If you want to put on a great live show, get fog machines, laser lights and elaborate wardrobes out of your mind, for now. Your business is music. Once you’ve nailed the music part of it, then you can worry about the eye candy.
Before the show
1. Do your prep work
The best way to put on a great show has as much to do with what goes on before showtime as the show itself. Have a well-rehearsed set. After you rehearse your tail off, you’ll be more comfortable with improvisation and set list changes during the show.
2. Do a thorough sound check, and DON’T TICK OFF THE SOUND PERSON
Bruce Springsteen became a legend partly due to his concert performances. One reason his concerts are so good is his insistence on making sure the sound is great. This means conducting a long and thorough sound check. The Boss has been known to walk around to every section of the arena while the band plays, making tweaks in the mix along the way. Show up early, get used to the place and spend a lot of time on stage before the show. Most importantly, get friendly with the sound person. Ticked off sound people tend to press the mysterious “suck” button for certain acts.
During the show
3. Have fun
If you’re not having fun, neither is the audience. If you don’t enjoy playing music live for people, stick to the home studio. The “have fun” rule even applies to solo acoustic artists who purvey in the realm of emo shoegazers. The audience wants to see you comfortable in your skin. You don’t have to be full of pep and all smiles if your subject matter and stage persona doesn’t call for it. But you should enjoy what you do and it should show on stage.
4. Talk to the crowd
Bob Dylan may be able to get away with never saying anything beyond “hi” or “thank you” to the crowd, but you can’t. For lesser-known indie acts, what goes on in between the songs is almost as important as the songs themselves in a live setting. It doesn’t have to be between every song, but having a comedic moment, clever band intros or a heart felt story provides flow to the set. Audiences love flow.
5. Always leave them wanting more
Most up-and-coming acts think they are the best thing since sliced bread and want to play as long as possible. Audiences don’t necessarily want this. Don’t overstay your welcome. It has nothing to do with how much time the venue gives you and everything to do with crowd reaction. If the crowd is into your act and you only have 45 minutes, stop at 40. Leave them wanting more. Then watch them line up at the merch table, tell their friends about you and come back in greater numbers for the next show.