For most unsigned bands, gig time is crunch time. The half-and-hour to 45 minutes that you're onstage is your sales pitch. Get it right, and you'll win over new fans. Get it wrong and you've turned people off your band, possibly forever.
In large part, winning a crowd over is down to how good you are at writing and playing music. But, there are a number of non-musical factors also thrown into the mix, and it's in those areas that some bands tend to slip up.
In my experience, there are five golden rules for how to behave onstage. They're not rocket science. In fact, they're mostly common sense. But, the amount of bands that don't abide by them is greater than you'd think.
1. Say Your Band's Name
Jesus Christ. This seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but the amount of bands that don't do this still amazes me.
If you're out on tour supporting someone and trying to get yourselves more exposure, people need to know what the fuck you are called. There have been a number of occasions now where I have seen a band I enjoyed, wanted to check out more of their music, and then realized I don't know their name.
Now, of course, the more curious and dedicated music follower will do a bit of research to find that out. But that isn't everyone. In the day-to-day grind of life, the average Joe is unlikely to devote half an hour to finding out the name of that rad band he saw the other night. They'll forget about it, and you'll have lost yourself a potential fan in the process.
Say your name often and make it easy for people to find out about you. If you can afford one, buy a banner with your band's name on it to really hammer the point home.
2. Interact and Don't Stand Still
Please, for the love of god, talk to your audience.
To me, there is nothing worse than watching a band that doesn't acknowledge the presence of the crowd. People have paid good money to come and see you play live - you at least owe them the courtesy of a "hey, how you guys doing this evening?"
Rock star mystique is all well and good when you're a rock star, but when you're a young and hungry musician, you need to connect with your audience on a more grounded level. Make people feel welcome at your show, both on and off the stage and you'll grow your fan base much quicker than if you're cold and distant.
On a related note, don't just stand there when you're up on stage. Move around; interact with your band mates. It's a performance, so make sure you perform.
I get that the prospect of "putting on a show" versus "just playing" can be daunting to musicians - there's always the fear of looking like a complete tit. But the truth is that everyone looks like a complete tit when performing live. It's just that rock stars have the confidence to get away with it.
3. Avoid In-Jokes
As I've already established, one of the key elements to a successful gig is making a connection with your audience. A sure fire way not to do that is by telling in-jokes that only your close circle of friends will understand.
An example; several years ago, I saw a band who opened their set by holding up a cell phone to the singer's mic and playing a recording of what, I assume, was one of their friends doing an impression of someone from "South Park" (given the terrible quality of the recording, it was really hard to tell).
The band, and their ten or so mates in the front row of the audience were in stitches at this. But the rest of the crowd was silent, and very confused.
Humor can be a great way to bring people together, but there's nothing worse than being the person that doesn't get the joke. When you're on stage, make sure you cater your banter to the whole audience, rather than just the friends that have come to check out your band.
4. Don't Be Offensive
Along with in-jokey humor, being offensive is a sure fire way to alienate a large section of your audience.
When you're playing a gig, chances are you're playing to people that you mostly don't know. That means you don't know what their beliefs, triggers and hates are. They also don't have a handle on what kind of person you are, and what comes off as humor to you might seem deeply hurtful to them.
I know it's been the topic of a lot of discussion lately, but the recent Philip Anselmo debacle is a perfect example of how in-joke humor and offensive behavior can seriously affect the reception of your performance. Whether or not Anselmo meant it, he did it, and has lost a lot of respect from parts of his audience in the process.
You don't want to be in that position, so check yourself before saying or doing something that might piss people off.
5. If Things Go Wrong, Keep on Playing
If you've broken a string, your amp isn't working or your drummer has broken a stick, it's tempting to halt the song you're playing, fix the problem, and start again.
But, this is a cardinal sin, and one that your audience is unlikely to understand.
The majority of people that go to shows aren't musicians. They don't know the specifics of instruments, amplifiers, or their propensity to break down exactly when you don't want them to. If you stop a song midway through, a lot of people are going to assume it's because you've fucked up, and that makes you look unprofessional.
It might seem like torture to you, but when adversity comes a calling, you need to keep playing.
I'll give you a personal example. My band was playing at a local music festival last summer. We were all sound checked, ready to go, and our gear was in good working order. But, as soon as we hit the first chord to the first song, one of the guitarist's amps cut out. Completely. For the intro, two verses and two choruses of our first number, we were without a guitar (thankfully, the soundperson managed to get the amp working again just in time for the solo).
Our guitarist was embarrassed, sure. But, guitarists from the other bands that were watching our set were entirely empathetic, and he got a lot more kudos for soldiering on than he would have done if he'd stopped. What's more, speaking to non-musical people that had watched our set, most of them didn't realize there had been a problem in the first place.
Whatever happens, make sure you get to the end of the song (although saying that, if there's a fire on stage or something, then GTFO - even non-musicians would understand that). It's what the pros do, and the more professional you look, the better.
By Alec Plowman