Ignore The Man Behind The Curtain – It’s A Shocking Reality

Posted on August 30, 2010


It’s reminiscent of one of those great lines in the Wizard of Oz, where the Great and Powerful Oz is looming overhead, but the reality is a little dude behind a curtain with a lot of great stage effects, flashing lights and voice enhancers.

It’s a shocking reality for many concertgoers who see the truth revealed when the artist hits the stage.

Today I want to explore a little bit of what makes a band great on the stereo and iffy on stage. The reality is, when you are a local band performing on stage, you usually don’t have the resources to reproduce the sound of the demo for the audience with exact specificity.

When you record the be-all end-all version of your new CD, you’ve likely paid an engineer to potentially use things like auto-tuners, filters, compressors, sound synthesizers and in the studio – dozens of high end microphones in a sound sealed room. The end result can be an amazing recording that will get people moving and shaking. On stage, you’ve got a couple of Shure SM-58’s, some tone knobs and a whole lot of wide-open space. You will have a completely different output.

When TNT came to town back in the late 80’s, rockers from all over the map were in attendance. The sharp attack of the guitar, the driving riffs and the wild solos had heads banging and fists pumping; then there was Tony Harnell’s high pitched and exact vocals filling the air. Sung to perfection, Tony can break glass with his pipes, but live – there are high-pitched background vocals that emanate from the song to reproduce the catchy chorus that fans recognize. With technical audio skills, they pumped recordings of his vocals into the background and reproduced it flawlessly – it was amazing! The thing is – you aren’t going to do that at Molly Malones or the Avalon.

When you set out to offer a demo to a label, or to a club that might book you into a showcase, you have to offer them what you are actually bringing to the table. It’s like the person on the dating site who uses a high school picture, then shows up as a haggard 42 year old for the blind date. Shocking Reality! Your best results will come from the truth behind the curtain. Most often, the truth is the front man in the band. If you are shopping to get shows, try enhancing a live performance in postproduction. Take a really good live recording and knock out the hiss, or add a little compression to punch it up. Send this along with your studio CD and let the booking agent see what fans hear on CD as well as what the audience will get in person. It’s very professional if you aren’t well known to give all you’ve got for their perusal. It also helps the shock value.

Ratt came around with Bon Jovi in the early days. Bon Jovi is one of those bands that reproduce what they record quite naturally. The fact is – they simply record what they do and it’s really not far off when the finished product comes out. Ratt, on the other hand, had a fabulous album with Invasion of Your Privacy, but on stage – Stephen Pearcy didn’t bring the recording to life like Bon Jovi did. The backlash was awful, as local reviews of the show trashed a very talented band with a sub-par performance that truly did improve with time. It was almost uncomfortable to watch.

I hope to impress upon you the reality of bringing the recording to life on stage. Some music today just doesn’t matter, with the heavy distortion and mad drum beats – the vocals get swallowed up – but 90 percent of what’s going on requires talent on the stage. Hence, why people like the Jonas Brothers suck ass. It’s all studio.

One more reference that lines up with the topic. At the 2000 Mix-Fest Concert of radio station Mix 98.5 in Boston, a dozen acts got on stage including the Go-Go’s, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Bare Naked Ladies. Each act was amazing and the performances were top notch. Opening the show, on an otherwise empty stage, a little girl walks out with a guitar so big by comparison to her size, she almost looked awkward. She came to the microphone and said, “Hi, I’m Lisa Loeb and these are some songs I wrote.”  She proceeded to play, with just a microphone and an acoustic guitar and the audience was, for the most part, silent for about a half-hour while she performed. At the end, she gave a courtesy and thanked the audience. There was a looming 5 or 10 seconds of silence, then the field of 40,000 plus people erupted in massive applause. They were really blown away.  She came out and simply offered what you heard on the CD and did it flawlessly. She blew us all away, no holds barred.

So ask yourself – can you do it? Can you be the next artist on Rock-Stars Unplugged? Shine and polish that bare bones audio so fans get what they hear on the CD. Record a CD that is closer to what they hear live. You won’t fool anyone by offering two faces to the band. Behind the curtain lies the Shocking Reality. Make sure you knock them dead for the right reasons.

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