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Monday
Nov222010

Live Performances Should Be Like Church

(Originally posted at www.matthewebel.com)

If there’s one thing I learned from my former years playing in houses of worship, it’s that the Sunday morning experience is designed for maximum effectiveness. Granted, some churches are more finely tuned than others, but the principles of your average worship service should apply to every single concert you play.

  • Start with an engaged crowd. Even if it’s just the first row or two, a well-timed “Hallelujah!” now and again will get the cold crowd to warm up a little.
  • Appeal to all five senses. Studies have shown that we remember events better if all of our senses are engaged. The Church, in its various forms throughout the millennia, has evolved to adopt this level of impact.

    1. Sight: Robes, banners, crosses, flowers, statues, you name it. Stained-glass windows and flying buttresses were designed specifically to catch your eye.
    2. Sound: Obviously, a church service involves talking and music. If your shows don’t have either, you’re reading the wrong article.
    3. Touch: At some point in most services there’s a moment to shake the hands of people around you. Perhaps there’s a laying on of hands while a blessing is read. In a world where we’re naturally suspicious of everyone else, a gentle touch from someone with a good message can leave a lasting impression.
    4. Smell: Roman Catholics nailed this one by swinging balls of incense. Mine would hang evergreen boughs in the sanctuary during Christmastime. Maybe your church bakes fresh bread for communion. Maybe it’s just the smell of coffee before and after the service… One way or another, your nose is being spoken to.
    5. Taste: In my religion, this one dates back to the guy that started it. The tradition of a little wine and bread was coupled with a very specific statement: “Do this for the remembrance of me.” Not bad advice.
  • Audience Participation! This one deserves its own exclamation point. The reformation introduced many concepts into the Christian church, one of which was the involvement of laypeople in the worship service. People are more likely to pay attention if they’re a part of the experience.
  • Speak their language. Again, another gift from the Reformation. If the people speak German, why are the services in Latin? Sure, you can prepare your talking points before a show, but pay attention to your audience and converse with them on a level that they will understand.
  • Give them a mission. If you’ve reached someone, they won’t want the experience to end. Give them something they can do after the concert is over- even if it’s as simple as “give this download card to a friend who’s never heard of us”.

I’m not suggesting for one second that you train your fans to worship you… but you can certainly harness the power of thousands of years of effective organization to spread the word about your band.

Reader Comments (14)

I've often thought the church analogy for live music is a good one, but I don't publicly use it much because some might be offended by the idea of comparing a secular music event to a religious ceremony.

However, here are some of my observations:

1. With the right artist and the right music, people will come to a show every week. If the experience is uplifting, creates a sense of community, and makes people feel better, they will come again and again. That's why I I don't believe you always have to limit your shows to every few months or less.

2. Some of the most successful bands I know have come from church music backgrounds. Their training in praise and worship ceremonies has taught them how to write songs people can relate to and how to get audiences to participate.

November 22 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Suzanne, you're right, I would be offended to think that music used for freeing the spirit and personal salvation could be used as propaganda for a centuries old system of oppression that's still causing grief the world-over.

Although I'm not surprised to see the concept of church used as a training ground for successful musicians.

Some might say it's the combination of bar and church that's made American musicians so much more proficient than their UK counterparts over the years. Booze and god - a potent combination! Stick pills and some uncertain sexuality into the pot and you have... Little Richard! The rockingest rocker there ever was. Ah, America.

November 22 | Registered CommenterTim London

"Some might say it's the combination of bar and church that's made American musicians so much more proficient than their UK counterparts over the years."

This comment truly made me smile. Although I am no longer religious, I was raised in a southern church where music was an equal, if not greater, part of the service. That was where I first heard the sweet sound of harmony, as well as where I played my first shows.

Later, I found myself playing smoky bars filled with intoxicated people trying to forget and move on from whatever it was that brought them there in the first place, much like church. The two are more connected than one would think.

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

OK, this site is just getting weird now.

November 22 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

Hey, I appreciate the comments!

November 22 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Ebel

This is completely and unfortunately true.

