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  • Lefsetz on Performing

    Interesting...from the Lefsetz newsletter, copyright 2012 by Robert Scott Lefsetz and reprinted with permission.



    Once upon a time there were no recordings. If you wanted a career in music, you not only had to know how to play, you also had to know how to perform!



    That's what been overlooked about the Beatles and Prince and so many legends whose music has endured. When you went to see them, you were blown away. Now you go to see an act and wait for the moment when they perform their hit single, often to hard drive, so you won't be disappointed, or you're dazzled by production. Sure, songs count, but can you deliver them?



    Used to be live music was abundant. Now there's almost nowhere to play. And tickets are so expensive that the concept of going to a show has changed, it's no longer entertainment, no longer something you do on a regular basis, but an event. And that's different. As different as going on vacation to the Bahamas as opposed to your local beach. If you fly to an island and spend all that dough you're on high alert, you want to get your money's worth, if the help is slow and the weather is bad, you're bummed out. Whereas when you're at the local beach and the teenager takes a bit too long to deliver your french fries, it doesn't ruin your day, if the clouds roll in and you have to leave early, it's not a disaster. You go to your local beach all the time. You enjoy the environment, and it's the little things that titillate you. That great wave you caught and body-surfed all the way into shore on. The woman/man/boy/girl who walked right by your blanket... The song you heard on the r adio as you were being baked by the rays, thrilled just to be alive. This is how it used to be in live music. Used to be you went all the time. You wanted to have a great time, but if it was just good, that was o.k.



    Everybody still thinks it's about records. About hits. And nothing will garner you an audience instantly like a hit. But it won't keep people coming to your show if you're not a great performer. In this modern age where it's hard to get people's attention, where there's so much clutter that if you've got a hit, many people still don't hear it, shouldn't you be focusing on your live show, shouldn't you be honing your performing skills?



    Look at it this way. Psy is one and done. He's no different from those guys who did the Macarena. And it's not about the song, but the video. And video was the dominant art form in the eighties and nineties, but now it really doesn't matter what you look like. It matters if you can play, and if you can sell the song you're singing.



    I know this is the opposite of everything you're hearing, but if you want a career in music today, you're better off focusing on your live skills than your recoding chops.



    This is why so many of the white/Brooklyn/hipster bands don't penetrate beyond their core. If you don't buy into it from the get-go, you can't be convinced. Take anybody to see Prince and they're closed. Take just anybody to see most of today's bands and they'll be howling to leave.



    But the problem is bigger than that. It's not only a lack of riveting performers, it's a lack of places to play. People would rather hear records, or stay home. Because oftentimes when there is live music, it sucks. If you can't sell it as the bar band at the Holiday Inn, you're never going to go anywhere.



    The path we're on looks bleak. With winners and losers, a very small middle class, with over-massaged mainstream hits and overpriced tickets to see these one hit wonders and the has-beens. Forget that there's less money in music than banking, the whole art form is headed to extinction. Then again, that's what's exciting about electronic music. Sure, many deejays don't do much, but the show is an experience, the audience performs, you feel as one, which is vastly different from standing in the arena with people you neither know nor care about who are blocking your $200 view.



    But as for those who sing and play guitars... First we've got to develop people worth seeing. Then there will be a demand for places to see them. And ticket prices will have to start off low. So people can go check things out on a regular basis.



    Change is coming.



    And I don't know exactly how it will play out. But if you want to be a musician today, learn how to perform. Play live wherever you can. Learn to do it with no electronic aids/help. People are clamoring for authenticity. It's your job to deliver it.



    -- Visit the archive: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/

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  • #2
    How true. But what does it take to be a good performer these days? Good performances can be made if you have enough money. I suspect that a Madonna show is a great performance. But would Madonna sitting at a piano in a coffee house, wearing jeans and a T shirt, singing solo keep the house full for two hours? Maybe, maybe not, but I don't think we're going to have the opportunity to find out.



