7 Tips for Musicians to Have Amazing Live Concerts
All performing musicians want to have great live shows. It’s second only to having great recorded songs (and maybe even first, depending on how often you perform). An engaging, exciting concert can get you more fans and is a better experience for everyone involved. However, it’s not easy to have a great live show.
As a session singer, I don’t often perform live. I used to, back when I was under a demo deal with a label and they wanted me to get live experience, but it wasn’t fun. It was obvious that I was terribly nervous. I felt out of place and wanted to go back home to my booth to work on new music. So, I want you to know that this post is not about me preaching to you about all of my awesome shows. It is not.
I’ve been to countless concerts, open mic nights and album release parties. I have seen incredible shows and some completely awful ones. I’ve worked with live performers who were amazing, terrible, or both depending on the show. This advice is coming from a frequent spectator, an occasional performer, and a passionate music lover. Let’s talk about how to have an amazing show.
If any of this doesn’t feel right to you, or doesn’t make sense for your brand, feel free to ignore! Use only the ideas you can implement. You might have to put work into some of them, but I promise they will all improve your show for your audience.
1). Be Really Good
I know this one seems obvious, but seriously, be really good at what you do. Your whole band should be practiced, ready for the show, and talented. I saw a band in Detroit that had an amazing keyboard player and drummer. They were so good, they could have been on tour with a national act. The rest of the band, not so much. The singer looked hungover and couldn’t remember the songs. The guitar player had to have either just been hired or just learned the guitar last week. Put in the work to be really talented, and your shows will be better.
I’m not trying to be patronizing or obvious here, but I really think some people don’t realize that they’re not ready to play live yet. Or, they don’t want to be unkind to their band members and replace them. If you want a great show, you need great music and great players.The best advice for live performers: Be really, really good. Click To Tweet
2). Put Some Time Into Your Outfits
I am guilty of violating this one. I am always super nervous, and for some reason, I choose to wear heels at my shows. Shaking like a leaf while on stilts is never a good look. I am also always freezing cold, and instead of finding a nice jacket to wear on stage, I wear a sleeveless dress and freeze my butt off. One time I opened for an artist who was sort of a big deal in the 90’s (I can’t give out names just in case), but the stage was right next to some poorly sealed windows. I was so cold, I wore my floor-length coat through the entire performance. Not cute.
Being comfortable on stage is even more important if you’re nervous. Plan it out ahead of time to see how you can make yourself more comfortable. Look to your idols for inspiration. Get matching band outfits if you want. Just look like someone your audience would want to watch.
3). Plan Some Good Stories
Read the news the day of your show. Find something light-hearted, interesting or funny. I would steer away from anything sad or polarizing. If a tragedy happened that day or even that week, it might be a good idea to solemnly mention it and maybe dedicate a song to it. For example, dedicating an Ariana Grande cover after the Manchester bombing might be a nice way to connect with your audience. Aside from that, however, I would stick to interesting or funny news. Music news is great too. Check with Sky News, Billboard or your local favorite to find something your audience might enjoy.
It’s important to be yourself. You don’t have to write jokes if you’re not a standup comedian. You don’t have to talk about things you find boring. Whatever your interests are, find news about it and share it with your audience. It will help them get to know you better and connect with you.
4). Hire Some Helpers
This is an industry secret, but often bands will have hired actors play adoring fans. When I used to model, I was asked to do this for even some major touring bands (again I can’t say who, but trust me you wouldn’t think they would need actors). If you have some crazy friends or a local film school, see if you can get these people to come out and liven up the place. You’ll want to use caution with this and make sure your hired people can behave in the right environment. If you’re playing a low-key coffee shop, you don’t want people screaming and trashing the place. If you can get people there simply to interact, that would be great. Most of us know what it’s like to play to a dead or disinterested room. It sucks. Having even one person there who actively answers your questions or yells requests could change the dynamic of the room.
