A few weeks ago, I had one of the most gripping live music experiences I have ever had. I frequent music shows - indie and mainstream alike - but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
I’ve always heard of people getting chills from seeing artists perform, but I had never experienced it for myself until now.
Her name is STOUT. And I don’t usually hype up other artist to this extent (the extent being that it prompts me to write a whole blog post about it), but I took away so much from her set that I just have to.
Simply put, the woman is amazing. Her stage presence is confident and commanding. Her voice is just as strong. Vocally, she’s like the Simone Biles of singers. She can literally sing anything and use her voice however she wants. She’s known for her work as a background singer with Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, but is now carving out a name for herself as an indie artist.
I would describe her sound as experimental soul. Think of powerhouse voices like Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Keke Wyatt and mix in a dash of Prince with just some otherworldly ingredient.
She incorporates a loop machine into her live performance which takes her already divine gift and turns it into a full blown ethereal experience. Not only that, but she’s so sure in her gift that her lack of fear automatically gives the audience permission to be themselves and respond naturally to what they are experiencing.
Which can be a range of things. On the night that I saw her, the audience responded with shouts of praise (similar to what you would experience during the sermon portion in a Black church), complete silence (from being awestruck), laughter, dancing, and for me, chills.
I had a chance to speak with STOUT briefly after the show to thank her and give her props. Her personality is just as beautiful as her voice. I walked away knowing that what I had just experienced was a lesson and would change me as a performer, but I wasn’t quite sure how until now.
What I learned is that there is a difference between performing in front of an audience and creating an experience. And I’ve spent the weeks since experiencing STOUT trying to figure out exactly what that difference is.
As an artist, it’s easy (or not so easy for some) to stand before an audience and sing songs that you’ve rehearsed a hundred times. Recite lyrics that you wrote and could recite in your sleep. Do it exactly as rehearsed.
But something else happens when you have the confidence and skill to do the unrehearsed. To create on a whim in front of the audience. To take those awkward silent pauses. To not feel the weight of trying to please the audience.
Too many times, I’ve stepped on a stage simply with the intention of stepping back off it with the audiences approval. “I want them to like me.” “I want to make them fans”. And I see now that type of thinking is the difference between a performer and an experience.
The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, but for the purposes of this blog, I will address them separately. A performer can put together a set, sing the audiences favorite songs, and create a moment.
But an experience is something that changes you, it affects you, it pierces your perception, and alters some part of you so that when you leave the venue, you are not the same person who walked in. This can be through storytelling, it can be through dancing, but it can undoubtedly be through music.
We all know music is powerful and as a musician, I understand the power that I have to create moods, moments, and impressions. But now I understand that I have another power. Not only to be a singer, rapper, and an instrumentalist, but an actual experience.
And that starts way before I step on any stage. It starts within. It starts with what I believe about my gift. It starts with my mission as an artist and it ends with anyone who comes to my shows leaving changed, if they so choose.
My goal in performing is no longer to convert new ears to fans, but to create an unforgettable experience. STOUT is the perfect blue print and I believe these fundamental factors help to guide that process:
When I spoke to STOUT after the show and told her how much her live experience impacted me, she said that it was her intention to connect with the audience that way. I believe this is a key ingredient in creating experience. As an artist, you have to go into it wanting to make a meaningful connection with the people in the room.
One benefit of being an indie artist is not having a dedicated set list to stick to and I think this can be a magic component for us. We have the opportunity to feel the audience out and just do what we feel in the moment to connect with them. This of course requires somewhat of a mastery of our craft which is just more motivation for me.
Last but not least, this is the secret weapon for any artist. Authenticity is what makes each of us special and unique. To not be our true selves in the delivery of ourselves is to rob ourselves and the audience of a full experience. As an artist, everything I create should come from a place of authenticity. It cannot be replaced and people can feel it.
I am not the same artist that I was before I walked into STOUT’s show. I was shown a new possible that night and now I am on the journey to become and create my own experience.
Listen to STOUT’s latest single QUEEN:
Until next time,
Ms. Melody Monroe +*<3