If you’ve ever been to a gig where there’s a bar and the artists are unsigned, chances are you’ve witnessed at least one artist being completely ignored by the audience. And then there are gigs with people who seem to do barely anything, but appear so at ease that everyone’s hooked from start to finish.
What does the second band have that the first one did not? Stage presence.
The way the band looks on stage plays a huge part in capturing the attention of the audience. The visual image you project matters. The eyes, as well as the ears, need to be satisfied if an audience member is to become a fan. You can see this at work with every successful musical act. The way the group looks and acts on stage affects the way you experience the music. The greatest artists capture your attention through their sheer power as performers.
This section gives you a few suggestions on how to get your live experience right, including:
You might think these rules only apply to a certain member of the band such as the lead singer, but they apply to everybody. Below are some tips to get started on your stage presence.
The first is easy.
Smile: Unless your band isn’t supposed to. People want to have a good time, and they want to see you having a good time too.
Introduce yourself: Tell people who you are – make sure you introduce yourself, if not right at the beginning of your set, then one or two (dramatic) songs in.
A friendly face: Make sure you have a friend at the front of the stage. Then you can focus on them whenever you want, someone who will smile back, and encourage you, giving you your confidence back.
Water: Water is incredibly important. A dry voice crackles and breaks. And a dehydrated body performs poorly. Make sure every band member has at least one bottle of room tempature water. Cold water restricts your vocal chords.
Dress the part: Don’t do led zeppelin in a cowboy hat, and don’t do blues in a Kiss costume. And definitely don’t look like you just woke up or just left your day job. Audiences want cool, or glamour, or whatever your style of music calls for. It’s part of the fantasy. As far as the audience is concerned, this is what you do. Look as if you’ve always been on stage, and look like you love what you do. Perhaps you can develop your own unique look and style of performing.
The most important thing here is just to HAVE an attitude, some kind of attitude. Nothing is more boring when watching a band than to see musicians standing up there doing… nothing. To continue your image building, your attitude should match the style of your music. (Folk Singers are usually “polite”, hard rockers “rowdy”, goth bands “serious”, etc., but like all rules, this one can be broken.) Do ANYTHING except stand there staring at the floor. Move around, dance, mosh, jump, whatever.
Lighting & staging: Another visual addition to add interest to the show and draw in the listeners. You can use creative lighting effects, props, ramps, platforms, banners, etc. to make your show more appealing to the eye. You would be surprised how the right lighting effects can make any band look like rockstars.
Confidence: Confidence comes from practice. If you know your material inside and out the possibilities or screwing up are small. And if you know in your heart people like your music your confidence will grow naturally. Otherwise fake it until you make it. This is show biz, if you act confident people will think you’re confident and respond better.
Acknowledge the audience: You need to let them know that you know they exist. Audience participation is a great way to do this. Play short games and contests with them. Screaming contests, dance contests and sing alongs are all great ways to get the audience involved. Try asking a few audience members up front what their names are and dedicate a song to them.
Look at the audience, not at your instrument. It’s way friendlier to the folks who came out to see you. Look at the other musicians once in a while. Make eye contact with your bandmates and especially the audience. If you look out over a crowd, it seems as if you’re looking right at them, and you’ll appear as if you’re involving the whole crowd.
Mingling: Getting out to talk and mix with the people of your audiences can win them over before you even take the stage. Now that they’ve met you, they may end up staying longer at your performance than they had planned on. Have a schedule of your upcoming performances you can hand out, or a website address so they can check your playing schedule out online. The better your social skills, the easier time you’ll have.
Start conversations with customers and make them feel good about being there to see you. Don’t ignore people when they want to approach you. Leave your ego at home. We all hate that. And you never know who knows who and who’s telling on you the next day. Also good to remember is that if you approach people in your audience, you don’t know if they know music or not, you don’t know whether they are constant concert go-ers, you don’t know nothin’. Treating them like ignorant boobs because they don’t have a guitar in their hands is gonna lose you some audience and a lot of respect. They may know the club owners and patrons at other clubs and will most certainly babble if you act like a jerk. It only takes one person to get the whole crowd cheering or booing.
Have a lot of fun on stage: Even if you aren’t having fun, try to make it look like you are. The audience is watching you. If you aren’t having a great time, neither will they. Run around, dance, jump, sing to audience members, point at them, get off the stage and run around, whatever! Don’t make it look like you feel obligated to be there.
Keep the list a mystery: Don’t let the audience know what’s on your set list! Keep them in suspense, waiting for that special song. They might otherwise wander off and do something else, or stand in the back talking. You want their full attention.
