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Interpreting Compliments

October 27, 2011

There is no doubt that it is a wonderful feeling to get off the stage and have a smiling face greeting you with a nice compliment like “Great show” or “You guys really killed it out there tonight”? The problem with this is, what do those words actually mean? Did you really have a “great show” or “kill it” or did you just have an alright performance which satisfied half attentive drunks and a small circle of personal friends and supporters.

The advice that is actually going to benefit you isn’t the kind words and generic stage compliments given by friends and fans… it’s the cold hard truths told to you by strangers or industry people. A few months back I watched a half dozen people compliment a new band that had played their first ‘real’ show to a decent crowd (100-125 people) in a legitimate live music venue (200-250 capacity). Everyone who spoke to the band as they walked off the stage had nothing but kind words to say and by the time I approached the guitarist at the bar the band was all smiles, that’s until he looked at me and said “So what did you think of our set?”.

At this point I had a split second to decide generic “you did well compliment” or the cold hard honest truth. After hearing the band told “awesome set”, “great job”, etc. I knew it was my duty that evening to give them some honest insight.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the band musically. Like others pointed out they were talented musicians who wrote good songs but what no one else either noticed (or was too scared to say) was how terribly boring the band was to watch live. Despite their great songs I was bored stiff two songs in by a terribly unenthusiastic front man and lack of musical performance or showmanship from any band members (less a bassist who apparently was the only “free range” band member in the group. But his movement only made the remaining members look even more like calves waiting to be made into tender veal).

As I gave their guitarist an honest assessment of their show, pointing out both their strong points (songwriting/musicianship) as well as their areas for improvement (live show/engaging the crowd) their guitarist, despite being a bit standoffish by my honestly, thanked me for my sincere input.

Maybe I’m being over-confident in the value of my opinion but I couldn’t help feel that had I not given my honest opinion that band might still be walking around all puffy-chested with a sense of inflated ego thinking that show was ‘great’ when in reality it was ‘good’ at best. Although I have yet to see this band perform again since that eve, I hope the next time they take the stage they have taken the words of advice to heart and used it to enhance their live show and considering how new they are they have tons of time and potential to make that a reality.

Very few live performances will ever happen that you can’t find some area to improve your show. Video taping live performances and analyzing them later will almost certainly open your eyes to this (as most musicians are their own worst critics in hindsight). The bottom line is that you shouldn’t be scared of a bad review or constructive criticism, so don’t be hesitant to ask an honest opinion of someone you trust instead of putting too much weight into “great show” comment and a pat on the back.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2011 6:57 PM

    I truly wish more people lived by that code of ethics. There is nothing worse feeling then being patronized, especially if you genuinely want constructive criticism. Unfortunately, some of those puffy heads need to be deflated… and like the say, the bigger they are… the harder they fall :/

    Great article! Thank you 🙂

  2. Ruben permalink
    September 1, 2012 5:17 AM

    I wasn’t at this particular gig, but I know the band quite well and feel the need to enforce the positive comments of this review.

    First off, the overall tone of the review is negative in nature due to a perceived weak visual performance (or stage presence), which is a bummer when in fact the band (in the same review) was also given much praise for their strong song writing skills and musicianship. An important opinion that was discounted.

    My point is simple. This is a new band, writing and performing very mathematical/obscure metal music that requires above average focus while performing. How many live shows have they played? Five or six? Why don’t we give them the chance to get comfortable with their live show before we attack an element of their presentation in such a premature fashion? Surely if one can appreciate their music, one should also be able to initially see past the improvements needed in the visual category and not dwell on the negative.

    There are a lot of bands around that can play shows on a moments’ notice, but can they always satisfy the elements of a great performance for overly critical viewers? Probably not.

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