This post is going to be focused at one particular audience: musicians. Over the years I’ve been in a few bands playing hundreds of shows in dozens of cities. I’ve picked up a few useful things here and there that some might find to be useful advice. Today I thought I’d share some of those things.
One of the things I’ve learned more recently is that everyone in your band needs to learn how to sing. It isn’t that difficult to give yourself a little bit of training, especially with the online resources available these days. Nothing beefs up a performance like vocal harmonies and backup singing. It separates the bands that sound like pros from the bands that sound like garage bands. You might not think you can sing worth a damn, but I promise if you practice singing with other songs or sing the notes you’re playing on your instrument you will get better in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Absolutely do not allow for much dead time between songs. It really makes your performance feel amateur. There needs to be short spaces between songs and those spaces need to be filled with stage banter. Stringed instruments are going to have to retune between songs at times so have your stage banter planned out if need be. This is always a good time to talk about your next gig, remind everyone of drink specials, tell everyone to tip their waitresses, and even make some jokes. If you really need material you can even comment on the weather or a recent sporting even that just occurred. If you find that you can’t do this type of thing on the fly then you need to spend some time thinking about stuff to say between songs and have a cheat sheet up there with you. For the love of all that is holy, do not let there be silence between songs!
Stage presence is just as important as how well you play your material. Your focus has probably been placed on polishing up your tunes, but the audience is watching you play them so moving around is essential to a good show. The best way to work on your stage presence is to move around at your practices like you would on stage. I’ve even heard people say that they will strap on their guitars and move around in front of a mirror so they can see how they look and make adjustments if anything they are doing looks goofy. You can’t stand there like stiffs and expect the audience to get into it. The audience is going to feed off of your energy and they are more likely to miss or forget little mistakes in your playing if you are giving them a visual show as well.
A timid performance is a weak one. Whether you’re playing guitar, bass, drums, keys, or singing you have to own what you are doing on stage. Vocalists need to belt it out with authority, drummers need to hit their drums with force and precision, and the guys on the other instruments have to look and sound committed to every note they play. This is where dynamics comes in too. If a song calls for the vocals to be extra powerful in a part then you need to dig down and find that power. If there is a big drum hit leading into another section of a song then you better make sure it is played more loudly than everything you played before that part. If the audience doesn’t get a sense of authority and confidence from you then their opinion of your show will reflect that.
Lastly, and most importantly, get over your nerves! Being nervous WILL destroy your performance. If you go onstage full of nerves then you are much more likely to make mistakes and play timidly. Everyone has a different way to deal with their nerves so I can’t tell you how to deal with yours, but you HAVE to figure it out. Instead of letting the audience make you nervous you have to feed off of their energy. I go onstage thinking that I’m going to own the crowd for the duration of my set. I usually do some brief relaxation/meditation exercises, slap myself in the face, and flip on my “machine mode”. It is almost like preparing yourself for a fight. The more people present and the more they respond to what we are doing the more I will jump around, headbang, make faces, etc. You’ve got to put yourself in a dominant state of mind and let the audience fuel your fire. If you let your nerves affect you negatively then you’re not going to play the kind of show you’re capable of, but if you feed off of them then you just might play the best set of your life!
Work these things into your practices. Spend some time finding the trigger that will make you a rockstar and keep you from becoming a nervous wreck. For many, playing in a band is all about having fun. If you go out there fully prepared to rock everyone’s socks off then magical things will happen!