Among the several
thousand hundred several vistors to this blog each week, I know there are some musicians that stop by here, as well as music fans. I know this in part because when I write a profile about a band or artist, I usually send them a link; and in part because bands sometimes contact me about a gig they’re doing or music they’re releasing. One band about whom I gave a negative review even found my piece online and emailed me a humble and gracious reply.
As I’ve said before, the reason I say anything, positive or negative, is because I’m pulling for the band or artist I’m talking about and want them to do well.
Anyhow, in watching a lot of bands and even folks on the open stage, I see a lot of stage-presence no-no’s–things that throw a blanket over an otherwise pretty-good set of music. So if you’re a musician thinking about hitting the local scene (wherever you are), here are some do’s and don’ts I think might be helpful:
- Don’t…tell the audience what each song is about before you sing it. Songwriters are notorious for this, because their songs are their “babies” and they often feel they must introduce them. Occasional in-between-tune banter between is okay, but when you tell the story behind every song, you insult the audience’s intelligence (as though they can’t figure out what it’s about by listening to it). Besides–they aren’t there to hear you talk, but to hear you sing. And if your songs always require that much explanation, you’re sending a message that the songs aren’t good enough to stand on their own. Just sing the friggin’ song, and let the audience decide.
- Don’t…talk about your “dream.” Just stay away from the word “dream” when you’re onstage. Why? Because these people aren’t your family in your living room; they are the public who have no vested interest in your dream. Artists who get onstage (or on camera, for you American Idol wanna-bes) and rattle on about their dream and how much it means to them to perform, blah, blah, blah…it comes off as sheer desperation, not confidence. It’s a turn-off, and instantly labels you as a charity case. If your dream is to perform onstage in front of an audience, then dangit, don’t waste the audience’s time talking onstage about your dream; LIVE your dream. Sing!
- Don’t…act like you are bigger stuff than you are. I know there’s a school of thought that arrogance gets attention, but where I went to school, it’s a big turnoff. Perform the heck out of the song, but don’t pretend you’re a rock god(dess) and that everyone there was just dying to see you perform. These aren’t the peasant folk come to adore you; these are hard-working people who might buy your record someday if you earn their respect. Don’t be shy and self-deprecating, either; confidence is cool. Just respect the fact that your audience can spot a phony a mile away. Be who you are, and don’t be what you aren’t. And again…just let your talent stand on its own. People will see it without you flaunting it all over the place.
- Don’t…keep asking the audience how they are doing tonight. Ask us once if you want to, but sking it over and over makes you look like you don’t know what to say next. We’re doing fine, thanks. Get to the next song, so we can dance.
On the other hand…
- Do…be prepared. Memorize your songs, and write down your setlist (because you will forget at some point). Don’t fly by the seat of your pants and expect to coast on your pure Mozart talent. People appreciate natural ability, but they respect you when you care enough about your own talent to work on the details.
- Do…work on transitions. The most awkward moments of a set are between songs (which is why artists make the mistake of asking the audience 20 times how they are doing tonight–and we’re fine, thank you). Keep the set list in front of you, and if possible, practice through the set list before you go live. If you need to stop and re-tune, have something already in your head to say to the crowd (besides asking how they are). Keep things moving as smoothly as possible, and get to the next song as soon as you can.
- Do…connect with the audience. A writer friend told me today that writers too often write for themselves instead of for their intended audience; I think the same is true for musicians. Too many artists get lost in their own songs and forget the audience is there. You sing for yourself in the shower; onstage, you sing for the people who came to hear you (and maybe paid money to hear you). You’re the one on the platform, but guess what? It’s actually not about you; it’s about them. Make eye contact; engage the people. Communicate with your song. Be genuinely appreciative of your fans. If you’re losing their interest, change things up to bring them back around. It’s only okay to lose yourself in the song if you can draw the audience into that moment with you–and times like those can be pure magic, by the way.
There’s a word I’ve used several times in this post that shouldn’t be missed: respect. This is a huge word to remember, on many fronts. You need to respect your audience, who are taking their time (and possibly spending their money) to see you. You need to respect your gift enough to hone it and polish it. And you will go farther and gain momentum–not just onstage, but over time–if you gain the respect of your audience, not just covet their praise. Respect them, and they’ll respect you. Pure, raw talent might get you to turn a few heads; but earning respect wins you loyal fans for life.