On-Stage Antics: Tips And Suggestions

I've been trying to fulfill my desire to see live music lately, but it seems that a lot of bigger bands want something called 'money' to see their shows.

Ultimate Guitar

I've been trying to fulfill my desire to see live music lately, but it seems that a lot of bigger bands want something called 'money' to see their shows. Although I've heard of 'money,' I'm not sure what it is or where to get it, so I've been going the cheap route and checking out small gigs to see beginner bands and young kids working out their act. You see bad haircuts and hear bad rip-offs of Metallica, Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins, but it's good fun. Sometimes it can be painful to watch, but you see some great young players and bands.

There are many stages in the progression of a band, from a loose group of guys practicing in a basement or rehearsal studio, to a bunch of paralyzed geeks standing on stage in some shitty bar, to the group of strutting studs in the big halls and venues. It can be pretty hilarious to watch the awkward kids emerging for the first time to step on a stage. Even if a band is tight musically, there is a big leap from playing in a rehearsal space to playing in front of people. "Holy shit, they're looking at us! What do we do?"

The straight fact is that a band, especially one made up of young, inexperienced kids, will look foolish their first several times out. There's nothing that can be done about it; there is simply a learning curve that everyone has to get over. And yet I wonder: is there anything I could do to help these kids? Certainly I couldn't help them with their music. That comes from talent and practice. But could I give them advice about what to do and what not do on stage? After five beers I decide the answer is yes.

On-Stage Antics: Tips And Suggestions

It's a problem for shy guys to get up in front of a group of people. I talked to a young guy at a shoe a few months ago. He was about to get up on stage and he and his buddies were very nervous, but excited. They were talking about getting some chicks after their set. They got up and played, but could barely face the audience. They were stiff and withdrawn. You could see them shaking. They played all right, getting through their songs without any major mistakes, but there was no connection. They didn't put on show; they just got on stage, played some songs and got off. Then they were confused about why no chicks talked to them afterwards.

So tip number one: You need to have confidence, and if you have none, fake it. Seriously, people can tell if you're scared. And even if you're almost at pants-shitting levels of nervousness, you've got to pretend you're cool and maybe a little bad-assed. Don't go overboard and start sneering and shit, but maybe try slapping each other hard in the face before going on. Straighten up. And for the love of Jimi, look at the audience. They are here to look at you. Look back at them. And if you're scared, pick a spot in the room where no one is sitting and look there. At least people will think you're looking at the audience.

If you need to stare at the guitar frets to be able to play, you're probably not ready to be on stage. Practice more, and don't get on stage until you can stare at someone sexy at the back of the room without making any mistakes.

If you're nervous, avoid long pauses. If you stand there looking at each other between songs going 'Was that okay? Okay? Are you ready? Steve? Are you ready?' you will look like a bunch of rookies. If you make mistakes, do not talk about it on stage. Do not look at your drummer and say 'Sorry Steve. My fault.' If another member of the band makes a mistake, do not look at him or mention it between songs. Punch him out back stage, but do not let anyone in the audience know there was an error. I'll bet you my air guitar that no one in the crowd noticed.

'But we need to tune up between songs.' Fine. Tune up, but make it quick and do not let it become an obsession. Do not tune up between every song. I remember seeing a band that would tune for upwards of a minute between each number, and would still be out of tune. Just play.

Show a bit of emotion. Don't get all weird, but don't be a zombie up there (unless your act is a Zombies cover band). I saw The Smalls play on their final tour, and I remember the guitar and bass player getting up on stage, all smiles, interacting with the crowd, and they played the whole show looking like they were having a great time. The singer, however, never made eye contact with anyone in the room, kept a mopey-dopey expression on his face, and looked like he didn't want to be there. By the end of the show, I hated his guts. Maybe it was his 'style,' or his 'act,' but I didn't like him. A friend at the same show said he thought the guy was too stoned to know where he was. Either way, we liked the band because they looked like they were having fun, and we wanted to rail-spike the singer.

Sometimes even nasty emotion is better than no emotion. The Misfits, in one of their reunion incarnations, featured a smiling and happy Jerry Only and a dour and angry Doyle. Doyle looked like he was going to take off his guitar and kill Jerry. Who knows, maybe he really wanted to, but I think it was part of the act. And it worked.

Speaking of singers: If your guitarist is also your singer, this won't apply, but if your band has a singer that doesn't play an instrument, pay attention to what he does with his hands. This is really important. If he doesn't know what to do with his hands, he'll look like an idiot. If he has both hands on his mike, fine. If he keeps his hands on the mike stand, that's cool too. But if you see him holding the mike with one hand and slipping the other hand into his pocket, you've got trouble.

