The Content Concert

April 28, 2022

Collage of a guitarists foot and guitar pedals with colorful blue shapes.

I got to see one of my favorite bands, Big Thief, in concert last weekend. As is typical for me, I got to the show early, grabbed a beer, and chilled while I waited for the opening act to take the stage. If I’m being honest, I got there a bit too early, and had plenty of time alone with my thoughts and beer before the music kicked in…

For some reason, I started thinking back on all of the concerts I’ve seen throughout my life (and some of the shows I’ve put on, too). After a while, it dawned on me that concerts and marketing—content marketing in particular—share a lot of parallels. Especially when it comes to bad concerts and shitty content. Naturally, I started jotting down some thoughts in Apple Notes, which I’m expanding here. Let’s rant.

Don’t Be Boring

The golden rule of live music is: Don’t bore your audience.

The same goes for content and marketing. People pay good money to see shows, and have one thing in mind when they buy tickets—they want to be entertained. It can be the visceral, clubby, sweaty, bass-heavy kind of entertainment, or the more cerebral, intricate kind. But whatever kind of show you’re putting on, you better not bore your audience, because that’s what they’ll take away from the show. Think they’re going to buy tickets the next time around?

People might be paying for your content with their money, but are more likely doing it with their time and attention. If you’re not hooking them in and providing some entertainment along with whatever education you’re providing, they’re going to get bored and won’t visit again. Which means they won’t be buying your product or service, either. Tell a story, share something interesting, and make sure people leave less bored than they arrived. Make them remember you for good reasons.

Don’t Be Fussy

One of my biggest pet peeves is when musicians spend more time interacting with one another or their sound people than with the audience. I’ve seen shows where every other word between songs was some take on “Can I get some more snare in my mix?” without so much as a “Thanks for coming!” for folks at the show. It’s finicky and frustrating and amounts to a bunch of time spent on inside baseball instead of building a connection with the wider audience.

As a musician and audio engineering nut, it can be fun to see musicians focus on the random stuff I care about. But not everyone in the audience is trying to see what pedals made the cut, or what kind of compressor the vocals are running through. It impresses a few but alienates pretty much everyone else.

The content marketing corollary is using too much jargon or speaking to the wrong audience. It’s alienating to people and usually only acts as a gatekeeper to people who would otherwise be interested in what you have to say. If you have to talk inside baseball, try to make it as accessible, inclusive, and short as possible. Recognize that there’s a wide range of skill levels, backgrounds, and cultures in your audience, and spend time engaging them as opposed to the other inside marketers you’re trying to impress on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Don’t Skimp on the Bass

Live shows live on bass. It’s the part of the frequency spectrum that people feel. Even for acoustic shows or lighter music, the bass is there to help build a gut-level connection with the audience. It’s the good stuff.

So, it sucks to see a nice bass rig on stage and not be able to actually hear or feel it in the front-of-house mix. It creates a disconnect—the audience can see all that gear, but they can’t experience it.

Too many content marketers promise good stuff but never deliver it. Click-bait titles followed by a bunch of platitudes and drivel, or colorful, dynamic video thumbnails in front of bland stock footage with a boring voice over… When you’re making content, you’ve got to deliver the goods: A compelling story, useful information, and actionable, practical takeaways. Don’t skimp on the bass.

Don’t Take It Easy on Stage

I can think of a very specific show where the artist got up on stage and said, “We’re just taking it easy tonight.” On a Saturday night, to a room full of thousands of paying fans looking to let go of the week they just had. While there were a few claps of support, there was also a tangible whiff of WTF.

I know: Live music is hard. Touring is hard. Making a living as a musician is damned near impossible. But the time spent on stage is not the time to take it easy. No one’s there to see that. They want to see the show they’ve been promised in YouTube videos and on the album. You can take it easy after the show.

Guess what? The same goes for marketing and content. No one wants to see a video or read an article that is clearly phoned in. You need to do the research and do the work to make something compelling. If not, your audience won’t be sticking around for much longer—or they will begrudgingly, which is what I did the rest of the night at that show.

In honor of not being boring, I’m going to end the rant there and tell you about one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

It was 2004. I was a senior in high school and my usual concert-going friend (👋 Kristen!) and I went to see The Darkness at Clutch Cargo’s in Pontiac, MI. Yes, that The Darkness. The one’s who sing the ultra-catchy I Believe in a Thing Called Love. Clutch Cargo’s is in an old church, it’s small, kind of dive-y, and awesome. But it’s definitely not where you’d expect to see one of the best shows of your life.

The Darkness proceeded to blow everyone’s mind with one of the most energetic performances you can imagine. Brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins traded virtuoso guitar licks and face-melting solos, complete with feet on monitors and stupid faces. Lead singer Justin had multiple costume changes. At a small club. In Michigan. One of which involved an outrageous feather boa tail that had to be six feet long. Jumpsuits, sequins… you name it, he wore it.

The night was capped off with something like a 15 minute long guitar solo from Justin played while riding around the audience on the shoulders of one of the local security guards, affectionately known as the “X-Men.” It was absurd and beautiful. Most importantly, it was utterly memorable.

Be more like The Darkness and put something memorable out into the world, no matter how big (or small) the audience.

What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever seen? Email me and let me know.