5 Tips for Being a Better Live Musician
- Paul Felice
There are many facets to being a professional musician, and wise folks quickly realize that having multiple revenue streams, skill-building and promotional opportunities is key to being successful in the business. Among the most important of these is live performance.
Live shows promote your band image, create connections, have a relatively high hourly rate of pay, hone your skills and... well they're a heck of a lot of fun!
As with any endeavor, some approaches are clearly better than others when making a foray into your local coffee shop, bar, club or concert hall. Every situation is different, and as you gain experience you'll begin to gain a feel for what works best at a particular time and place.
That being said, there are a few basic guidelines that artists should really keep in mind at all times. Your best live shows will be the ones where your audience wants to know more about you, feels comfortable approaching you, and shows their appreciation for your performance.
1) Respect Your Audience
Respect for your audience is more of a philosophy than specific actions or rules for your behavior. If you were in the audience what would you like to see and hear? Keep in mind that most audiences aren't a direct reflection of your own personality or desires, so use your imagination and make your best guess.
2) Know Your Venue
At venues like a coffee shop or diner, where folks are there for conversation and socializing, don't overwhelm the room. Keep your volume low, cut down on the between-song banter and focus on creating a pleasing background musical bed for their enjoyment. Play sitting down most of the time.
When you're in a bar setting, however, especially if there's a dance floor and your stage is situated to be the focal point of the room, it's a whole different ballgame. Your audience came out there to party, dance, and it's your job to own that room. Be loud, rock hard and don't you dare sit on your butt! Play standing, move to the beat of the music, smile and have the good time you want your listeners to have.
3) Break Down the “Fourth Wall”
The “Fourth Wall” is an imaginary barrier between you and your audience. When on stage, you typically have the wall behind you, and one on the left and right. The space separating you from your audience is perhaps your greatest challenge as a performer. Successful live performers master the art of breaking this wall down.
The fourth wall exists naturally; audiences automatically feel the separation because you're the on onstage with the guitar and mic, and they are facing the opposite direction, usually looking up at you while you look down on them. While there is merit to the idea of maintaining an aura of god-like status, there's a needed balance in connecting with the folks who have come to see and hear you play.
Make eye contact. Converse directly with people while you're on stage. Take requests. Thank people you know by name over the mic. When playing with other performers, have some stage banter over the mic and try not to exclude the audience from the discussion. Connect, connect, CONNECT and make sure you are having a good time with your audience. The importance of drawing your audience into your act cannot be overstated.
4) Have a Set List... (but don't get married to it)
Virtually no situation will be improved by flipping aimlessly through your song book, searching for the next song while your audience waits in awkward silence for the next song you finally decide on. Having a set list prevents gaps between songs, which will kill your audience and make you look unprofessional and amateurish.
That being said, always be ready to call an audible. When someone shouts out, “Play some Petty/Skynyrd/Stones/Floyd/etc.!!” be ready to fire something off right then and there. Nothing speaks to an audience like that kind of interaction. Go back to the set list afterward, just drop the weakest song in favor of the request.
Make your set list available to your listeners when appropriate. They'll point and smile at something; go ahead and bust it out. Your tip jar will reap the rewards, and you'll create a strong connection with a potential new fan.
5) Advertise Your Brand
You can put on the best show in the world, but if you don't plug your name (or band/project name) then you'll be quickly forgotten. Announce yourself several times through the show, and try to have tschotskes of some sort, if only a card or sticker, so people can find you after the show. If you're scheduled to return to the venue, be sure to announce that multiple times. (Note: It's bad form to announce upcoming shows at competing venues; you won't score any points with management doing that.)
These points are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to honing your live shows and leveraging the heap of opportunities they provide for your music career. Most of what you need to know you can only learn by getting out there and playing. Your act will not start out perfect, but if you keep the basics in mind and apply them at all times, you'll become better and better, and find yourself being requested by clubs, rather than begging to be added to the line up.
Kick butt and ROCK ON!!