came first, the audience or the performer? Was the
first performance of all time inspired by a random
group of people in need of entertainment? Or, were
the caves and forests of yesteryear filled with lone
singers belting out their hearts without ever intending
to present their talents to others? These aren't silly
questions if you're passionate about performing. Because
the answer to this "chicken or the egg"
paradox provides the key for connecting with modern-day
audiences. And while I'm not quiet old enough to have
been there at the beginning, there is a lot of evidence
as to how the first gig must have transpired.
a man at the dawn of humanity. He's walking along
looking for food on some random Friday when he stubs
his toe on a rock, again. The guy is not only in a
fair amount of pain but also really aggravated. What
are the chances of that happening twice in one outing?
He can't think those actual words because he has yet
to develop language but he knows he's not having a
good day. Not only has he scared away any potential
meals with his angry cries but he's also caught the
ear of a nearby human who cautiously heads in the
direction of the commotion. The curious onlooker crouches
behind a bush and watches as the injured man vents
his frustration by shrieking and howling at the top
of his lungs. And so, in this very unceremonious manor,
the first performance unfolded. Musicologists and
critics will later refer to this type of emoting as
"rock music." After all, it was inspired
by hitting a stone.
knowing each other, a connection was made between
those two ancient people. The spectator was captivated
by the expressions and sounds of the other man because
he related to the feelings. He continued to spy as
the unsuspecting performer's voice then swooped up
in delight upon discovering some berries, and then
groaned downward in disappointment as the last berry
was consumed. The vocal sounds triggered feelings
of empathy in the one-man audience. Bonding with the
stranger, he also released a sigh when the berries
were gone, inadvertently calling attention to himself.
Suddenly aware that he was being watched, the performer's
heart skipped a beat as he realized that his actions
had captured the emotions of another person. Wanting
to explore this new connection further, the performer
was sorry to see his audience scurry away into the
next night the man who had witnessed the impromptu
performance wanted to share the experience with his
woman. This being a time well before political correctness
and without the ability to actually ask her if she'd
like to see something interesting, he simply dragged
her by the hair until he found the man he had spied
on. Not only did this create the still-honored tradition
of Saturday being date night, but it also doubled
the audience of the previous day for the rookie performer.
So the stage was set but just before the second gig
of all time could get under way, something unexpected
fright seized the performer's mind and body. How would
he recreate the special circumstances that existed
the day before? What was it that made his audience
return? He desperately wanted to connect with these
people yet he was in the dark about their desires.
At a loss for what to do he ran over and purposely
kicked a large rock with his bare foot. It certainly
hurt but not like the day before. Embarrassed, he
stifled his discomfort. His audience sat stone-faced.
Then he grabbed some berries and woofed them down.
He scanned the two onlookers for approval; bypassing
the enjoyment he had previously experienced when eating
the fruit. No reaction from his audience, until the
woman shot a disapproving glance to her man for dragging
her out of the cave for nothing.
familiar? Since the second gig in history performers
have struggled with trying to please an audience.
And since that second gig, audiences have been subjected
to a hit-or-miss chance of attending a great live
show. What was true then is true now: An audience
is most interested in how the performer feels. The
first gig was spontaneous. The connection was real
because the feelings were real. The next night the
performer was so preoccupied with the mood of his
audience that he failed to connect his emotions to
the actions of his show. It's a simple rule: The singer
leads the room. Let down your guard and feel something
and the audience will be yours. Step on stage with
your shields up and you're in for a long night.
human responds to basic emotions in the same way.
We all cry when sad and laugh when happy. There are
no exceptions anywhere on the planet. All healthy
people communicate with melody in their voices as
an extension of their feelings. Our pitch rises when
we're excited and falls for disappointment. These
are the same melodic cues that every song attempts
to capture. In other words, music stimulates our emotions
by imitating the sounds we produce naturally. On hearing
a melodic cue, we quickly assess if the gesture is
authentic. If we deem it real, we begin to search
our own feelings for a connection.
many people feel uncomfortable navigating their emotions
in public. They clam up and close the pathway from
head to heart. The irony is that these are the people
who would gain the most from opening up a little.
So it is up to the performer to create an environment
safe enough that the biggest hold-outs surrender to
their emotions. That's why your audience has ventured
out in the first place. They long to feel something
but don't know how to get out of their own way. It's
the old safety in numbers theory - which is why performers
and audiences alike love a big crowd. The flip side
is why it's such a challenge to have a good show when
there are only six people in the club.
always, it's best to lead by example. On any given
night, during any song on the set list, there is an
opportunity to connect with your emotions - and therefore
your audience. You don't have to act out the lyrics.
Think big picture. Joy, love, loneness or heartbreak
are all typical song subjects because everybody can
relate. To keep your performance real, draw from your
experience. The heartbreak you're singing about doesn't
have to be the heartbreak you're feeling. You can
reminisce about the family dog that recently passed
away during a break-up song. If you're still missing
that pooch your audience will pick up on those feelings
and start searching their hearts for what they miss
most. Before long everyone is tearing up. No one has
to know that the "she" that left you had
four legs and a very cold nose.
which came first? The answer is neither audience nor
performer. It was emotion that started the whole entertainment
business. And it is the pursuit of an emotional experience
that draws people out of the comfort of their modern
day caves and brings them elbow to elbow with strangers.
It is an agreement with the way you feel about things
that will inspire someone to start your fan club.
So start connecting the way you feel to the songs
you sing and inspire your audience to explore their
emotions. Because no matter how well you can sing
or play, it's the way you make people feel that is
Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private
and video lessons.
To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website