During a live gig, the relationship between the artist and audience is beyond that of simply performer and observer. Physically and emotionally, there’s little separation between both parties and a huge deal of direct interaction, both explicit and subliminal. Self-assurance is essential and, as with so much in life, confidence is the key. If a band looks like they’re enjoying their music and project a sense of confidence, which will convince a crowd as much as their material will. Conversely, bands that look shy and embarrassed will make the crowd feel awkward, and that negative emotion becomes associated with their music.
If you don’t have the natural boundless confidence that lights up the room every time you walk in it, it’s time to put these six stage hacks into action.
1. Use mirroring (do it, and they’ll do it back)
The first, and most striking, example of mirroring that goes on between artist and audience begins before the start of the set. We’ve all been in the audience and seen performers clapping towards us as they come onstage. And we’ve applauded right back to the people we’ve paid to see. There is no moment when the Show Business Fairy lands on your pillow and whispers that you have attained the right to applaud. Walk onto the stage, approach its edge, extend your energy into the room, and clap towards the on looking faces. Watch the mirrored response this will illicit even in a tiny venue. During the set, and at the end of your songs, applaud the audience and watch them as they return the gesture, creating that unmistakable sound of a gig going great.
2. Create the illusion of direct eye contact
In order to maintain trustworthy eye contact in police interviews, hardened criminals look between the eyes, or at the eyebrows, of those giving them a grilling. Take a leaf out of the criminal’s book! To keep that energy moving outwards, choose a spot on the wall at the back of the venue, just above the heads of the immediate audience, and fix your eyes upon it. As you gather confidence, switch to the foreheads and eyebrows of the audience. It’s the ideal hack to create the illusion, and reap the benefits, of eye contact without having to do a Vulcan Mind Meld with a complete stranger.
3. Even if you’re not singing, learn the lyrics
People listen to music, and experience a show, as much with their eyes as their ears. If it looks like you’re enjoying and inspired by your vocalist’s lyrics – and you project that notion outwards – it’s a reassuring and contagious signal that the audience should enjoy them and be inspired, too. And if you’re the singer… well, then you should definitely learn the lyrics, as reading them from a tablet devise disengages your audience and personally looks unprofessional and amateurish.
4. Create bullet points for between songs
Having a cheat sheet of brief bullet points across the set list to denote the general subject matter between songs, with phrases such as “thank previous band,” “chat about album,” or “mention merchandise/website” will prove invaluable. Not only will this avoid repeating subject matter, it’s a great safety net to allay any doubts about what’s been said and what’s been forgotten. As you get more accustomed to the sheets, leave the cues as just one word to inspire or remind you of your subject, ensuring your speech feels spontaneous, but sticks to a structure across the set as a whole. Do some research on the area, venue your are gigging and make the audience inclusive for an all round experience.
5. Share the story, don’t tell the tale
Instead of beginning with, “I wrote this song about my ex-partner, who used to take a long time to get ready…,” offer the audience the question, “Has anyone ever had an ex-partner who took a long time to get ready?” Engage the crowd by beginning your narratives with, “Have you ever?” rather than, “One day I…” Put a question mark on your statements, and you’ll share your experiences before the song starts. That invitation of involvement, that glimmer of recognition, that closing of proximity will pay dividends in the way that they respond to the subject matter and theme of the performance that follows.
6. Spread the heat, and start the fire
Begin by rewarding the people who are reacting positively by expressing in a break between songs how great their energy is, how cool their clothes are, and how much your appreciate them. Win their confidence and endorse their enthusiasm – and approach – to the rest of the audience. When the following song begins, lean out towards them. Watch them reciprocate and spread their precious energy towards the stage… then abandon them for the other side of the stage. Give some attention to the rest of the room and let their presence move forward into the dance floor.
Return later in the song, giving them some more attention by singing or clapping towards to pull them further in… Only to cruelly abandon them once again, taking your attention back to the people on the other side that that are, by now, getting the picture and beginning to move too. Across the remainder of the song, fluctuate your attention back and forth between the groups, pulling them in, letting them go, and spreading their heat around the room. Before long, they’ll have the dance floor on fire.
If you have any hints or tips for working a crowd, please share in the comments below.