    So why aren't there places to play any more? I don't think there are fewer bars today than there were 50 years ago. What's different is that instead of a band playing for the door and going home with what wouldn't be gas money today, a band wants to be paid (i dunno, maybe) $750/night, and the bar wants a cut to cover their expenses - it's never free.. How do you do that? They can get a DJ for $75. And while there may be just as many places to play as there were 50 years ago, there are, what, maybe 1000 times more people now than then making music at home, putting it up on web sites, and expecting that they're musicians and should have a place to play,too. No wonder they don't have much of an opportunity to develop or show off their skills.



    Music has always been made in the home, probably just as much in bygone years as there is today. The difference is that it used to be that most of that music stayed in the home and most people were happy that way. Not everyone expected that he could get on the Louisiana Hayride like Elvis, or get on the Opry like Hank. Now everybody does, and can do so virtually by throwing his or her music up on a web site, expecting that the world will hear it.



    Music is still OK. It's expectations that have changed.
    --
    "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
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    • #3
      Lefsetz is a curious being. Sometimes I'll read the blog for a week or so at a time, and I've seen isolated articles posted (usually here). Sometimes they're good, like this one, but at other times he shows what, to me, is an amazing lack of insight into certain areas of music. For one thing, I almost never see him talk about music other than chart toppers, the current minute's subject of buzz, or bands that were already classic when I was born. He seems to not get electronic music at all, despite the fact it's been around for a few decades now, and that's fine in and of itself, but then he'll turn around and try to talk about electronic music as though it holds the promise of the future. And, as always, it's the biggest names he talks about.



      I guess overall I like his opinions and musings on general music topics like this one, but when it comes to talking about specific artists and newer music, he can sound awfully out of touch.
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      • #4






        Quote Originally Posted by veracohr
        View Post

        He seems to not get electronic music at all, despite the fact it's been around for a few decades now, and that's fine in and of itself, but then he'll turn around and try to talk about electronic music as though it holds the promise of the future.




        He saw me play my fader-slamming DJ set once and didn't throw up or anything My take is that he's not so much into the music, but the scene around it, which is very "60s" in some ways. Not that it emulates the past, but rather, the impulse that created that 60s scene is part of the human tribal fabric, and surfaces periodically.
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        • #5
          Good article. Don't know if any of that matters anymore though.

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          • #6
            I think that was a great article. And yes, I think it does matter. Look at someone like Ed Sheeran out of England. The kid keeps you riveted with his voice and his Little Martin. He has great songs, great lyrics, he pulls you into them. He dabbles a little in some clever looping. But essentially, it's just him and his ability to perform. That stands out so much now because of the scarcity of it. And he is steadily climbing the charts playing a fairly untrendy kind of music. Just good music, and good performance.
            __________
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            • #7






              Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
              View Post

              I know this is the opposite of everything you're hearing, but if you want a career in music today, you're better off focusing on your live skills than your recording chops.




              When I first started going to see live bands as a teenager most of the bands I saw were either teens themselves or in their early twenties. As I got older the bands I were seeing live got older too. I still go out to see live music and most of the musicians I see playing are now in their thirties, forties and fifties. This seems to be the case where ever I go.



              I wonder if young people still get together in basements and start bands or are they even interested in creating live bands. We are products of our influences and a lot of the music they have grown up on was not created by live musicians so maybe they don't know how to do it anymore.



              My band recently auditioned a 26 year old bass player. I could tell within the first few notes he wasn't going to work out. After the audition we were standing around talking about our influences and the guy stated that he didn't know Sting played bass. I guess to him Sting was some light rock singer he heard on the radio while being driven to kindergarten.



              For a lot of young people today, creating music is some thing you do on your home computer. I think for many of them, playing live is an after thought.



              This is especially evident in modern R&B and hip-hop music. Go on craigslist and see how many hip-hop "producers" are offering their services. Where I live there are hundreds if not thousands of guys trying to sell "beats" that they created on their computers.



              It's a producer culture for them. Musicians need not apply.



              Sometimes I'll be watching late night television and I will see some of these R&B and hip-hop artists perform "live" in front of an audience.



              It's obvious that they are trying their best to emulate a recording that was made with loops, samples and sequencers. Some guy will be standing there repeating a souless simple riff on the guitar while the drummer is trying to play along with an un-natural sequenced clap sample based rhythm.