This is also important: please pay your friends or helpers in some way. Even if it’s just buying them a drink at the venue. I know we’re all broke creatives, but it’s so important to treat your helpers well!
5). Don’t Take the Audience Reaction Personally
One of my good friends is a regular musician at a famous restaurant in New York. He says that some nights people hang on his every word, and some nights no one pays any attention. He lets it be what it is. I was at an open mic in a coffee shop a few years ago. It was loud, people were talking, having fun, enjoying the evening. We were paying attention to the performers, but they took a backseat to our conversations. A young woman marched up to the stage when it was her turn, ripped the mic out of the stand, and chastised the room for not paying attention to everyone. We all stared at our hands while she scolded us like we were in kindergarten. Then she started her songs. To say we were less than enthused is an understatement.
Sometimes the audience isn’t in the mood to sit quietly and listen. It’s not fun as a performer, but please don’t take it personally. Don’t yell, don’t scold. It has the opposite effect of what you want. Find a different way to make them interested in what you’re doing, or let it be what it is. Don’t make the problem about them. Which leads me to number 6:
6). Add Interesting Visuals
Give people a reason to focus on you. Whether it’s your outfit (see any of Lady Gaga’s outfits ever), your stage props (you can make these yourself or just buy cool stuff) or any kind of eye-catchers that will make your audience tune in. Projector screens or video walls are a cool option. I actually had a guest blogger contact me about a story idea about video walls, and when I looked into them, I was excited to bring her on board. On Thursday I’ll have a post going into video walls further, but any idea to keep your audience’s attention would be great.
This idea should be used with caution when you’re sharing the stage with other people. You don’t want to bring a case full of visual ideas to an open mic. In situations like this, focus the visuals on your outfit or whatever you can easily bring with you.
7). Bribe Your Audience
Literally, make it worth it for them to pay attention. Give out free merch (stickers, magnets, etc) and maybe even prizes for people who stay until the end of the show. People love free stuff, and they’ll love you for giving them free stuff. Have them take live shots of you and tag you on Instagram or Twitter, then follow them when they do it.
This is important for your show flyers, too. I see SO many band flyers around Detroit and Nashville, and it’s literally just the band name and maybe a photo. It tells me nothing about what kind of music they are or what the show is. Create some type of sentence that will make people drop what they’re doing and come to your show.
So, what do you think? Are there any ideas you’d try for your next show? Did I miss anything that helps your shows? Please let me know!My best live performance tip is: Click To Tweet
Let me know in the comments or send me a tweet!
Hello Mella, you had suggested the very interesting tips to make live concerts the happening one. It will be very beneficial for the musicians who are new to the music world. Thanks for sharing, Keep posting.
Thanks so much Robert!
I have always loved singing. People growing up told me I should go professional. I always felt God had blessed me with this angelic voice to bless others around me. This summer I have started to perform and get peoples feedback on how I can improve and how I can get big. I really appreciated the advice of not taking the audience’s reaction personally. Sometimes my audience can be very quiet and it makes me feel uncomfortable. But I am thinking of throwing a big concert for myself. I want to go full out. I have been thinking of hiring someone who does lighting, someone who has a sound system for a big event, and marketing my concert online. I just want it to look and feel like a real concert.
Hi Lilia, you should do it! Please record it and share so I can see how it went!
Kasper Aagaard Troelsen
Bribe your audience, that is so stupid. Give out free merch stickers? and reward audience that stays till the end of the concert?
That is way to desperate, dont ever do that! I am serious
MellaMusicKasper Aagaard Troelsen
Stickers are cheap to have made, I mean you could always sell them if you wanted but sometimes I feel like it helps to have something free!
Nice Ideas …superb article ! Hope it will help Artists
Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us. I hope u will share some more information about tips for musician to have amazing live concerts.
