Why (and How) to Shape Your Performance Like an Action Film

Posted by Lee Duck on Sep 23, 2014 09:30 AM

Action FilmImage via rotaryaction.com

It’s not a secret that human beings are inherently attracted to productions, right? We like stories. We like watching things develop and ultimately meet a resolution. While this may seem like it only pertains to film and TV, storytelling is also extremely prevalent in music. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – from classical and opera, to lyric-driven folk songs and hip-hop, songs have always had plots.

So, naturally, while your music is intended to set a mood and tell a tale, so should your performances! Actually, they should mimic the pace of a film. Not just any film, though. We’re talking a full-length, mega-motion-picture action flick (explosions optional, but preferred).

In my years of performing and spearheading my custom lighting company, Duck Lights, I’ve had plenty of experience toying with and finding an ideal mood for my band, as well as clients. Below are my thoughts on how to craft the ideal performance and correlate it with the mood, pacing, and story of an action movie.

Set a good pace

Just as you wouldn’t expect a movie to be action-packed and fast-paced all the way through, your set shouldn’t be either. Even if you’re a metal band, or an act that mostly plays up-tempo songs, know your work well enough to space it out accordingly. Contrast is key, as without the lulls, the high-energy parts won’t stand out.

This doesn’t have to mean starting with a fun opener (introduction), a ballad in the middle (plot development), another catchy song (climax), and then a unique closer (conclusion). The pacing shift could very well be an anecdote or fan interaction between songs – though talking too much might kill the pace, so be careful. Anything to switch up the speed and keep fans engaged is great – just like in a good movie.

Keep the audience guessing

Have you ever wondered why recorded music hasn’t killed live performance? I mean, why go see a show when you can just plug in some earbuds, right?

The answer is obvious: it’s because of the experience. So, give your fans something they can’t get with earbuds and iTunes. Give them a show. Change up your songs, throw in a cover, or spotlight different instruments. Another cool way to keep fans on their toes is by integrating local talent. I’ve always gotten a kick out of bringing a local act or well-known band on stage for a few songs.

Use special effects

Now, I doubt flipping over a burning semi-truck onstage would go over well, and some smaller venues may frown on pyrotechnics, but there are certainly other effects you can use to wow your fans without appearing gimmicky.

One way is lighting and video. A lot of bands shy away from lighting, as they think they can’t afford it, but I’ve spent the past seven years customizing light shows for bands of all sizes and incomes. With my company, Duck Lights, I make it as simple as clicking the spacebar on a laptop to automatically sync lighting to your music and add quick and easy professional flair to your concerts. Also try videos and backdrops as inexpensive ways to give your show a touch of individuality.


We’ve all gone to performances and waited for the moment when the band played our favorite song. Sure, we enjoy the other tracks – maybe even start liking ones we haven't yet heard but when the opening chord to that one special song strikes, there's truly nothing like it.

There are two ways a band can lead up to that magic moment. One is by really dragging it out, testing new material that might be a bit too green, or even purposefully keeping a crowd-pleaser until the very end. Or, a band can set a great pace by curating a setlist of other great tunes, new material, and unique pieces perfectly leading up to the fan-favorite track.

Resolution and conclusion

Just like in a good movie, a cliffhanger isn’t always the best way to end a set. You need to ensure that your fans leave happy and satisfied. So, go out on a big note! Whether it’s an encore, an old favorite from a past album, a guest spot, or fun jam, leave them with something to remember. Like film, there’s nothing wrong with a shorter, action-packed set that keeps people coming back for more – as opposed to a set that drags on too long.

Remember that, above all, your fans deserve a good show, so give them all you’ve got!


Lee Duck is a professional musician, producer, and lighting designer. In 2004, Lee founded Sky Eats Airplane, a heavy electronica band that performs using a computer. Lee currently designs automated light shows for bands and DJs that perform with backing tracks. You can learn more about his services at www.ducklights.com.

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