Here's what I suggest. Go to a hardware store and buy half a pound of small nuts and bolts. Every time you see him put his hand in his pocket, throw a bolt at his head. It will break the habit fast. I remember the singer in one band who was trying to break the habit, and would slip his hand in his pocket then immediately out, or would sometimes just touch his pocket. As a member of the audience, it was really distracting and embarrassing. He was a good singer, too.

The cardinal sin of singers, however, is playing air guitar. If you ever, ever see your singer playing air guitar, hit him not with a bolt, but with the claw end of a hammer. This is the worst thing I've ever seen on a stage. The band sounded great, they looked great, everything was going really well until the big riff on the chorus when the singer starting to play along with the guitars. Boom. That's it for me folks.

Seriously, if the guy wants an instrument that badly, get him a tambourine. If he still plays air guitar, get rid of the tambourine and tape his hands to the mike stand before you go on. He'll have to walk on stage holding the stand, but that's his own fault.

I don't care if your singer is Axl Presley Jagger. If he plays air guitar, you will all look like idiots.

Band or act? You will eventually learn that there is more to being on stage than simply playing music. You will develop an act, and start performing instead of just playing. Many bands will try to push showmanship further by incorporating some sort of gimmick into their show. This could be done with things as common as lights, clothing or uniforms, all the way to pyrotechnics, Iron Maiden's massive stage designs or KISS's costumes and makeup.

There is nothing wrong with a gimmick. Even a bad gimmick can be good for campy fun. The thing to keep in mind is that the gimmick must be sustained. To not allow the gimmick to break down mid-show. Do not mock your own gimmick, unless that too is part of the gimmick. Examples:

A great instrumental rock band from Vancouver (the name escapes me) decided to push the idea that they didn't have a vocalist. They had no mikes on stage except those for the drums, and did not speak to the audience at all. Instead, they used a slide projector with prepared slides to introduce themselves. They carried on with the slides all the way to end of their set, with a slide that said 'You've been great. We look forward to coming back.'

On the other hand I saw a band that laid down an extra-dimensional routine, saying they were a band visiting from Dimension X or something like that. They played it for a while until their costumes go too hot and they pulled them off. At the end of the show the routine had broken down completely and they were just another band standing in the tatters of their failed gimmick.

Think about it. If Slipknot took off their masks the first time they got too hot, the band would not have made the big time. I swear by my nuts on this, and I bet they would agree as well.

I could go on all night about this stuff, but my six-pack is gone. Don't sweat the bullshit and try to have fun. Your early shows will suck. There's not much you can do about it. Just try to enjoy the ride and have a good time. Learn from your mistakes and don't be too hard on yourselves. If you have a good time, the people in the audience might have fun too (unless you suck). And if the people in the audience have a good time, who knows? Maybe some girls will talk to you after all.

