Top Ten Tips: Live Performance

For a musician live performances are one of the greatest joys of being in a band. The results of hard work and creativity are displayed for all to experience. The adrenaline can be mesmerising and leads to some intensly memorable performances. Here are some practical performance tips from the Surface Festival for the next time you’re on stage:  

Tip 1: Rehearse
Rehearse with the band. You should have at least one dress rehearsal and several more practice rehearsals before a live performance. Tape record your practice sessions. There is not a more honest tool in the practice room than a recorder. For the last rehearsal and dress rehearsal you should play/sing from memory.

Tip 2: Know your Set List
Carefully plan and execute your set list. Your set should be paced out to capture and maintain the audience’s attention throughout. Rehearse your set exactly as you’ll perform it live. The way one song leads into the next should be just as polished as each individual number. This means knowing your cues, and having your hands on your instruments ready to go. Ensure all band members have a set list nearby to refer to throughout the performance, preferably written out in large, black letters on white paper.
If possible, ask your fan base in advance which songs they like best and incorporate them into the set list.

Tip 3: Plan your Outfit
When you practice, be sure to wear the outfit that you plan to wear for your live performance. You want to be sure that you can move in it and breathe without feeling constricted.

In terms of which style to choose, the great thing about being in a band is that there is no dress code. However there should be at least some basic planning around the type of clothing everyone will wear. Your band should look like a unit.

Tip 4: Draw in a Crowd
There are two reasons for the importance of bringing fans to your shows.

Firstly, from the venue’s perspective: Never forget, any live venue can only afford to book acts that draw crowds. Live venues can only afford to operate from sales of alcoholic beverages and food. This is what keeps their business sustainable and will allow them to keep booking bands in the future and hence keep the live music circuit alive. If you bring a crowd to your show, you are likely to be booked again.

Secondly, from your band’s perspective: What makes music work is that people listen. Without fans, music doesn’t go very far because it is those fans that can turn your music career into a viable proposition. The more people are at your gig the more flyers you can circulate about your band, give away free music samples; sell your CD or download, posters and other merchandise. Just as importantly, the more people you have at each gig the greater your chance that they will tell other potential fans about you, who will then come to your next show. The idea is to create a snowball effect of building a bigger and bigger fan base at each gig, who in turn will buy more CDs, merchandise, add their name to your mailing list and buy tickets for your next show.

Tip 5: Get To Know The Stage Set Up
The kind of sound you hear on stage will vary greatly from one venue to another and will depend on the configuration of the room and stage, the sound system you are playing through and the quality of the monitor system.  Make sure you arrive at the venue early to get a feel for the stage and position of the other instruments if it is further or closer than what is normal.

Remember that what you are hearing on stage is not how the audience is hearing you. You must trust the sound engineer to balance the room sound. Resist the temptation to tinker with your amp volume and settings, as this will only make things more difficult for the engineer and result in poor room sound for the audience.

Tip 6: Timekeeping
Arrive early to familiarize yourself with the venue, stage set-up, staff and other bands. Keeping things running to schedule is important. The audience is expecting to see you on stage as advertised and keeping them waiting is disrespectful and can deter fans. If you are extremely late and people have to leave and miss your set, they may not come back to see you again next time.

Other people also like things to run to time. The venue management are expecting to lock up at a particular time, the engineer is expecting to sound check at a particular time and the crew may require a certain amount of time to strip down the stage and load it back in the van at the end. 

For the performance, know when you are due to be on stage and make sure you are ready for that. You don’t want to be looking for your drummer 2 minutes before you are due on. 

Tip 7: Tune Up Before and During the Performance
Make sure everyone in the band has access to a good quality tuner and tunes their instruments prior to the performance. Also check your tuning frequently during the performance to ensure you are still in key. Nothing can ruin a performance more than a couple of out-of-tune strings on your guitar or bass. The audience will notice.
If possible, keep tuned backup instruments in case of strings breaking. It’s easier picking up another guitar than sitting down and changing a string. It can be annoying to carry that much equipment, but if it takes you more than 5 minutes to change strings you’re going to lose the attention of the audience and possibly have to cut your set short.

Tip 8: Never Stop Half Way Through A Song, No Matter How Badly You’ve Messed Up
No matter how rehearsed your band is and how musically tight you may be, you will inevitably experience the musical train wreck. This situation is easily avoided and usually happens because musicians are too wrapped up in their own parts and not operating as a cohesive unit.

If things do screw up, the solution is simple; everybody follows the singer. If the singer goes into a verse where a chorus should be, then everyone should go into a verse where a chorus should be. If you stick to this plan, ninety-nine per cent of the audience will be completely unaware that you’ve messed up. If you stop the song part way through and apologize, one hundred per cent of the audience will be completely aware that you’ve messed up.

Tip 9: Engage with the Audience, During and After the Performance
When you make your entrance, look at the audience. You appear far more confident if you look straight at your audience as you walk across the stage. Try and give a genuine smile even if you’re nervous.

Try to create a wow factor that sparks the audience’s curiosity and makes them want to hear more. Ask yourself these questions;

– What can you do for an intro?
– What dramatic/unusual entry can you create?
– What intros stand out?

Once the intro is out the way and you start to relax, try to really engage with and entertain the audience. Project stage presence by showing your enthusiasm about the task at hand. Make eye contact with audience members. Play to the crowd, not for yourself. They will naturally pick up on your enthusiasm and amplify it. Give the crowd everything you’ve got and let them know that you appreciate that they chose to come out and see you.

Once your performance is over, be prepared to socialize with audience members. Just like any other business where establishing demand for a product or service requires good relations practices, you also need to maintain a relationship with your audience that goes beyond the actual performance.

Get out and talk to the people who are at the show. Find out who they are, what songs they liked in your set and the stuff they didn’t like. Engaging in these conversations may come naturally to some, but can be a little daunting for others. Try to remain as gracious and accommodating as possible. This mingling and socializing, along with good musicianship and stage presence, are essential to establishing a positive image and building that all-important following. The more personable you are the more people will feel like they are part of the band and the more they will want to be part of anything that you do. People having a great time tell 10 friends, who will then hopefully come to your next show etc etc.

Tip 10: Have Fun!
You will not be perfect the first time out. In fact, you will never be perfect. But you will get better. Whatever you do, make it fun! If people just wanted to hear your songs they’d listen to a CD. They are coming to see you, to interact with you and to show their love of music, you owe it to the crowd to do the same.

Have a great show!


About surfacefestival

The Surface Festival is a European live music event. We are a festival of new music held throughout Europe in aid of discovering and promoting new talent. Surface Festival 11, is working in association with Zimbalam, Marshall,, Last.FM, Ashdown, Planet Waves, D'Addario, PMT, Tama, Zildjian, Shure, Univibe, Dominic Nicholls Photography, Guitar Nation, Ibanez, Band SEO, Quite Great P.R., Ritter, Sziget Fest, Jumbocruiser, Gig the Nation and Oxjam to develop alternative ways for band and artists to gain exposure and develop their fan base. 2011 In 2011 events will be held in cities throughout the U.K. and Europe. For band and artists that reach the final stages of the Festival, both Surface Festival and our sponsors will award with prizes and opportunities in excess of £100,000.
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1 Response to Top Ten Tips: Live Performance

  1. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing! As a teenager, it was easy to perform but after many years happily parenting two teenagers, living ‘life’ and focussing on writing and playing for friends and family, I feel a bit overwhelmed at the idea of ‘getting out there’ and really appreciate blogs like this!

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