No More Tomatoes, They're Throwing Cash!

I'm going to give you my personal perspective on live performances, and get you in the habit of being as successful as you could possibly imagine while on that rocky stage. Not to mention earn a little cash!

Ultimate Guitar

I was in fifth grade when I first performed in front of a big audience, it was in the school gymnasium at Christmas for my parents, teachers and students. I was picked in an audition to perform half of the Christmas song "Good King Wenceslas". I'm not sure why the teacher had two of us share the song. I was ready to do the whole thing myself! It was a definite highlight of my young childhood. The first time I heard the audience applause, I felt like a heroin addict, I was hooked! It wasn't until I was older that I began to deal with things like performance anxiety (more of that later), or consider the idea of how I was presenting my material. These days, I'm very conscious of the connection I make with an audience, and the way the songs come across.

I have performed at many open mics, and I find them to be the most difficult performances! There is no time to warm up... sometimes a song or two is what you need to get comfortable with where you are, but then it's over! If it's an open mic that I haven't performed at before, that makes it worse! So many things can affect the performance, the people there, the sound system, if there is one, the room itself, and the other performances ahead of you. Over time, I've managed to make a mental list for myself of the things I have to remember when I'm playing, and the things I watch for in others:

Eye Contact

When I watch a performer with his/her head bowed down staring at the guitar or the floor, I feel disconnected from them. Not only that, but their nervous behavior distracts me, makes me feel sorry for them, and I don't listen to the song. Some performers say that they can better focus on the song if they keep their eyes closed the whole time but what about the people you're playing to? A performance is literally an exchange of energy between the performer and the audience and if you cut the audience off, they have nothing to return to you! If you find it difficult to look at someone, there are two things you can do. You can either look for the person who is most obviously enjoying your performance and feed off of them, or you can make a person up! Just look out there as if you were looking at someone who was smiling at you, and smile back! I do this all the time, especially if I'm in a situation where there isn't much of an audience, or I'm in a room where no one is really listening.


You may be a "music" person, not as concerned with getting your lyrics across, but you would be surprised to know just how many people love lyrics! When the mouth is dry and the brain muddy with terror, even the most wonderful lyrics can be reduced to an unintelligible mumble. Before you even get to that open mic, practice exaggerating your lyrics when you sing them. Hit every consonant hard, open your mouth wide. At first, it'll feel pretty silly, but it will keep you conscious of getting your message across. When you want someone to hear what you're saying when you are speaking to them, you make your voice a little louder, look straight at them and enunciate. Think of the same thing when you're singing.


Assuming you're a guitar player, you're likely to pound away at the strings when you're nervous, completely dominating your vocal. Practice doing this: when you're playing the parts of the song when you're not singing, let yourself pound. When you are singing, pull the guitar way back, soften it up, and make it weave around your lyrics. Not only will it help your lyrics stand out, it will create quite a dramatic effect to your performance!


If you're singing a happy song, remember what your kindergarten teacher said the first time you sang in front of your parents at a school event. Smile! If the song is more somber, don't smile! Nothing more confusing than dark lyrics and a grin. In all seriousness, if I was watching a band performing a depressing song but smiling like Mickey Mouse I would assume them of mental issues! As strange as this may come off, performing is very much like acting. You certainly need to "be yourself", but you are also emoting and re-creating the topic of the song to your audience every time you perform it. Listen to the words as you're singing them, and try to remember where they came from when you wrote that song! Remember, at the lyrics tip breathes your true emotion.


I was told once by my music teacher that I moved too much when I sang. (He also accused me of add, but oh boy, that's another story.) He told me it was distracting. Most of it was, of course, nervous energy. If you move around like Joe Cocker, you're likely to distract from your song (unless you are Joe Cocker, in which case you can do whatever you like). But, having said that, music is a full body experience! Sitting or standing with your body as stiff as a board translates into negative vibes for your audience. Move around a little and that will help you relax and also release some of that nervous energy. In the wise words of Gino Vannelli: You gotta move.


If there is a little story behind your song, tell it. Practice ahead of time just so you get the story straight! Two don'ts: Don't tell the whole story, let the song say most of it. And don't go on and on, umming and ahhing and losing your focus. But a little chatter between songs gives the audience a chance to connect with you on another level. It endears you to them beyond the songs.


When you receive applause it is the greatest gift, so stay for a moment and soak it in! I remember a gig I did once, where right after my two songs, I turned to run off stage. The host of the gig got a hold of me and made me hang around a bit... she asked me a few questions on air, and said "They're applauding you! Enjoy it!" I'm sure it was my own nervousness that inspired the desire to turn and run.... but what I was also doing was, in fact, snubbing the audience by not acknowledging their applause. I don't "milk it" now, but I do allow myself and the audience a chance to enjoy those few moments!

Okay, so now you've got the moves, the music, the passion, the whole shindig. You're on your way to becoming a great musician and having great performances. But what's next? You guessed it the gig money! Here are some ways musicians such as yourself can increase the tip money you receive per gig. Because of course, after your stunning gig you deserve it, right?

You can reach me at [] with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have regarding my column or performances in general.

