You have written some kick ass songs, you really dig them, your band mates dig them, hell we bet even your mother digs them. However, it is now time to take all that work, and all that awesome, and put it on a stage, in front of people who owe you nothing. People who, in the 21st century, have limited attention spans, so if you want to get new fans, you are going to have to impress them, and impress them HARD, so how do you do that?
There is no easy, 1 step answer to this, for this is stage craft, possibly the hardest thing to perfect as a musician, but possibly the single most important thing a musician needs to succeed. Thankfully we have compiled a short list, a simple step by step that means that, although not exhaustive, you will be well on the way to growing your fan base and succeeding as a musician.
Step 1: Practice as though your life depended on it.
This one sort of goes without saying. If you are not well rehearsed, you will not sound well rehearsed. Improvisation is good, great even, but you have to be SO tight with your band mates musically to pull this off. If you are starting out, in the practice studio you need to at least discuss where improvised breaks etc take place, there is a lot of structure to the chaos of an improvised set. Hell, we could write another article just around this. For now, practice, practice, practice. There is a fantastic saying regarding this you, as a musician, should take to heart: 'don't practice until you get it right, practice until you cannot get it wrong'. For example, on the last single launch I played, for a 50 minute set, we rehearsed for 6 hours a week, for 8 weeks, 48 hours of practice. But, after all that, we smashed it, anything less than that we ran the risk of missed notes.
Step 2: Practice EVERYTHING
So you have the songs down, you are set. WRONG! Oh so wrong. The music is about 50% of your show. What do you say between songs? do you speak between songs? do you explain what a certain song is about? Do you tell a story? Where do you stand? what are you wearing? while you play, how is your movement on stage?
Honestly, trust me, you THINK you look like you are rocking out, you may not be. The key to this is video your practice, for audio and also to see what your stage show looks like. How is your eye contact with the audience? Now here is where there are massive discrepancies between genre. Damien Rice trying to do what Avenged sevenfold do on stage would look strange. Then again Slipknot in tweed would also raise an eyebrow or two. The lesson here: stage CRAFT your show in line with the ambience of your music. Give this stuff serious thought, because the visual of your performance will leave as lasting impression with your audience as your tunes will. The number of bands I have walked away from thinking, great band, looked bored, would frighten you. And the big names are guilty of this as well, but when a band has a presence live (muse and biffy stand out) then you walk away BLOWN AWAY.
Step 3: Look interested
Again, seems like a moot point, but seriously, I cannot emphasise this enough. If YOU, the creators of the music, look bored playing it, how do you expect your audience to love it? And this is regardless of crowd. So you open up a 250 cap venue, 50 people are there, you still owe it to those 50 people, who have PAID MONEY to hear YOUR MUSIC. Get confrontational about this in your mind. You have to put your best foot forward, EVERY time you play your music, in your house, in the rehearsal room, but ESPECIALLY when you are on stage. That is YOUR BRAND, own it, and make sure it is not tarnished by 4 bored guys being technically proficient.
Step 4: Shake off the nerves
Nerves, we all get them. Some handle them better, some deny that they exist. If you feed off the buzz pre show, ignore this, but if you get any sort of nerves before a show, take 10 minutes before show time, meditate, walk, get into your own quiet place and prepare. Visualise your first chord, your first beat, and it all goes uphill from there.
Step 5: Do not get drunk
Just don't. Your friends might appreciate it, and have a laugh about it, your potential new fans will never come back, because there are people playing better elsewhere. You might think it is cool, but it is sloppy, don't do it.
Step 6: Warm up
ESPECIALLY vocalists. Warm up exercises, weird as they are, save your throat but also mean you hit the stage running, not needing the 1st half of the 1st song to get to where people are going to notice you. Drummers practice their rudimentals on chairs, guitarists run scales, do it.
Step 7: Plan your set within an inch of it's life but do not be afraid to change
As we discussed earlier, your set is your lifeline, it is your rock whilst the adrenaline pumps you up, you are losing your mind and getting lost in the show. It is important every break, every word, every song choice is carefully selected to make sure you are slick, professional, and awesome. However, counter to all that, you need to be able to adapt. If your hilarious story is falling short with the audience, cut the length. If you are getting better response to a song, full Disney sing-a-long, drag out another chorus, strip it back let the crowd take over. Your set will bring you back to where you are meant to be after you have deviated.
Written by Stuart Lunn, singer and songwriter for Chase the River