2007 Nolan Whyte

270 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good article!
    ..,guy at a shoe
    e and w are so close together on a keyboard. But it is funny typing mistake
    I swear by my nuts on this, ...
    Have to remember this
    Here's a tip: Whenever someone messes up during a live show, no matter how terrible, we just look at each other, smile, and laugh (in a positive way). It breaks any and all tension between the individual bandmembers, and the audience can laugh and get over it rather quickly. You'll find that after laughing and keeping a smile, it kind of kicks you into overdrive: you'll want to recover from your flub. I've pulled of some sweetass moves shortly after hitting a wrong note.
    this is all unfortunately true with audiences today. you have to act like you're in a music video to appeal to anyone. robert plant did the air guitar thing, but he did it with the mic/stand!
    2. I don't agree with whole "act" thing. Be natural on stage. Any musician worth mentioning should be up there for himself and not the crowd. The bottom line music is art not entertainment.
    From the purist perspective you're right, but if you want to work a crowd of average joes (who aren't necessarily musicians), you're going to have to entertain them. Wouldn't you rather go to a show where the band was really good and really entertaining? Live music is performance art.
    ponnightingale wrote: imnotcommunist wrote: sweet you talked to a guy in a shoe!~ Ah, beat me to it!
    damn...i gotta comment faster (eigther i'm just kinda psychotic or its really late...but i'm still laughing at that) good, article - just about anyone that's my age that plays guitar is like that
    I remember my first gig and it was nothing short of awesome. I think the key was we just had fun. It was our first time, but we ran around onstage (not aimlessly, more like GN'R), were a bit cocky, and threw beach balls into the crowd. We all had a blast, and everyone we talked to afterward said the same (plus we got girls!). Having fun onstage makes all the difference.
    Insane Esp wrote: Fuck jethro tull and **** slipknot. Check out mushroomhead if u want to see a good show and stage antics. Vh1 rated them 5th best live and energetic band to see live, i didnt see slipknot on tehre so all u slipknot mother****ers can shut the **** up. But seriously go to a mushroomhead show to see sweet stage antics.
    TRUE THAT!!! Anyone who thinks Mushroomhead is a cheap rip off of slipknot look it up Mushroomhead was a band first so **** slipknot. Anyway this was quite funny, but one thing I dont see enough bands do now a days is jam. When me and my bandmates do a show we have a set list and we'll follow it and what not but inbetween some songs one of us will just start doing somethin a we roll with and go right into the next song.
    Ah, I remember the first time my band went on stage... I made everyone promise to move around as much as they could, and have fun with it, even if we sounded like shit. The singer/lead guitarist just ended up looking scared the entire time, the bassist seemed incredibly bored and made weird faces, and I was the only one that was actually doing stuff (I started dancing when I wasn't playing, posing for cameras, making eye contact with people I knew, etc.) And hey, guess who got the compliments after the show?
    great tips. i just saw a band today who had way too much ego onstage. i saw this and it grabbed my attention, i have found out i have been breaking the rule about looking at the audience....
    haha, good article. its so true too. after i saw the video of my bands first show i was like, wow, i looked like an f-ing tard. i rocked out and all and was comfortable but i really needed to work on my moves lol
    Me as an actor, have to add something that maybe could help people to pass their nerves. Dont look at the people faces all the time, look at something on the back row, maybe the corner or something, and that'll make people think you're looking at them.
    Theres only two onstage antics you need if your a guitar player. 1.Headband 2.Duck Walk like a crazy australian
    GREAT ARTICLE!!! My band just played (and won) a battle of the bands. Thank god, we seemed to have great stage presence acording to this article. The only thing i would add is stage presence. Roundhouses and guitar spins are very key if your good at them.
    wow. let me say this is an amazing article. my band broke up recently, because no one liked us. and now i'm sure this is why. i was the singer/screamer. now we all had some pretty good moves. and some bad ones. i'll list the good first: the drummer, he had a mic, he could randomly scream and whatnot, making it a different show every time, he also at one point threw a pair of sticks out to the crowd. they loved it. lead guitar, he had a special head bang, where he would kind of swing the neck of the guitar up and down like really far, also had a sweet "solo stance" where he would stand straight up and point the head stock higher up where the guitar was almost vertical. looked really cool. rhythm guitar, did alot of jumps around kind of a wild style. bass, "violent" towards his fellow band mates, and friends in the audience. once head butted the rhythm guitarist [great] mee, wrapped the mic cord around my wrist sometimes. would grab random people in the audience and scream in there face. once dropped the mic and moshed, i would get the audience to scream, jump, clap, and or mosh more. bad: drummer, bad singer mic idea didnt work lol, he laid down on his snare during a guitar solo, "misted" some water on the audience, and fellow band members. not good. lead guitarist, stood in one spot, didnt move his legs untill the "solo stance" rhythm guitar, made really funny faces, origionally dropped guitar and turned my mic down, got his mic up, and decided to try to take my spot, [kicked out soon afterward, then i quit, then the band broke up lol] bassist, violent lol, stood still mee, i once okay a few times, dropped to my knees and worshiped the lead guitarist during a solo. i made corny jokes between songs that no one lauged at. and once wore a full tux to a show. the tux was alright, except the pants were too tight and ripped before the set was over.