90 comments sorted by best / new / date

    not sure about the dressing to please thing, but hey.
    hummm, good article, i found the first part very useful and i'll definitely use it on my next live performance... But i have to agree with the others here that all those TIPS tips are all kinda revolting... I must say i am a amateur musician and never experienced having to "live" outta music... But still, writing songs about tipping!?! Thats kinda all that music and arts are NOT about! That paints you as a completly comercial and fashion-driven musician, the worse kind there is. I assume that u probably only write songs that have a certain appeal... Hell, you probably only write songs about tippin'! And if thats your deal or your thing, its ok. Just please, don't go around preachin that as if it was a good thing to do... Playing for money and nothing else and beg your audience for more money...
    I never thought of asking for tips... It sounds a little like begging to me. Then again, does everybody here play in a band that actually plays shows for free? It's one thing to play a show for a charity event, but the band I'm in doesn't play free shows unless it is for charity. I figure if our band can pull in a huge crowd and completely pack an entire club wouldn't it be worthwhile on the bar owner's part to pay us a few hundred dollars... I mean, after all, every single person coming in to see us play is going to buy a few drinks, so the bar's making money, the band's making money, the audience is having a kick ass time... why would you need to accept tips from the same people that came to see YOU perform in the first place? Their presence alone should be enough to make a true musician happy. After all... isn't that what playing music is all about? Entertaining people?
    now the asking for tips doesnt really bother all that much but the problem in that when you divide the tip up four ways to each member of the band you come up with maby 10-15 bucks depending on the number of ppl there
    As stupid as it sounds, I never even thought of asking for tips, mostly just earning cash off CD sales. When going to see local bands perform, I don't have anything more then when I can't hear a band's name or if there is zero connection between the performers and the audience. Great article, thanks
    man, this guy is obssessed with tips! lol well, if your making a career out of it sure, but I have a job also (and play on the side) and I would find it kinda rude if someone pressured me for tips. but in all, still a good article with some good pointers (and its true about all that energy\vibe stuff)
    Sorry dude, but if i asked for tips from an audience im sure i'd get an audience full or dirty looks and a chorus of "get tae *** ye money rakin bastards!" or something along those lines. Good article otherwise tho lol.
    good article, seemed like you really enjoy tips, but take this guys advice it should work although i wouldnt try to get people to tip because of something you said onstage, that could go wrong a ton of ways. anyways good, useful, well done!
    Asking for tips is in now way a bad thing, all up and coming musicians need a little extra cash. My band has a 4 song demo that we sell at shows, and right next to it on our table is a jar for donations. There's a little sign on it that says we're trying to save for equipment and to record a full length album, so people who enjoyed the show usually donate. We usually run out with 20-30 bucks a show from the jar alone. Take this guy's advice, it's useful.
    5 stars all the way. ill be using these tips nxt week at my bands nxt local gig! thanks man!
    Bulletbass man
    instead of getting tipped just sell your bands stuff if they like you you'll make 3 times the amount
    You could also get a boob job and have people put tips in your cleavage. Oh boy!
    ijackson57: I'm just going to keep posting here, Chris, you can delete them as you wish, but I will continue to post that this article was plagiarized from my website. Everytime you remove my post, I'll just post it again. Irene Jackson u fool he said we can reach you @ ur email or w/e and its miscelanious so its all good
    No way! u guys have to see it to believe it! Its the exact same article we've all read, but perfect! Without heroin coments or TIPS TIPS TIPS like u crazy I feel for you irene, that guy ripped u off!!!
    Your really dumb. That "guy" is a girl, the same frickedn Irene - look at the username of the guy who wrote this - ijackson ! He wrote it and put it on seperate sights - maybe tried to make it more - casual and funny with the tips and heroin commments for this site. Jesus christ you've got a brain use it.
    Damn, this was a nice article. I've never actually performed in front of anybody, except playing guitar for a band concert earlier this year. Nobody heard me at all... and that's not at all a complaint. My guitar teacher goes to open mics all the time. He loves them. I suppose they would be a little nerve-racking, but even if you do make a couple of mistakes, who cares as long as everything else goes right? That's my philosophy. Awesome article, though. I'll keep those tips in mind.
    u fool? Gothic...half of this article isn't mine...the half you referred to in your other comment was from someone else, the tips part. I actually agree with you, money tips aren't important. People coming out to see you, that's what is important. I've played to 1 person, I've played to 500...either way, I would never ask anyone for a tip, I would never expect it. So I was pissed off that someone ripped off my article, and then pasted something that I didn't believe in underneath it! It's not "all good"...hope you can see that. IJ
    Nah *** that.. My band doesn't care we get paid or not.. its all about putting on a good show and having a good time.. but i still wouldnt turn down money if someone offered it to me. Great article man.
    When I watch a performer with his/her head bowed down staring at the guitar or the floor, I feel disconnected from them. Not only that, but their nervous behavior distracts me, makes me feel sorry for them, and I don't listen to the song. Some performers say that they can better focus on the song if they keep their eyes closed the whole time but what about the people you're playing to? well, what about Slash? he hardly ever looks in the audience, but people still love him. also, i think this guy is a little obsessed with getting tipped, don't you?
    the tipping them i let the audience deside i don't even let them know about the tipping just give them a good time
    [Omfg seriously why the hell do you need to make tips? it should be enough that the people come out to see you for without them you wouldnt have an audience. Just be happy that you have people come instead of trying to jack more of thier money ]i agree
    Omfg seriously why the hell do you need to make tips? it should be enough that the people come out to see you for without them you wouldnt have an audience. Just be happy that you have people come instead of trying to jack more of thier money
    I dont agree with the tipping part though ... the go to the audience themselves and tip thing ... I personally think that you gotta let the audience tip you, that way you'll know whether the audience is giving tips personally. Anyway,
    mahn hes really ***in obsesse dwith gettin says tips in every single sentence
    ^ is an ass that has no idea what hes talking about! This article is for people that plan to be at a show doing something, not for you who plans to sit in a corner pretending to play guitar wishing for some talent to wash into his head.
    i'm afraid to put a tip jar out, hahahah. cuz i know if it was me... i would write a note that said "go *** yourself". hahaha.
    i found this quite ammuzing
    I felt like a heroin addict, I was hooked
    im not too sure what to say but like, what a bad similie, but besides taht good article. but tips? nah man i could never ask for tips, for me the satifiaction of playing in front of people is enought... tips seem kinda grimey