Visual Tips for Aspiring Musicians by Dr. Richard Barnstein

ABOVE: 10/30/15: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at a Sold Out 9:30 Club Show: Washington, DC

I’ve been practicing optometry for over 21 years, where I love what I’m doing more than ever with Professional Vision. Live music is definitely one of my passions in life. For year’s I’ve wanted to put something out there that may help aspiring musicians make a career out of what they love to do most. Some may say, “Why would I care what he has to say? He’s never been in a band, and he’s never hit the road as a musician.” Those are good points to address. I’ve been catching live music, since my 1st show at a Grateful Dead concert on June 27th, 1984 at Merriweather Post Pavillion. I’ve been pretty obsessed with music videos and live concert music videos for over 30 years, where I even produced live concert music videos for local and national bands. I also help to market and promote Hot August Music Festival, which draws over 6,000 fans annually. As an eye doctor and a passionate fan of live music, I pay extra attention to the visual aspects of performances. Here are a few tips that I hope will help many musicians with their careers. I have lot of musician friends that do it for the passion, and also may perform part time, where they have a full time job. I think that’s super! These “visual” tips are more for musicians that are trying to make it a full time thing, where they’re working towards going on tour. Good luck! I’m going to try and keep the tips “visual”. I think most musicians understand that it’s not all about the music. This matters more than ever. The more your career as a musician is treated like an entrepreneurial endeavor, then the sooner you’ll reach your goals as a musician. If you’re not great with business, then try to team up with someone who is, that you can trust. Marketing, branding, publicity, booking strategies, and so much more, have an integral part of a musician’s journey towards reaching new heights. Below I’ve listed some hopefully helpful tips from more of a visual perspective:

1. I would suggest that more than 50% of a fan’s live music experience is NOT an auditory experience, but rather a visual type of experience.(The light show, vibes of the crowd and scene, the stage presence of the band, ect…) : When someone attends a musical performance, they may have certain preferences, as to what may make those few hours worthwhile. In the end, for most people that I talk to who go to see live music, they want to enjoy the performance, and have a good time, more than anything. Sure, musicians want people to admire their music, but what about good old fun? Those musicians who figure this out early on, will be in a much better situation to create a following. Look at artists like Phish and even Jimmy Buffett. Like them or not, when fans go to see them live, they usually have a good time! These artists realize that there’s a lot more to the performance, than just the music. Visuals are an integral part of someone enjoying themselves at a live music performance.

2. Pay attention to and Study the Visual Part of Your Own Performance: I do understand that there are always exceptions to this. (especially with singer-songwriters/solo artists…and of course there are legendary musicians that can get away with breaking some rules.) What I suggest is recording wide angle video footage of some of your live performances. Then study the video, and if you want to be really bold, try watching the video without any audio, and see what you think of it. If you don’t like what you see, then work on improving the visual part of your performance. Maybe there’s room for improvement with the lighting, or stage presence, or eye contact with the crowd. One of my favorite movies of all time is Spinal Tap. I remember being at a party in college, on a deck outside, where in another apartment, we could see the movie Spinal Tap playing through closed sliding doors, where we couldn’t hear the audio. (I think music was blasting at the party anyway!) While watching the video from outside, through closed sliding door windows, some of my friends and I were still in tears, laughing at the movie, even though we couldn’t hear the audio! That’s part of what makes Spinal Tap a comedy classic! With performing live music, try to improve the visual experience by studying it and working on it. Components like lights, visuals, and stage presence matter more than ever. With the younger crowd, many have been attracted to the Electronic Dance Music and DJ scene. Part of the reason, is that this scene generally places a high priority on lighting and the visual experience. People come to dance, view the lights/scene/vibe, AND listen to the music. I’ve heard some musician friends say things like, “I want to feel comfortable with what I do.” That’s fine, but in show-biz (that’s what it is, right?), it’s not all about feeling comfortable. We’ve all been in situations where we have to get out of our comfort zone to make something happen. Just like great athletes study film, musicians can study film of themselves visually, and also study some of the best out there visually, that you think you can learn from. Plus, have fun with this! Don’t beat up on yourself too much when watching video of your performance. ANYONE studying their own visual performance will see flaws and things that they wish were better. Try to view the footage simply to improve on the visual part of your performance.

3. Work Towards Having a Touring Lighting Designer: There may be some exceptions with this, like for some singer songwriters or solo artists, but I think this is also more important than ever. Some of the best up and coming bands that I’ve been following, found this out early on, where they treat the touring lighting designer as if they were one of the band. Many bands that don’t grow at their desired pace, generally don’t understand this, and make excuses, like, “we can’t afford a lighting designer.” (I’ve even heard this recently from some national acts that are really making waves in the music scene. The way I see it, they’d be a lot bigger if they figured this out sooner.) To me, saying one can’t afford a touring lighting designer is like a rock band saying they can’t tour with a drummer because they can’t afford a drummer. You can’t afford not to! I do understand it may take time to plan and bring a lighting designer on board. Work towards it, and make it a top priority for your performance. Baltimore’s Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is a great example of the right way to approach this. They’re one of my favorite bands out there, where they have key people in their band that run the Pigeons Playing Ping Pong entrepreneurial engine. No one cares about Pigeon’s future more than they do, and their actions back it up. They’ve slowly surrounded themselves with great people. (Booking agents, managers, publicists) They’ve been selling out smaller to mid sized venues all over the eastern half of the country. They’ve been touring with a lighting designer since March of 2013, and treat their lighting designer as if they were an integral part of the band. When their original lighting designer decided to make a career move this past summer, they treated that, as if another band member were parting with them, where they planned a seamless integration with their new lighting designer. He (Manny) was the right person for the position, where he studied and did his homework in preparation for the new endeavor. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong went a total of one show without a lighting designer. Most bands would have said they couldn’t afford a new one/couldn’t find anyone/or made up some other excuse on why they went on tour for months and months without a touring lighting designer after their previous lighting designer left. That’s part of why Pigeons is where they are , and going where they’re going. (They recently sold out the 9:30 Club as the headliner, which is a tremendous accomplishment! At the show, frontman Greg Ormont, thanked the crowd, and added that they’re just getting started! I couldn’t agree with them more!)

I hope this helps! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Thanks!

(Below: 8/15/15: I had the honor of introducing Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on the Professional Vision ZEISS Stage at Hot August Music Festival! Photo by J.Burch Photography)

About Eyedrbarnstein

Dr. Richard Barnstein is an optometrist / partner with Professional Vision in the Baltimore area. ( Timonium and Carney ) Professional Vision is a boutique eyecare practice, with fashionable designer frames and sunglasses. We have an eye doctor available for eye appointments for contacts, comprehensive eye exams, and treatment of eye emergencies 6 days a week, at Timonium & Carney. Dr. Richard Barnstein, a Baltimore native, graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (now Salus University) in 1994. He attended James Madison University (1987-90) where he was accepted early into optometry school. Dr. Barnstein is therapeutically licensed to treat eye disease, and diagnoses and manages glaucoma. He also specializes in difficult contact lens fittings, dry eye disease, and LASIK co-management. Dr. Richard Barnstein is a member of the American Optometric Association and the Maryland Optometric Association. Dr. Richard Barnstein enjoys spending time with his wife, 2 children, and puppy goldendoodle. He's an avid Ravens, Terps, and Orioles fan, and loves live music. Profession Vision on Twitter Dr. Richard Barnstein on Twitter Check out Dr. Barnstein's Live Music and Sports Blog, Farmerstanproductions!
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