And as a Christian, it's an offense we should be willing to take. Are we worshiping a God that we have an true relationship with (thus our desire to praise Him), or are we just creating an emotional experience?

A good question for every church.

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterMr Gray

Matthew,

I like the post. The general idea that I think bands need to think about is the idea of planning each of their shows so they are entertaining and professional. Some artists get up on stage and you can tell that they haven't discussed the set list, etc. with the other members of the production, i.e. the band, sound engineer, light tech, etc. As an audience member this is distracting and takes away from the overall performance.

I play in bands for churches and the one thing we always do is to review the service for 10-15 minutes to make sure we know when different transitions occur for the music, speakers, video, etc. The idea is that we don't want folks attending to be distracted by bad transitions, video not working, speakers not ready, etc.

Also, other aspects that are new to church services, i.e. video, pictures, etc. are new areas bands should think about using from time to time with the overall idea of enhancing the performance to keep the fans coming back.

Thanks again!

November 23 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Brent

Mr. Gray-

Unfortunately true? The point of the article is not that church is a meaningless construct of emotional devices, quite the contrary. Nothing in this article speaks to the importance or truth of the message of any particular religion, just to the effectiveness of thousands of years of liturgical evolution. If you feel your message (or in a musician's case, your act) is important enough that it should be remembered and shared, taking a cue from the successes of religion is not a bad start.

Confusing your act with a religion, on the other hand, is a bad start. ;)

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Ebel

There are some who might think 'Confusing your act with a religion' would be a good way to 'add value'. In what way is that wrong?

November 24 | Registered CommenterTim London

Tim-

Ha! Well, confusing your act with a religion is a handy way to become an egomaniac. Very few artists can pull that off without pissing off their fan base. If you can do it, good luck, but I wouldn't recommend it.

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Ebel

I have a number of devout Christian musician friends who see music as a way to connect with others. They don't sing religious music nor are they trying to preach or convert, but they do believe in the value of music with meaning. I have other friends who aren't religious at all, but their songs are a spiritual experience nonetheless. What I have learned from both musician groups is how their fans react to them and what the fans take away from the experience.

November 24 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Matthew, I was thinking it might be a way to get a fan base - convince enough people that if they don't join your religion then the rapture will pass them by... everlasting life, now there's value!

I'm still surprised that the interweb hasn't spawned more bespoke religions - custom made, as it is, for spreading unfounded facts and myths with a congregation paying lip service to an ideal or ethic. A lot of us are praying at this electronic altar every day, twice a day, already.

November 25 | Registered CommenterTim London

I was raised in the church and have been to services in many denominations and traditions, so I know how good a worship experience can be and I know how bad it can be. I've also been to a lot of concerts.

In 2008 I drove from Detroit to Toronto to see Jason Mraz perform. While I was there I attended services at a church that I will not name, and I have to say that of the two events, the concert was by far the more spiritually uplifting experience. I felt that that particular church service was a stilted event that paid lipservice to its rightful message. The church had talented musicians, smooth transitions, equipment working properly, etc., but no one spoke to me, even during the social hour after the service. Not only did JM put on an excellent show, but he was far more open and sincere and welcoming, and there was no disconnect between him and his audience. He always encourages audience participation and delivers a positive message which is subtle during the show and more overt at the end. I always expect to be on my feet, singing and dancing throughout his shows.

Would I ever go back to that church? Maybe... if somebody was chasing me with a knife, for example, but I've seen JM perform 3 times since then.

December 1 | Registered CommenterGwynn Fuqua

Tina Turner Moves 'Beyond' Rock Stardom with Spiritual Music | Billboard.com: "'Rock singing is another inspiration for people,' explains Turner, who staged her Tina! 50th Anniversary Tour in 2008-09. 'Rock songs inspire you to release whatever the frustrations, and help you to go on in life. Spiritual songs do it on another level...A lot of people left my last show with the same sense of spirituality. My show gave people the drive to go and to do in their lives what they want to do and make their lives the best, do the best they can in this world... That is the mail I receive. My rock shows did the same as what my spiritual music does now. It is about the right word and the right way to do it.'"

December 4 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

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