              Maybe some of these guys are really good musicians and this is the only work they can get but when I see these kind of terrible "performances" I actually feel embarassed for them and will usually change the channel.



              But the thing I wonder the most is what is the audience thinking? Do they not see what I'm seeing? Do they not get that this is not really live music?



              Don't they feel ripped-off?

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              • #8
                Folder, all this means is some computer-based kid will think "hmmm, what if I did something like this, but put it in front of a bunch of people and played it?"



                It's really satisfying to play live, but a lot of the computer-based music simply could not be reproduced on stage, at least ecnomically. But now we have laptops that are powerful enough, dedicated controllers, and so on. One of the trends I saw at Musikmesse was DJs synched to each other and trading riffs back and forth in a sort of 21st century Page/Plant thing.



                I think it's likely that if there is a resurgence of live performance, paradoxically, it will be DJs who morph into it from what was a distinctly non-performance mindset.
                CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                • #9






                  Quote Originally Posted by Folder
                  View Post

                  When I first started going to see live bands as a teenager most of the bands I saw were either teens themselves or in their early twenties. As I got older the bands I were seeing live got older too. I still go out to see live music and most of the musicians I see playing are now in their thirties, forties and fifties. This seems to be the case where ever I go.



                  I wonder if young people still get together in basements and start bands or are they even interested in creating live bands. We are products of our influences and a lot of the music they have grown up on was not created by live musicians so maybe they don't know how to do it anymore.



                  My band recently auditioned a 26 year old bass player. I could tell within the first few notes he wasn't going to work out. After the audition we were standing around talking about our influences and the guy stated that he didn't know Sting played bass. I guess to him Sting was some light rock singer he heard on the radio while being driven to kindergarten.



                  For a lot of young people today, creating music is some thing you do on your home computer. I think for many of them, playing live is an after thought.



                  This is especially evident in modern R&B and hip-hop music. Go on craigslist and see how many hip-hop "producers" are offering their services. Where I live there are hundreds if not thousands of guys trying to sell "beats" that they created on their computers.



                  It's a producer culture for them. Musicians need not apply.



                  Sometimes I'll be watching late night television and I will see some of these R&B and hip-hop artists perform "live" in front of an audience.



                  It's obvious that they are trying their best to emulate a recording that was made with loops, samples and sequencers. Some guy will be standing there repeating a souless simple riff on the guitar while the drummer is trying to play along with an un-natural sequenced clap sample based rhythm.



                  Maybe some of these guys are really good musicians and this is the only work they can get but when I see these kind of terrible "performances" I actually feel embarassed for them and will usually change the channel.



                  But the thing I wonder the most is what is the audience thinking? Do they not see what I'm seeing? Do they not get that this is not really live music?



                  Don't they feel ripped-off?






                  Consider that it's a shift in perspective. Many pop fans want to go hear something that sounds sort of like the recording. And those are often done artificially. So if the frontperson is engaging, I think most are happy, know that it's a blend between artificial means and musicians, and don't feel ripped off.



                  Obviously, we're painting a lot of people with the same brush here, and a lot of young people clearly show that they like live musicians. This is evident by anybody who sets foot on a high school campus and sees all the metal and hard rock and Beatles and Nirvana shirts. And this evident by people turning out for indie rock shows.
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                  • #10
                    Live Music .............



                    I've wondered allot as to why the live music scene has diminished in my town .





                    1.) Demographics . The cohorts that have followed the baby boom generation are smaller as upper middle class folk made the decision that kids are more of a liability instead of an asset ...... This has taken effect more in some groups than others .



                    Look at it this way ; most set the BB generation at something around 80 million ....



                    That's 800 football stadiums fiiled to a capacity of 100,000 each !!!



                    There is bound to be a draw down in the wake of that big of a chunk of folks sunsetting...







                    2.) Other alternatives ; Massive big screen LCD's , ever bugeoning cable channels , video game consoles , movies on demand at any hour .....





                    3.) Semi- draconian , stiff DUI penalties and zealous enforcement including roadside checkpoints. The first DUI in california cost a minimum of $10,000 . Even if you are .000000001 percent over the line ....



