For all the upheaval that the music industry is currently experiencing, there is one fact has remained relatively constant: if you can put on a great live show, you will go places.
That said, the definition of a great live show can differ wildly.
Over at the most excellent Evolver.fm, a blog that former Wired and CNET writer Eliot Van Buskirk runs for The Echo Nest, there is a great post about how several big-time bands pace their live shows. A computer programmer (we think?) named Joseph Wilk compiled setlist data for seven big-name artists’ concerts, then plotted it against the Echo Nest’s Energy and Danceability attributes to come up with several very different graphs.
Though there are several common denominators to be found in each of these graphs – none of these artists wastes much time elevating the energy levels of their shows, and everybody ends on a high note (except Radiohead, for some reason) – it’s important to note that each of the seven featured graphs also eloquently describes its respective band’s personality.
Duran Duran’s mix of patient dance floor smarts and arena rock highs is manifest in the way the energy and danceability lines move in and out of phase; the jagged leaps up and down the Y axis on Wilco’s chart embody both their rock roots and the bold experimental streak that murmured through Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and burst forth on A Ghost is Born; in the Beastie Boys graph, you can see the reformed, but still potent punk energy that has always driven what they do. You can also see that it can still tear the roof off the middle of their sets.
On the one hand, all of these bands are veteran, established, and well-loved. They know which of their songs define them, they know what their audience wants, and they give it to them. But if you’re a small band just starting out, and you’ve only got a handful of songs to call your own, that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same thing. Think about how you want to define your band to an audience, and fill in the blanks with covers, or interludes. Take a song that’s only three minutes and stretch it into a 12 minute rave-up.
You don’t have to do this, obviously. You can just bash your audiences over the head with as much energy as you can possibly muster every night. But by carefully sequencing your live show to reflect what you think your band is, you are strengthening and reinforcing the audience’s impression of who you are.
Any artist or band can do this. All you have to do is answer a simple question: what does your set look like?