by Bruce Wawrzyniak
Booking the shows, playing the shows, promoting your live dates, keeping up your website and social media, and writing and rehearsing. These are all a regular part of the schedule that a singer/songwriter keeps. But where in there is time left – or where in there are you making time – to evaluate the end product?
You’ve got the songs written, and certainly those are the key. Not only because without songs to sing you’d be on stage in front of mic like a stand-up comedian, but, because you can be real good at booking yourself, but if the songs don’t move anyone, no one is going to attend all those shows you so successfully scheduled yourself for.
Here are some tips on making sure that once you step into the spotlight, the people stay – and listen.
- Arrange to have a couple of your live shows filmed. Yes, it’s great content for YouTube and/or your website, but more importantly, this is for your own internal review. You know how you sound on-stage, but do you know how you look? This doesn’t have to be a huge production or a new line item in your music budget. Even if you just put a camera on a tripod and leave it there, get some footage you can watch. I’m not a big advocate for video off of a smartphone, but to just have something for your own study, that will even suffice so you can see what the audience members are seeing.
- Don’t do your entire show sitting down. Singer/songwriters face enough stereotypes (see the aforementioned stand-up comedians). Don’t add to it by sitting on a stool for two whole hours. (Dare I say don’t even bring a stool at all?!) Stand up, move around, and give the audience a reason to not nod off or look down into their phones. If you don’t look interested, why would they want to give you their undivided attention?
- Be very strategic about your set list. I’m amazed at people who tell me, “I don’t do a set list. I just play what I feel in the moment.” And thus they play four ballads in a row and start losing audience members to sadness or disinterest or fatigue. Mix up the ballads and the mid-tempo and the up-tempo songs. Plus, during the booking process, ensure that you can play all originals. If they want a mix of cover songs, have a good combination that will keep people interested when you start playing a song of yours that you want them to know.
- Be a good storyteller. There’s a huge difference between saying, “Here’s a song I wrote about my first car,” and painting a picture of what the make and model was along with the color, any defects, the reason it had meaning to you, and why it made enough of an impression on you to actually write a song about it. Imagine going to a songwriters festival and just playing your songs without any explanation or setup. The stories behind them would be noticeable by their absence.
- You don’t know what the audience members are each going through, good or bad. Hopefully you are playing shows where they’re paying to see you. That in itself should be a big reminder that they’ve made a conscious choice to hear you add to their celebration or help them with their current plight. There should be no cruise control setting in your act. Play every time like it’s your first show and your last show.
- Pick one table or audience section to play to and draw them in. Then move on to the next table or section. And so on. Don’t play just to the person or people right in the front. The guy at the back deserves to hear you just as much and he could very well end up being that “you never know who might be in the crowd” person.
- The devil is in the details, as they say. Practice good mic technique. Befriend the sound tech. Have your guitar in tune so you’re not adjusting on the fly during your very first song. Don’t close your eyes the whole time you’re singing. These are all a part of the equation that add up to a live performance you can be proud of at the end of the night.
As they say, wash, rinse, repeat. Use the above as a checklist and/or create a Live Show checklist so that you are ready each time you take the stage, and leave the audience members applauding and wondering when and where they can see you perform next.
Bruce Wawrzyniak is the president of Tampa, Florida-based Now Hear This, Inc., which specializes in management, promotion, and booking for musicians. He is the host of the weekly show, “Now Hear This Entertainment,” which has gotten listeners in 80-plus countries around the world. He writes a weekly blog at www.NowHearThis.biz and is the author of “Bruce’s Bonus Book: A Collection of Tips for Up-And-Coming Entertainers.” He is a regular attendee of songwriters festivals and served as a speaker at a Young Songwriters Workshop in Nashville. Look for him as a panelist at a major music conference in the southeast later this year.
For more information on the 15th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com/