“If you can’t deliver your song with just an acoustic guitar and one mic under one white light bulb dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, then you’re not a performer and it’s not a song.” – David Lee Roth

As an erstwhile bar band musician and singer in my younger days, I am always impressed when artists strip away the electronics and superfluous support system and perform their songs in the simplest form, in much the same way as Diamond Dave describes above. It lays bare the basics of the composition and the artist’s talents. I believe that it is only under these circumstances that songs and performers can be evaluated for craftsmanship and aesthetics. This is where it all comes down to the song (melody, lyrics and chords) and the performance (talent, craft, experience, artistry, style, dynamics and emotion).

Taking it down even further to its granular form, it all depends on the delivery. Two very able but different artists can deliver the same song under the same performance restrictions and the outcome will usually be decidedly different – not necessarily one good or one bad – but different. Lots of times it’s something that you can’t quite put your finger on; however, I find that the difference is usually in the emotion of the delivery. I’m not talking about histrionics or screaming or any outward visible signs of emotion (although such things can add to the effect); I’m referring to the indescribable but undeniable emotional timbre from within that connects the performer and the song to the audience and makes it all work.

That emotional something can’t be dissected or made into a list of checkpoints, and so, as a result, it can’t be taught. Playing an instrument, singing on key and various effective vocal inflections can be learned in school and mastered by anyone who has the patience and determination to practice, practice, practice. But there is no guidebook to emotional delivery and/or subsequent connection to an audience. The only thing I’ve found among those who have it and those who don’t, is that the former has spent quite a deal of time performing live in front of an audience and the latter hasn’t. Only experience can teach how to perform live and acoustic effectively and successfully.

These days, other than in small singer/songwriter clubs and coffeehouses, it’s difficult to experience those basics-only performances. Those who do play these venues are generally at the beginning point of their careers and haven’t yet mastered the qualities it takes to bring it all home. In fact, the only place I’m finding to weed out the wheat from the chaff is by listening to (and observing, if possible) live, in-studio radio station broadcasts, more popularly called “Lounges”. The beauty of the in-studio radio station broadcasts, or lounges, is that their logistics generally demand a low-tech performance. Small rooms, limited mics and inputs, and the difficulty in obtaining or hauling in massive amounts of gear all lend themselves to the kind of revealing standard that I prefer.

There are many radio stations doing studio broadcasts, to be sure, many of them heritage and storied, i.e., KBCO/Boulder’s Studio C, WXPN/Philadelphia’s World Café, and KCRW/Santa Monica’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. A few are more recent, such as KEXP/Seattle’s Live Video Podcasts, which seamlessly combines the audio and video in a real time stream. Trolling through these sites online, I’ve found these gems of true artistry in action:

Passenger – KINK/Portland OR – Bing Lounge 2012

Boy & Bear – WXPN/Philadelphia – World Café

Yuna – KCRW/Santa Monica – Morning Becomes Eclectic

Sarah McLachlan – CBC/Toronto – Studio Q

O.A.R. – KFOG/San Francisco – Morning Show

Matt Nathanson – KBCO/Boulder – Studio C

Andy Grammer – Mix 105.1/Orlando – Full Sail University

The Ready Set – Portland OR – Live 95.5’s Bing Lounge

Your local market radio station, if it is truly local, probably has some sort of artist in-studio performance opportunity, many of which offer up the one-on-one experience to lucky listeners. If you can’t seem to score one of those passes, the performances are usually memorialized at the station website.  Listen and watch (if there’s video) and decide for yourself. Who’s got the goods? Who’s got the song? Who delivers it the best in the stripped-down setting? The live and acoustic setting allows you to compare songs and performances on an apples-to-apples basis. You may be surprised and you may have to change your allegiance to an artist you had previously written off. This is how you join the ranks of a discerning audience; because this is the means by which the artist and the music will speak to you on an emotional level. Those who feel that connection become the super fans, and rightfully so.

“You really don’t know a song until you play it live.” – Robert Smith