate Elite Concert), even though neither came with a band. Secondly, these guys come with their own DJs, to segue the music properly and maybe even loop a few bars for the artist to ad lib over.

Most music is mixed and mastered with software these days, so I can’t imagine it being very hard to simply take out the lead vocal tracks and create a separate backing CD for live performances.

The industry deserves commendation for how far it has come. Music is mixed and videos are shot to the highest international standards, and our performers deserve credit for this. There is still some way to go with live performances however, and I urge the industry to take a closer look at this in 2014. I can’t believe I’m going to quote Donald Trump, but I heard him say this once in an interview a while back, talking about his success: Nobody wants a free lunch. Give them an unforgettable lunch and you can’t miss.

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