Do you ever go to a show and your mind is completely blown. The artist took you on a journey and you were just in awe of what you saw. How? You ask, How? What?! You exclaim. You walk away from that concert with faith restored that all is well in the universe and there is something more than the mundane. The next day you start having feelings, maybe of inadequacy, how can I deliver a performance like THAT artist?
Well we have a few tips and hacks here to help you achieve just that.
1 Your Image
Many many many artist fail to recognize this as a huge part of who they are. Some artist think the words “image” or “persona” are some commercial jargon invented by some well-established advertising firm to create something fake about what otherwise is. In essence to put lipstick on a pig. I’m here to tell you, that is a complete myth.
First, understand that your image/persona isn’t about anything else than knowing who you are and having the ability and courage to express that in the utmost. Think of that shy, yet poignant and passionate coffee shop acoustic guitar player who sings from the soul and you feel a connection with after maybe shedding a tear because you resonated with his song. That is a cultivated persona, but it doesn’t mean its fake. He is just able to be that “entity” at that time.
Let’s look at David Bowie, the man, the myth, the legend. Ziggy Stardust was his created persona to help him become the kind of artist he wanted to. He created a character that he them became on stage. Fans thoroughly enjoyed this, were taken on a cosmic adventure, and it helped him to crystalize his vision.
Next, is to express your unique persona to your audience. I’ve seen an artist who just uses a rag to wipe sweat off his brow and that rag is part of his persona, because you know he’s putting so much energy into it that he has to wipe off the copious amounts of sweat. What about Freddy Mercury who wore bright flamboyant clothing and carried a piece of a mic stand with him, to feel like he was playing a guitar or that the mic was an instrument
Finally, bringing it all together online, offline and at shows. Having consistency of your image will do wonders for you to stand out to your fans who can now identify you amidst the myriad artists on the landscape today.
2 Make it an Event
Every show you perform should be an event. It can be the first time someone new is there to see you. Think about ways you can make their experience and extra special one. Perhaps everyone is going to dress in similar outfits for this show, perhaps you are releasing a new video, perhaps there you have a theme night. There are so many ways to make your gig into a full blown event, it just takes a little foresight and planning. It will make the venue happy, the audience happy. Here are a few examples I’ve personally done in the past.
One of my first gigs with Beautiful Machines was a night I imagined up called Glamtastica. The idea was to play a bunch of glam rock tunes inspired by Velvet Goldmine, invite our audience to dress up in feathers, mesh, lace, makeup, etc. We would pepper in our own original material that fit alongside it. The show sold out. I don’t think it would have otherwise.
Another event I held was for a band who plays yacht rock. This was actually before it was a thing. So I rented a venue with a capacity of 500. Themed out the whole place calling the event Love Boat - a Nautically themed event with Soft Rock and Yacht Rock music. There were specialty island cocktails, people were encouraged to dress up and nearly everyone did. We had 2 beautiful girls giving everyone leys as they entered and a ticket for a raffle. People had fake mustaches they were wearing. It was a smash success, again selling out. I don’t think if I just said there was this yacht rock band playing it would have been anything. This band is now extremely successful playing sold out shows 2-3 nights a week.
You are there to play music, that’s a given. You won’t be able to play your whole repertoire so you want to cram as many songs in as possible. Instead, slow the pace down. Time stretch a bit and take your time. Again less is more. Take a moment to share a story. Make it colorful however you want, in any emotion that fits with your music. Maybe you don’t want to say anything, that’s fine, then do something that allows for your audience to connect with you on a more visceral or emotional level. Some artists invite audience on stage to dance, some touch hands of front row while they’re singing, some get a mosh pit happening, some just have a swagger that you have to mirror or a smile just peaks out once in a while that is like a secret connection to you, and it eases any tensions.
4 Set Dynamics
This is a big one. A lot of artist have their songs, they love their songs, they want to play all their best material - and you should. But what they often do is place all their high energy songs in a row and don’t spend anytime thinking about set dynamics or how that actually effects the audience. It’s important to start thinking from the audience point of view, because that’s how you would be if you were going to see a show. As an exercise, next time you’re at a really great show, start to notice how things change over time.
First thing is you want to create a kind of energy map of your set.
5 Be Spontaneous
If people wanted to hear your record, they can easily do that from Spotify. What keeps them coming to a show is to see how that music will be interpreted into a live show. What will the artist do that is different. There are so many ways to do this, so here are just a few examples.
Perhaps you have a song that normally goes from start to finish, how about instead, creating a section in the middle to showcase some other elements of the band that is otherwise unknown on an album. This could be an extended refrain, or jam, or instrumental or solo, or a whole new part created just for this show. Not only does it make if fun for your audience, it keeps you engaged too. That song you have played 100 times, is now fresh.
Another way is to do something, anything unexpected. I can point to many many historical moments here and they were not well thought out, they were experiments in the moment. Consider Jimmy Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. He probably thought about it at the beginning of the concert or had an idea after competing with The Who, but its one of those moments that is burned into our imaginations. We can bring it even more into the near present with Janet Jackson nipple slip - again sure that was mostly planned, but to the audience it was spontaneous. So its like planned spontaneity. What about Iggy Pop, puling out his junk on stage live in 1968, or Ozzy Ozbourne biting the head off a dove/pigeon.
Finally, take some risks, step outside your comfort zone, have fun with this and others will have fun with you. Music is all about this kind of stuff and probably a big part of the reason you got into it to begin with.
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