Gigging in Grenfell: Live Shows

by SaskMusic

August 25, 2009 in Ask Percy

Dear Percy,
I really want to connect with my audiences at my live shows. There are a lot of people who say that it is really important. Do you have any tips for me?
- Gigging in Grenfell

Dear G.I.G.,

Man, am I glad you asked this question. I have been to a lot of performances this year and the acts that have stood out have been the ones that pull their audiences in, and give them an amazing experience. So, I am going to give you some basic tips to leave your fans swimming and wanting more! For those of you who want really in-depth tips, you may want to make an appointment with a performance coach.

You hit on something so important…in this business, your live performance is going to be the most important piece in determining whether you are successful or not. The reason? Well, there are literally hundreds of thousands of artists out there, and all of them are trying to win over fans. It is really challenging to get radio airplay, satellite radio is coming to Canada (and has been in the U.S. for a couple of years), everyone is producing a video either for the major cable networks or for independent release, and people can access any kind of music that they want on the internet. So, with so much music at the fins of your fans, you need to set yourself apart so that they become loyal, take your music home, promote your music to their friends and family, and keep coming out to support you, instead of taking home one of the other thousands of artists that they have probably been exposed to. Live performance will do this for you.

Look at it this way…think of the most amazing concert that you have ever been to…you probably own one of that artist’s CDs (or all of them) and try to catch a show when you can. Why? Every time you see the artist’s video on TV or put on one of his/her CDs, you are taken back to the amazing moment that you had at that artist’s live performance. I would ask you to think of a time when the artist wasn’t particularly amazing and didn’t you pull in to their performance…but you probably don’t remember much! That is the experience that you are trying to give your fans…otherwise, they might as well stay at home and watch the shell-e-vision and wait for the next act to come to town.

So here are some of the most common syndromes that I have come across and what you can do to prevent them:

Anenome Syndrome: Typically the front person and the band stay at the back of the stage, hide amongst themselves, talk only to themselves and play music. Look – people want to be a PART of the show and the experience. Move to the front of the stage so that you can interact with your audience and they can see what you are doing. Look at the audience members (believe me, even if you can’t see anything under the stage lights, people will think you are looking right at them). Talk to the people who are there – make sure they know that they are the most important reason why you do what you do. Work with your audience and react to them. Use the entire stage and move around so that the whole room can engage with you. And, when you get off stage, remember that you are still performing. Make yourself available to meet people and shake a few fins!

Silent Clam Syndrome: I have seen a lot of performers who are great when they are performing their music, but painfully awkward when it comes to talking to the audience between songs. This can be a live performance killer. Create a script that you can use – this way you will know what to say next without babbling on. If you look at the great live performance artists, they all use a script. You can test out jokes, stories, segueways and determine what works and what doesn’t. Hey on that note – also think about your set list and the way you are going to build and release tension for the audience. This is all done through songs choices, stories that will be told, and how songs will be intro’d.

Drunken Sailor Syndrome: There is nothing more disappointing (and embarrassing) than the artist who has decided to a have a few drinks to calm down, and then a few more, and then a few more…you see where this is going. By showtime, we have a drunken sailor on stage who can’t keep it together. You are a professional and you are trying to engage an audience, whether you are playing to two people in a coffee house, a full room in a noisy bar, or 10,000 people at a festival. Keep your head and body free and clear of any substances that are going to ruin your chance to connect with your audience.

Humble Seahorse Syndrome: It is amazing how often artists forget that they still need to market and promote themselves from the stage. I was at Taste of Regina/Flatland Festival this year (most of you probably didn’t see me, as I was hiding out in the sound booth) and the artists who sold the most product were the ones who really marketed their CDs. Let people know where they can buy your CD – can they buy it at the show, and if they don’t have the money on them, how can they buy the CD later? And, make sure you mention this at least three times throughout your set – people need to be reminded! Also, don’t forget to tell people what your web site address is so that they can stay connected to what you are doing. Make sure that you mention this several times throughout the night. I would also make some little handbills or tent cards so that people can walk out with your website address on a piece of paper…some kind of contest encouraging them to go to the website wouldn’t hurt. And, make sure that you put a fan book out that people can sign it to get updates on your career. This is also a key element – you need to promote it from stage and where it is in the venue for people to sign, several times throughout the night. So simple and so many artists forget to do it.

Mannerless Manta-Ray Syndrome: Just a few points in this area. Make sure you acknowledge the audience when you walk on stage, and genuinely thank them at the end of the night. Acknowledge all of the band members during the performance and introduce them. Thank the venue owner and the staff. Acknowledge any sponsors that you may have. If a band played before you, acknowledge them and mention the band that is coming up next. Be nice to the sound crew and work with them to make it the best night possible. They can be your best friends if you treat them respectfully, or your worst enemies if you are rude to them, yell at them, or don’t work with them like they’re part of your band.

Well kids, this should give you a good start. There is a lot beyond this that you can do in terms of setting the mood, using props, etc. But if you look at some of the greatest stage performers: Jann Arden, Dolly Parton, KISS, Elvis Presley, Cher, Alice Cooper…I think I have covered most of the genres…the one thing they all have in common is a great live
performance built on the points above. Get a video camera, tape your live performance and be critical about it and what you need to do to improve. Look at the great live performers around you and observe what they do. If you do this, you’ll give your fans an incredible experience, and a reason to keep swimming back! Remember, you never know who is sitting in the audience: there may only be 10 people in the room, but one of them could be a radio programmer, key member of your street team, or a major publicist waiting to see what you can do. I have seen this happen to several artists. Always give 100%.

Swimming off,

Originally published August 2005.

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