    OMG, this tips really work, i had to play at someone's birthday, and i was looking at the chicks in the back,as mentioned in this article and for fun: now there's a message of the celebrating one on my mobile phone, she likes me
    dude but lets put this into a certain perspective here, from what this sounds you have never been on the stage. they're good tips for the most part, and pretty accurate but being in a band is not all about a stunning stage show. that makes it fun to be a part of way later but its about fun. if the singer has fun playing air guitar, he'll probably look like a schmuck, but he's having fun. i think any frontman who is boring on stage needs to take a quick video or live reference to one, Mr. Dee Snider. that guy is energy on stage like no other. and man its not fair to say every bands first show WILL undoubtedly suck, want these kids to be confident, give em a reason to be, not to look forward to ****ing up their first shows, im gonna start playing my first shows in hopefully a few weeks and i cant wait, im excited as anything and if we **** up, it doesnt mean its gonna ruin the show. the thing about performing is to never let the crowd know when you mess up; if they dont know the song, how will they know there was a mistake? to all the new performers, guys just take it easy, relax, be confident and HAVE FUN!!!!! enjoy yourselves, all the best of luck to every one of you, cause im right there with you. take care guys, cant wait to read about some of you, as i hope you will be reading about me too.
    Capt. Mal
    Super Llama wrote: a wise old bluegrass drummer once told me... "If your singer is a chick, she has to be hot. Even if she sucks at singing, it'll work out. If she does suck, keep the fat chick that sings good in the back."
    ok in bluegrass there are no drummers there is a bass violinist.ok im done... but not yet! good article but the thing about you can't look at your gutiar neck while playing, many good musicians i know look at their fretboard otherwise great article i have a band that might play its first gig soon and im gonna use these
    Holy shit. This is sooo useful. My band recently had it's big premier. We had a few gigs a while ago, but we had no vocals. But now we do, we have our own songs, and we're not too bad. But we can't do covers worth a shit. One reason. Our singer can't remember the damn lyrics! He gets so nervous we have to practically smack him around before we go on! But yea. I watch Pete Wentz and Joe Trohman, well any Fall Out Boy for performing art, for on-stage inspiration. They're incredible. I'd love to hear more advice from anyone about this if you have it.
    About The whole stage act thing... The videos that guitarists should watch are "AC/DC Live!" and "Sight and Sound Live: AC/DC". Angus Young has probably the greatest stage presence in the world, and in the 'Sight snd Sound' Performance, note how he goes into the Audience and gets in people's faces. THAT is how a guitarist should behave on stage.
    Cobalt Blue
    yeah, a singer playing air guitar can look really shitty. I love Deep Purple but when Ian Gillan starts air guitaring in Highway Star he looks retarded.
    once i was playing a gig and i was nervous as **** and i was playing out of time, so the guitar whispered to me your the ****ing rythem guitarist man what are doing? And then i was thinking "ya he's right i gotta pull myself together" i had no problems for the rest of the night. You just gotta get yourself in the zone.
    That's why I love playing in my punk band! You can do all sorts of crazy shit because the music is easy to play and no one cares if you screw up because they're all too drunk to care! Everyone has fun at a punk show.
    thanks v much, pausing is definately a problem, and i agree with never mentioning mistakes on stage, sometimes i cant help but wince but thts part of our communication - its not outloud, maybe its not noticed, the mistakes as u say usually arent... ppl just laugh and carry on... admittedly theyre usually drunk tho...
    hahaha great article... funny stuff and some relevant stuff too...if our singers a chick is it ok that she *****s it up on stage?
    avenged_lover06 wrote: E V H 5150 wrote: It's like it's just natural for Jimi to be there, playing, and that's what he will always do. apart from the fact he died
    Very sad, I realise but... LMFAO!
    i sing for two 80s cover bands down here and let me tell you if either of my guitarists did that shit to me live i'd floor em hahaha
    xchaseedgex wrote: "If you need to stare at the guitar frets to be able to play, you're probably not ready to be on stage." Or maybe its because you don't play some typical, boring, 4 chord shit. I will look at my fretboard all I want considering most of my bands songs are at about 250 bpm and is made of technical lines and riffs.
    suck my nuts...
    One of the most-if not THE most-entertaining and informative articles I've read...lolx...Really funny at times...Rock on dude...
    haha, just ham it up at practice, your band gets used to you bein a total jackass early on, you can be a totaljackass jumpin around on stage, nothin to worry about.
    ive read a few articles on stage performing and this is the best ive seen...ill definately be sure to take this into consideration when i get a gig
    David Fyfield
    Great Stuff. Absolutely on the nail. First task is to entertain and hope the geezers listening like it!. My tip, for what its worth, - Get a freind to video your first gigs and look at it yourselves. You can put youselves in the audiences shoes. Include the sound.If you would have liked to be in the audience then you don't have a problem.
    Good and funny article. Thanks for giving me clues on what to look for when critiquing my guy's performance. Any tips for 1-man guitar acts? (\__/) (='.'=) (")_(")
    That was hilarious. The bit about taping the singers hands to his mike actually sounds pretty ingenious. Great article man.
    mate this was one of the best, if not the best articles i have read on UG, I DEMAND MORE !!!