TIP ONE: Learn from the Pro's One of the easiest ways of finding tricks and tips is by watching and learning from the pro's. Absorb as much as you can whenever you see a band play live. Analyse the performance and their actions both during and between songs. See an idea that works well? Steal it. Expand upon it. Make it your own. You might not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but you can certainly learn from them.
TIP TWO: The Entire Set is a Performance, Not Just the Individual Songs... The best way to describe this is by comparing an artist's performance to that of a film. Imagine a movie without the soundtrack behind it. It would have less tension, less build up, less energy. It would be quite boring for many. Sound is used to amplify what is happening on screen (or not in some cases), for example the sharp violin stabbing sounds in horror movies to cause shock in an audience.
This doesn't mean get a violin out between songs and try and make horror sequences, what you do is amplify what is happening between songs.
“Hello FUCKING London!" sounds much more impressive when you have guitars ringing out a power-chord behind it and the drums rolling off the toms. You aren't exactly playing anything in particular here, you are just creating an effect that will make the performance that bit more exciting.
Obviously, shouting "Hello FUCKING London!" is more of a metal/hard rock/punk thing to do. I wouldn't expect a jazz band to get on stage and shout that. That isn't to say softer genres of music can't use this to great effect however.
As an example:
TIP THREE: Got Nothing To Say? This one can be a tricky one, especially for those who are anxious when talking to large crowds of people they might not necessarily know. In these sorts of situations it is very easy to just slip into talking about safe topics in your mind which leads to the repetition of URL links, social media, band names, etc, which can lead to a very boring moment between songs. Nobody really wants to hear about website URL's between songs, nor will they be able to remember it (particularly after several pints). Leave that for business cards given out by the door staff (little promotion tip there for you!).
A trick around this is to change your safe topics. Give yourself ammunition that you can fire out whenever you do lose track of what to say that is more interesting than your old safe topics.
A good example of this would be Axl Rose from Guns N' Roses. He is notorious for ranting on stage but also for his little short stories he tells.
Base it on real events or make it up. Whether the stories are true or not doesn't matter. Bards used to tell stories of dragons being killed! What matters is if it's interesting or not.
"Never let the truth spoil a good story" - Bill Wyman, commenting on Keith Richards' memoires.
TIP FOUR: Interact with an Interactive CrowdIf you do manage to get a crowd interacting with your performance, use it as fuel to ignite the flames higher! There are a few ways to approach this, some more simplistic, some requiring more confidence. If you have ever seen a comedian doing a stand up show, you will notice that they are masters of interacting with a crowd. Whilst this may require a truck load of confidence, being able to single out a member of the audience and engage in some witty "banter" with them can create tension, excitement, laughter.
It's drama unfolding before their eyes and we all know how much people love drama shows like "Eastenders" (a terrible British drama series for all you non-UK folks)... The ability to engage in such a way is more compelling than a constant barrage of one liner's and can provide variety in your performance. Then there is the simplistic version of this, such as when you ask how the crowd is doing and you hear one person is louder than the rest, point them out!
"She's having a good time!" You might get a light chuckle or two from the crowd. Oh, and you know those jokes your Dad used to tell you round the dinner table? They work.
TIP FIVE: Set the Flow of the Performance One of the biggest mistakes I see unsigned bands making when it comes to performing is that they constantly stop after every song, talk, and onto the next one. Every time you stop, a fan yawns tiredly at the back of the room or worse yet, goes for a cigarette break. A neat trick in keeping the energy flowing throughout your performance is by doing a seamless connection between two different songs, allowing them to flow from one to the next without a moments pause in pace.
This can be as simple as leaving the last chord ringing from the previous song and abruptly starting the next, or as complex as a little jammed out session that flows into the next song. Be sure not to overuse it however since it can be overkilled. There is also a slight tension in the air if you do have a slight break between songs of an already energetic performance.
Black Stone Cherry are a great example of delivering a killer live show. Even if you’re not necessarily into this sort of music, you can certainly pick off a few tricks they have up their sleeves:
Ignoring Jon's bass tech not tuning his bass guitar correctly at the start, watch how the band begins their performance, then see how they transverse from their song "Rain Wizard" to "Blind Man" at 3:30 on the video. (Check out the choreography of stage swapping they have going on as well, HA!)
TIP SIX: Plan and Rehearse Your Live ShowThis is something that feels cheesy and lame to do at rehearsals but is well worth doing. If you practice your live show at rehearsal to how you would do it live, you will pull it off much better when you do it for the real thing. Captain Obvious this one but again, you would be surprised by how many bands are still deciding their set list a week before the show.
TIP SEVEN: The Don'ts- Don't introduce your band members by name unless you have rattled the audience up enough to get a response. Never if you're playing to a dead room.
- Don't mumble. Obvious one but necessary to say. Sing it if you can't talk loudly. If you can't sing loudly then you have an even bigger problem.
- Don't appeal only to your friends standing at the front left of the stage. It can be easy to direct all your attention to the familiar faces but all you will end up doing is alienating the rest of the room.
- Don't start shouting the bar for a drink from the stage UNLESS your stage persona is that of a prick. You will come across as one so be sure that it's intentional if you do so.
- Don't keep your back to the audience. You might rehearse all facing each other, but for a performance you want to be facing the crowd a majority of the time. Use the back turned for affect, not a display of not being confident enough to face the crowd.
- FUCK The Guitar Solos!
About the Author:
Paul Williamson, founder of www.Band-Stuff.com, musician, singer, and promoter. In the past 3 years I have worked as a promoter, putting on events in London, working with a variety of bands and artists ranging from small garage band acts, to international touring acts.