The Easiest Gig in the World

What do people really want from live performances these days?

Is it to see their favourite artist in the flesh?

Is it to sing along to the songs they love?

Or has live music become more about the spectacle, than the artistry?

July 11th 2014. Wembley Stadium. Eminem had just finished his first London set since 2001. My ears were ringing. I’d been standing for nearly 6 hours. My voice-box felt like a nail-bomb had been detonated within it. But I was absolutely ecstatic. Against a simple backdrop that changed with each song, Eminem had hit every syllable with force and venom, all accompanied by a live band and DJ – it was bloody brilliant.

The reviews that followed however, seemed less than thrilled.

Many complained about the quality of the sound system. Morons, whinged that they were too far away from the stage (you’re at Wembley for fuck sake). Others were disappointed with the lack of any on stage pyrotechnics or confetti.

First, let’s look at the modern day entertainment industry in general, and how us humans interact with it:

  • The most profitable films in the past decade included the largest amount of explosions, the most mind-boggling special effects, and were stuffed with more A-Listers than Kim K.
  • The best selling video game franchise in history follows a similar formula – making us feel like Connor McGregor with shotguns for arms.
  • Even the bloody news gets in on the action – giant sensationalised title sequences, which do more damage to your corneas than staring directly into the sun.

My point is, people don’t engage with entertainment unless it’s explosive, brightly coloured and easy to consume. (Even then, half the time your mate will be on their phone, not paying attention to an important plot point, flicking through Tinder. Then have the fucking audacity to ask you what’s going in the film halfway through.)

Unfortunately, this mind-set has seeped into expectations of what live music should be. Performers now have the pressure of putting on a whole night of entertainment. Complete with confetti canons, pyrotechnics and synchronised dancing; performers struggle to captivate an audience due to their ever shrinking attention span.

We’re cut throat, and everything must be perfect, or a ‘live’ music performance isn’t worth watching.

I use the term ‘live’ loosely, because there’s an unfortunate side effect to this increasing trend – lip syncing. Lip syncing is nothing new, but is being increasingly used by superstars and X Factor candidates alike, to ensure the audience gets what they’re after: a flawless show.

Let’s do something that’s never been done before – compare Eminem and Justin Bieber. To me, these two exemplify the contrast in live music.

Eminem received a one-star review for his show, due to the lack of stage production and  (admittedly) lacklustre sound-system. Mr. Bieber on the other hand managed to squeeze a three-star review from the same outlet. The review acknowledges the lack of live singing, auto-tuned garbled mess and how ‘he sings and dances but rarely at the same time’. Praised however, are the use of dry ice, lasers and backing dancers.

So performers, listen up. You don’t even have to sing live anymore to be praised. Live music is about putting on a shiny circus event. Get an engineer to manufacture you a pop hit in the studio. Hire someone to create a spectacular show that has more lasers than a 90’s disco rave. Stick the backing track on. Lip sync – if you can be bothered. Sit back, and enjoy the critical reception.

You’re a live music performer now. Get used to it.