I do agree that one way for a band to perform a great live is to practice, be ready for the show, and be talented. In my opinion, they can hire an artist manager to help improve the quality of their music and fan experience. For example, if I wanted to be a band with my four groupmates in high school, hiring one would help us sort out our schedules so that we can work from 9 to 5 and get enough time to practice and perform in gigs at the same time.
Absolutely! I don’t have any experience with artist managers but I’d love to learn more – if you can get one I highly recommend it!
Great Tips Mella, will try some out on my next show
Awesome let me know how they work! 🙂
Wow, Just wow! I’m into someone who performs a live concert. I adore them to become an amazing musician in their field. It composed of good leadership, skills, and performance to have a spectacular scene you will ever have. Thank you for the tips. I could not agree more.
Just hobbyist guitar and vocals
Tried this as a challenge to small group of friends
Periods of deep silence so awkward
Other times talkative people
Advice is true and not to take it personally
It is good experience to do it anyway
Still a challenge so hats off to polished performers
It made sense when you said that good live performers will be themselves and will talk about what interests them personally. I want to start volunteering at a local senior care center, and I think it’d be really fun to book a live music entertainer to come sing for the residents there. Reading your article was helpful because now I can ask about the on-stage presence of entertainers and make sure it’ll be like you described!
That’s awesome Eileen, I definitely think it will make a difference! Best of luck with it!
I like how you mentioned planning some stories for the audience to listen to. Sometimes having a story behind a song or even the personal story of the artist can help the audience connect with you on a personal level. I hope the artist I go to see on tour has some good stories to tell.
It might be fun for musicians to play a 12 bar blues for 30 minutes, but your audience will not enjoy it as much as you. Imagine if someone in the audience was asked about your band by someone who was considering coming by. “It is a blues band, or even a really good blues band” is not going to turn on most people. There are music heads and fellow musicians who might dig an extensive jam, but when people have an evening off, they like to hear songs they know. Play some contemporary Rock, if you are a rock band. We’ve been playing “Get Lucky,” by Daft Punk and “Feel it Still” by Portugal the Man. Even Something like this by Chainsmokers with Chris Martin get the “wow” they are playing this song response.
I like that you mentioned that a good story can come a long way during shows. MY wife and I have a duo playing drum and bass and we busk around town. We will need more tips from a Live Musical Entertainer to help us out.
That’s awesome! Best of luck – I’d love to hear/see it if you have any videos!
Wow, there is so much that goes into planning a concert. It is good to know that you will want to think about getting a professional to help you out. It could be smart to get a professional to help you set up some other musical acts as well.
It’s interesting to learn that some bands will hire actors to play adoring fans at your concert to make it seem more energized. My brother is doing his first concert soon and he is worried that there won’t be any fans that will enjoy his music at the event. I’ll be sure to tell him that he should consider hiring people to be fans at his concert.
Hi Travis! Haha yes I think even if he can bribe a few friends with food/drinks/etc, just having some people there will help! I also think almost every musician has played to an empty (or almost empty) room, so that’s kind of a rite of passage as well. Best of luck to him, I hope it goes well!
I really like your concert story that you have mentioned in this blog. I and my father have a duo playing drum and bass and we busk around town. If you have more tips please share us!
That’s awesome! I used to be in a blues band with my dad 🙂 Best of luck to you both!
I liked how you mentioned that you should give people a reason to look at you when performing on stage. My brother is preparing to perform on stage for the first time and he was wondering how he could make sure people pay attention to him when he’s performing. I’ll be sure to tell him that he should add something special to his performance to have people focus on him.
I love your point about the importance of planning some really good stories. I would imagine that when it comes to concerts, you’d also want to arrange transportation. This way you can make sure people will get to where they need safely and on time.
It really stood out to me when you explained that projectors can be really useful when trying to create interesting visuals during a concert. If you are wanting to have a lot of digital visuals and things similar to that, I would think that it would be a good idea to work with a production company that can help you with the visuals. Hiring a production company makes sense because they can handle all of the advanced technology that is used during a concert.