Being taken seriously as a local band can be difficult, especially if you are a younger group. The norm for local bands today seems to be unrestrained casualness meant to ease the audience into the sense that they are just hanging out with their buds enjoying sweet tunes. This approach can work and has worked. However, the bands that take this approach still abide by some rules when on stage (the obvious exceptions being many wildly successful punk and pop punk bands). The following are guidelines meant to steer front persons away from common stagecraft pitfalls that hurt the professional aspect of the live performance with a focus on the verbal interactions that occur during a show.
1. Never address a single person in the audience.
Addressing a single person in the audience is a good way to lose people’s attention. As a front man you want to try and reach as many people in the crowd as possible when speaking. You want to make each member of the crowd feel like they are being addressed personally and that they are not just passive onlookers. Being charming, interesting and funny is important but discussing an in-joke with a buddy in the crowd is not an effective way to keep people interested. Make people feel like they are taking part in a group experience.
2. Only discuss relevant information.
What kind of beer you are drinking onstage and the fact that it is running low is not pertinent information that the audience needs to hear. Aim to make every sentence as effective and informative as possible. Let people know what the band has been up to lately creatively. Try and pump people up, entice them to come join you in front of stage. If you have merchandise, point it out! You didn’t spend hard earned money on EP’s, T-shirts and buttons for nobody to buy them. Introducing the individual band members seems to be a popular choice of topic but in my opinion this is not very important. I always figured that if you are a local band then no one really cares what your name is as long as the music is good. However, that could just be my own cynical bias.
3. Always thanks the other band you have played with and the crowd for coming out.
When you are invited to play for another band or you get another band to open for you, they bring out their fans and expose you to new audience members beyond your circle of friends. You are essentially mooching fans off of each other so show your appreciation for the fact that they are sharing their fan base with you. Hopefully they will do the same for you and you will continue to play more shows together in the future. Thanking the audience is obvious enough; most bands tend to do this compulsively multiple times per set. Be more effective and tell your audience why you are glad they came out. This doesn’t need to be a drawn out ode to the audience that expresses your now undying love for them. Be sincere, informative but concise.
4. Never ask the audience for your own encore.
"Hey, do you guys want to hear another song?" It seems like a pretty innocent statement but it says volumes about how you see your band and how you see your audience. Asking your audience for an encore can make you appear greedy and I would go even far as to say that it objectifies the audience into your own personal ego-feeder. If people want more, they will ask for more. If they do not want more, they will not ask for more.
5. Never try to entice other band members to speak onstage if they do not want to too or are not comfortable doing so.
This can often lead to an uncomfortable silence or incoherently mumbled statements followed by uncomfortable silence. If band member other than the front person wants to talk, they will pipe up. Otherwise, leave them be and let them do their thing. If you are running out of things to say because your guitar player has to tune his plank with strings between every song, having a conversation with a single band member is not an effective option to deal with avoiding dead air (see #1). What should you do?..
6. If you cannot think of anything to say... don't say anything.
Your guitar player’s plank with strings has become self-aware and has decided to fight him until it inevitably becomes kindling. He needs to retune between every song and breaks a few strings throughout the night. You have been talking the crowds ear off and it finally happened; you’ve got nothing left to say. What do you say? Nothing. What do you do? Get creative. Have your front man pick up a guitar and play an acoustic number. Let the bass player and drummer have a short jam. Let someone noodle around on a song they have been working on, who knows maybe it will finally begin to take its proper shape right there and then. Prepare for these situations, they will happen.
7. No in-song commentary.
Ad-libbing is one thing. It is spontaneous creativity that can lead to unexplored musical territory with fantastic results. Being the over chatty fan to your own song is another. If you really love the bass solo your band mate wrote that is coming in the song, awesome but there is no need to express it during the bridge when you’re not singing. The best example of this I can think of is a local hardcore band I saw once. The song apparently had a lot of breakdowns and the singer/screamer felt the need to announce it every time one occurred in the song. By the fifth time he scream/growled/angsted "THIS IS A BREAK DOWN" at the crowd my friends and me were in stitches. If you have managed to get your audience captivated and lost in your music, this kind of commentary will distract them, bringing them immediately out of that experience.
8. Never draw attention to yourself during another band member's solo or time to shine.
Oh my god, its almost here, that bass solo you love so much! What should you do? Point to the bass player, clap for him and tell the audience how "killer" it is! ...No. By this point the bass solo is over and half the crowd has been watching you act like a wanker instead of listening to it. Doing this is unfair to the band member who has had his time to shine taken away, unfair to the band because the full effect of the song is lost and damaging to yourself because it makes you look selfish. Got nothing to do during a bass, guitar or percussion break? Feel stupid just standing there? Either deal with it or get creative. Grab a tambourine or go hang at the back of the stage and clap along or even stay at the front of the stage toning down your presence temporarily. Whether or not you like classic rock music or not, front men from that era got very good at this. Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant are two names that come to mind immediately.
9. Use common sense.
This is essential if you want to be taken seriously. It could be argued that the last 8 guidelines are all common sense and I would agree. However, local bands make these specific mistakes all the time. Think about what you are saying before you say it, remember that words have an impact on people’s impression of you and aim for effective, concise, informative interactions with your audience.
The obvious glaring omission in this article is pumping up your crowd, remembering to have fun and be loose on stage. These guidelines are to be bent and broken as they are commonly by musicians that are considered to be highly professional. The previous paragraphs make it sound like your stage show should be emotionless and humorless. Injecting your show with humor and wit is incredibly important but I feel that the local bands I see rely on their personalities far too much. I would argue that it is an added bonus if you can pull off being funny, cool and charming professionally. However, that is my own bias and that discussion is grounds for an entirely new article all together. In conclusion, I hope these guidelines are useful.