Inside jokes: This is a big no-no on stage. Refrain from them at all costs! If you tell some joke that would embarrass someone in the band, and they don’t enjoy the joke, you just wrecked their stage presence. If you’re the only one that thinks something is funny, keep it to yourself! This includes alternate names for songs. Don’t reveal that sort of thing to the general public, it’s embarrassing to the whole band, the staff at the show, the other band(s), and especially your management.
New songs: Expect to screw up a lot. Say that it’s a new song, and that you haven’t played it a lot. Unless you want it to be a surprise, of course!
Screwing up: We all screw up at some point. Even the best of us. When you make a mistake, get back on track as smoothly as possible, even if it means waiting for another part of the song. Remember, it needs to be funny to you. Smile! And if someone else screws up, don’t shoot shocked or confused glances over at him. He is already embarrassed, and if the audience hasn’t noticed yet, your sudden reaction will bring it to their attention. If it’s a new song, keep on playing like that’s how it was supposed to be. Do not argue on stage. Do not call each other names or cut each other down. Remember as far as the audience knows you’re all friends and having fun. Even if it isn’t true
The golden rule for groups when things go wrong, everyone follows what the singer does!
Different audience, same show: If you play in front of a totally different crowd than usual, don’t apologize for the way you sound in any part of the set! Don’t be ashamed to show the world who you are. Play the same as you would for any other crowd.
Different mood, different show: If your audience is not in the right mood, don’t apologize or stop the song. Try to formulate some type of alternative set list if the mood dictates. Or shake things up with some sort of ice breaker. Free merch to the most enthusiastic audience member works well.
Train wreck: This is the worst nightmare of every band. If you train-wreck a song, it’s funny to you. Even if it really isn’t. Make a joke about it, and say something like “OK, we do practice a lot…” Then continue the set. In some cases pick up the song again if it’s possible to do so without making the song feel like it’s dragging on. Otherwise come back to it later or forget the whole thing.
Silence: Avoid awakaward pauses or long bits of silence between songs. Instead use any time between tracks to introduce the next song or even your fellow band members. Talk to the audience, tell a funny story, tell a story about the next song, etc.
Setlists: Set lists are incredibly important. Make sure you have one at every show. Nothing is more unprofessional than stopping to ask what song you’re all going to play next. Make sure everyone agrees on the setlist before hand and has a copy of it at the show! At the very least the the lead singer should have one so he or she can announce which song is next to the audience and band. If you have instructions written on the set list, pay attention to them so you’ll know exactly where you are in the show. If you have instructions written specifically to you, follow them so the rest of the band isn’t embarrassed or confused. Deviating from the set list is okay as long as you make sure the rest of the band knows about it, without making it immediately obvious that you have to make a change.
Forgetting the words: If you start a song and your mind goes blank play it off as best as possible. The best thing to do is extend the opening of the song. Make it seem intentional like a brand new intro. Continue the opening riffs until you remember your line and if you absolutely have too walk over to your bandmate and quietly ask him or her what the first line is. If you forget the words half way through a song either fake it and make up new words, back off of the mic so the audience cant hear your jibberish or if its too obvious simply think for a second and recover with a smile, a laugh and a “I GOT IT!”
Tuning and setup: Guitars come out of tune. Thats something you just have to deal with. The audience on the other hand shouldn’t have to deal with it. There is nothing more annoying that having to hear a guitarist tune his guitar on stage. So use an electronic tuner or have a standby guitar already tuned up so you can simply switch off. The same goes for mic and volume setup. ,p> If at all possible do not subject the audience to “check one, check two, check three…” Do these things before your crowd shows up or before your set starts. You dont want your first impresion to be a band one. Also don’t ask the audience if they think the sound is too loud. You should be concerned with your sound, but deal with it professionally. Deal with audio problems during the show by talking with someone who knows what they’re doing. Send a friend into the audience to check the sound if you like.
If you’re being ignored: Change the set list so that you play your best song next. If you’re the front person, have a few lines scripted in order to get the audience’s attention back, whether it’s just the corny old- what do you think of the show so far, or cajoling them to listen.
Too much fun: Don’t get wasted before your show-The audience usually isn’t drunk before you start playing, so you probably shouldn’t be, either. If a musician says, “I play better stoned/drunk”, he has no clue. They may think they sound better, but it usually just leads to rambling pointless solos and playing too loud. If the show is going great and the audience is getting plastered, you might have a bit of fun, but don’t get trashed yourself.