                    ( No I don't like drunks behind the wheel of lethal weapons any more than you do , but here's the rub .... the hardcore drinkers still haven't stopped ..; they are the sick ones and they will never stop BUT lot's borderline social drinkers get reeled in with the big ass net and the overall effect is ................ play it safe and STAY AT HOME )



                    And staying at home is more attractive now than before with 3 channels of TV and nothing else..







                    4.) The D.J. ; why should the bar owner pay for 5 when one will do ???











                    I'm me and I sorta approve of this message .



                    Payed for by the committe to keep me commited......

                    .
                    First kill the goose by refusing to feed it , then blame it for dying and not giving anymore gold eggs


                    Professionalism is an attitude and , not a possesion that you own forever once you have acheived something.



                    "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

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                    • #11
                      Doomed, DOOOOOOOOOOMED!!!!!

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                      • #12
                        The one thing that sets one performer apart from others is passion. Feeling. Emotion. Without feeling nobody connects with the performer. With it, the human connection between listener and performer is established.



                        This is a major reason I love the blues - but it's possible to express feelings in other music too. It's just not done much....

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                        • #13
                          Craig, I was responding to this quote:






                          I know this is the opposite of everything you're hearing, but if you want a career in music today, you're better off focusing on your live skills than your recording chops.











                          Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
                          View Post

                          Folder, all this means is some computer-based kid will think "hmmm, what if I did something like this, but put it in front of a bunch of people and played it?"




                          Played it by pushing a button?









                          Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
                          View Post

                          It's really satisfying to play live, but a lot of the computer-based music simply could not be reproduced on stage, at least ecnomically. But now we have laptops that are powerful enough, dedicated controllers, and so on. One of the trends I saw at Musikmesse was DJs synched to each other and trading riffs back and forth in a sort of 21st century Page/Plant thing.



                          I think it's likely that if there is a resurgence of live performance, paradoxically, it will be DJs who morph into it from what was a distinctly non-performance mindset.




                          Reproducing something live is not necessarily the same thing as playing live music.



                          I see DJs as mostly manipulating pre-recorded material.

                          Most of the performances (sequencing and programing) have already occurred.

                          It may be a performance of sorts but is it live music?

                          Where do you draw the line?

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                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by UstadKhanAli
                            View Post

                            Consider that it's a shift in perspective. Many pop fans want to go hear something that sounds sort of like the recording.




                            When I was kid and used to go to concerts I wanted it to hear songs like they were on the record. I used to feel gypped when you would see a band sloppily jam over a barely recognizable guitar riff or play their latest hit as an acoustic polka version. Nothing new here.









                            Quote Originally Posted by UstadKhanAli
                            View Post

                            And those are often done artificially.




                            Yeah, but is it a performance?









                            Quote Originally Posted by UstadKhanAli
                            View Post

                            So if the frontperson is engaging, I think most are happy, know that it's a blend between artificial means and musicians, and don't feel ripped off.




                            You and I may know that it's a blend between artificial means and musicians but I don't know that most of today's audiences know that. If it sounds like the record they probably won't feel ripped off. But if the record was not made by live musicians in the first place it probably won't make much difference to a lot of people.

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                            • #15






                              Quote Originally Posted by Folder
                              View Post

                              Played it by pushing a button?




                              Well, I suppose you could consider this pushing buttons...but it's all done live, with Maschine definitely played as an instrument:






                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtXHghVH1d4










                              I see DJs as mostly manipulating pre-recorded material.



                              In a sense, but the manipulation is mutating into a serious level of performance through controllers, tempo-synced effects, quad decks with additional slots for samples and one shots, and synching with other musicians. Just making sure everything fires off in the right way at the right time is quite the challenge.








                              Most of the performances (sequencing and programing) have already occurred.

                              It may be a performance of sorts but is it live music?



                              Don't know if this is you cup of tea, but check it out. It's not easy to pull off getting the faders, solos, guitar, etc. all working together. I've jammed quite a bit with DJs on guitar, they dig it.






                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec7GZBdaUi0










                              Where do you draw the line?



                              My live performances are different each time, done "without a net," and take a lot of effort both in preparation and execution...so I think they're valid as true live performances.
                              CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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