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July, 2004


by Webmaster

I was going to name this column, "Being a Performing Musician is More Than Singing and Playing an Instrument".

Over the years, I've collected a number of articles about performing on stage. Everyone of them concern themselves with something more than simply performing music. There are lists of things to do (and not do) if you're the band M.C. There are suggestions to help pace the show and how to introduce the band. One article calls it stagecraft.

Is it important? Yes. Is it neglected? Yes. I know of one wonderful musician who failed to get a return gig at a local club because the club owner said, "He just stood up there and sang songs. I could have put in a jukebox and gotten the same results. He needs someone to perform with that has a personality."

Let's remember that our primary purpose in singing and/or playing music for others is to entertain them. A true entertainer may totally delight the audience without being an accomplished musician. An truly accomplished musician may get so absorbed in making music that the audience is ignored. Personal experience taught me that the audience will forgive musical mistakes if the band is having a good time. If the band isn't having a good time, the audience won't either.

And, appearance counts. I wear blue jeans a lot. I think I look good in jeans. But there are times when they aren't appropriate. I try to think of the appropriate costume for the gig. A concert venue would require dressier clothes than a bar gig.

So, I thought I'd pass along some of the suggestions here, for those of you who are interested in ideas about how to improve your performances. I'm only listing the major points and not the explanations. I think they are fairly self-explanatory. And, you'll see some of the same ideas repeated. They just might be universal good advice.

These are from "Emcee Do and Don'ts" by Joe Carr, and wonderful musician and emcee who teaches at Camp Bluegrass at South Plains College in Levelland Tx. (To avoid negative imprinting, I'll just put the Do list here.)

  • Project a cheerful, upbeat image (if it fits the gig)
  • Speak clearly and slowly if necessary (due to the sound system)
  • Eliminate unnecessary delays that require talking to cover.
  • Cover any unavoidable delays in the show with talking.
  • Have a purpose for each speech
  • If it's good, tell them (tell the audience what to listen for)
  • Be entertaining and funny, if you can pull it off and if it fits the gig
  • In an introduction, save the performer's name until last (and tell the audience how to respond: "welcome ...")
  • Collect clever or humorous lines that fit situations that are likely to occur
  • Know what's going to happen before you walk on stage (prepare)
  • Find out what you can about the place, the next band, the group you are playing to, and make appropriate adds or cuts to you stage patter

Jim Muller wrote some good advice in April 1996 to BGRASS-L about commercialism in bluegrass. Apparently, the discussion reflected the idea that a polished stage production was not appropriate for bluegrass. Jim makes a point that the shows could be more entertaining.

  • Know that entertaining your audience [is] more important than playing "good" music
  • At some point in the show, introduce the band members, possibly with comments that convey something personal about each member
  • Consider the appearance and professionalism of your show
  • Consider the pacing of the material (start and end strong, use variety)
  • Work your sets out ahead of time (and keep varying them for regular fans)
  • Have one or two other band members other than the frontperson act as a foil or straightperson
  • [Have] the band's frontperson ... incorporate comments or an anecdote that applies specifically to the show or to that location
  • Consider your entire stage persona and image, not just for its professionalism, but in terms of its character and its uniqueness
  • Consider what your body lauguage looks like to the audience. Make eye contact with the audience whenever possible
  • Band members should be attentive to the band's frontperson while he/she is talking, and should support what he/she is saying perhaps with body language
  • Skip saying "thank you" after each song so it doesn't appear mechanical

The Black Rose newsletter included an article called "Some Helpful Hits on Performing" which was reprinted from Happy Traum and Homespun Tapes.

  • Be prepared (equipment, tuning, set list, know your material)
  • Relax! (techniques to reduce stagefright)
  • Start your set with something easy (also interesting, up-tempo and engaging)
  • Plan your set carefully (varied, smooth-flowing, with peaks and valleys—save your strongest, most audience-engaging song for last)
  • Be in touch with your material (you relate to it in some personal way)
  • Develop an air of confidence (the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the audience will be)
  • Make eye contact with yor audience
  • Confront your audience (knowing you'll both share a good experience)

And from Intermountain Acoustic Musician, February 2002, is "Stagecraft: A Performers Workshop", compiled and edited by Tim Morrison

  • Your performance begins well before the moment you become visible to the audience and ends when you are no longer visible to them (be ready on time)
  • Don't waste the audience's time (be prepared)
  • Involve the audience (they are the focus of your attention)
  • Skip private jokes and asides with band members, speak to be heard
  • Enjoy the performance or pretend you do
  • Have a set list, thoughtfully prepared
  • A set list should be written with the ONLY criterion that it must be entertaining (mix up the look and sound of the songs)
  • Start on a 'safe' song
  • Finish on a high note—Save your best piece for the last one

I hope these ideas help. Please let me know.

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