I was just about to go in to record the grammie*winning album Twist of Blue with my band at the time. The stakes have never been higher. I was recording with the platonic love of my God-fearing life, Chuck. He has worked with Pixar on creating music, we called him the soundtrack stunt-man. There’s a reason behind that, but it doesn’t fit into the point I’m trying to make right now. Chuck sat us down before we pushed that big red button and told us something that has stuck with me ever since. He told us about the Performance Zones. It’s a great concept, it’s true, I’ve seen it in my own life, and I want to share it with you here today. So go grab a toga, cause I’m about to go Aristotle on your ass.
Zone 1 – The Concentrated Performance
The concentrated performance zone is an obvious one. You’ll see in a lot of local bands. These guys aren’t moving, their eyes are closed most of the time. Maybe they are nervous, maybe not. Either way, they are trying to concentrate through the performance, moving around causes them to make mistakes. This performance isn’t entertaining to watch. I want to clear up that this doesn’t mean they’re terrible or that they haven’t practiced. They just haven’t practiced enough. This can even vary between songs in the set. This zone is where we start, we want to move from it and on to the next one.
How to improve: We need to focus our time practicing pragmatically. Practice in your room standing up, keep your eyes moving, find fun ways to keep time. Tapping your foot has been done by everyone, everywhere. So try doing new and exciting things instead. I love this story of Elvis, he was asked about his gyrating (not my word) and jumping around up on stage. He said he wasn’t thinking about it, he was just trying to keep time. Well, it helped to make him famous.
Zone 2 – The Danger Zone
The headspace that Kenny Loggins, Tom Cruise, and Archer constantly live in.
Ok, but for real…
Zone 2 – The Conscious Performance
In this zone the musician is looking around, adding to the visual vibe of the group, but the performance still feels stunted by a lack of confidence. This one is harder to spot and more natural to feel, and yes, I realize that sounds pretentious. This is a dangerous, if not comfortable position to fall into, we need to fight against that urge! I am guilty of falling into this, you get content with some of the songs, and you think to yourself, “I don’t really need to practice this anymore.”For the sake of sounding dramatic, I will say, “THIS is a terrible thing!”Mediocracy is not very fun to watch. We want to push ourselves through this and on towards glory!
How to improve: Where the first zone is easy to push past because it is apparent that we need to work on our parts, the second zone lulls us into complacency, and we become just another average band. No one wants to talk about an average band, NO ONE! To improve we need to practice often with our group. We need to use a little planning (without too much choreography to make it feel contrived) of stops and movement. I would say that unless you sit during the song on stage, you should always practice while standing up and jumping around. If you’re by yourself then try this, I realize that it sounds goofy, but play in front of a mirror. I know, I hate typing that out. But it can help you see if you’re doing something that looks stupid. Realize that when you’re up on stage, the way you look and move is a big part of how your audience will interact with you.
Zone 3 – The Unconscious Performance
Think of Mick Jagger or Matt Shultz. Those are front men… if you close your eyes and picture your favorite musician, are they standing perfectly still on stage? Or are they having the time of their life up there? I know you have been to a concert where this happens, it’s usually your favorite band/artist. They move around a lot, they make eye contact with the audience. Actually, they’re always looking around. They’re smiling or acting or using some dramatic facial expression. They have practiced so much that they’re able to perform without thinking about playing, it is unconscious… right?! The thing I want to point out to you is that they are really PERFORMING, and although stage one and two are technically performing… sure, but if I saw them on stage, I might not use that word. They played their parts, but they didn’t draw me into their performance. There’s an in-depth linguistical discussion here, I’m passing on that though. I will ask you this… How do you feel about your music? Do you feel like it is something special? I will assume your answer is yes sir! If that’s the case, you really owe it to yourself to make it to this unconscious performance zone. I promise that if you get here, you will feel deeply fulfilled at the end of your concert. I hate stepping off stage and wondering, “Did everyone have a good time?” I want to know while I’m up there strumming and humming! Your music is unique because you are special and unique. (Cheesy) But if you’re not in this last zone, you’re not fully letting your audience in.
How to improve: Play a lot of live shows, keep your head up, make and keep eye contact with band members and the audience. If you’re having fun up there, you know you’ve made it!
Final thought –This doesn’t’ mean you have to jump around on the stage, that’s just one way to draw people in, and ultimately, this doesn’t mean you’ve made it to this unconscious performance. And although I would recommend watching live performances and taking little things from them (we’ve all done it, it’s acceptable and even encouraged). I would also urge you to find your own way of drawing people in. I don’t know if you’ve ever watching Nine Inch Nails perform, they draw people in very different than say, Katy Perry does. No matter how you do it, I would say that keeping your head up and watching your audience will be a HUGE step in helping to break through and drawing others into your performance! STOP THE MEDIOCRCY! Make it to ZONE 3!
REMEMBER THIS Practice is the key to confidence! From now on, you practice how you perform!
* An award I made up