Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

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Life on stage is very different from ordinary daily life. When you're on stage you're not a regular guy behaving in a normal way. Performing is not an ordinary activity. If you're going to perform, you need to prepare for it. It's hard to practice performing since the only time you really do it is in front of an audience. No matter how much you sing to yourself in the mirror in the privacy of your room, it won't even come close to the real thing. The best practice is getting out there on stage, at first at jam sessions or talent shows. Then with a band, hopefully one you've rehearsed with.

Rehearsal is the next best thing to being there, provided you actually use the time to rehearse your performance. Most singers work on arrangements in rehearsal, or even on their vocals (though not nearly enough) but few actually work out the elements of performance beyond singing. Movements, gestures, interaction with other band members, talk between songs, taking the mic off the stand, running out into the audience - these are not ordinary behaviour and they aren't easy. They need practice.

Many singers say they're uncomfortable trying these things in front of their band, it's embarrassing. But it's hard to imagine a singer trying something totally new in front of an audience if they couldn't do it in front of their band. And how will you know if dropping onto your knees is going to work if you don't try it first? The first time Bruce Springsteen jumped from the stage onto a speaker ten feet away wasn't in front of an audience. I think he practiced first. If you're not getting enough work done in rehearsal, you should consider taking a performance workshop which focuses on developing your stage presence. Then rehearse the ideas you have developed.

The band needs to be set up like a think tank, no idea is made fun of (unless it's supposed to be funny). When the guitarist puts the guitar over his head and plays his solo backwards, don't tell him it's stupid. Work on developing that idea into something exciting. As a band, you need to give every member permission to do whatever they can think of no matter how absurd. I'm certain that's how David Lee Roth's shows evolve. He's very loose with his body and he's likely to rub up against one of his bandmates. They don't look at him like he's crazy (well, maybe they do). They allow him to be playful, to try anything.

Your band needs to know that what you do on stage is separate from reality. As the lead singer, you can flirt with the guitarist on stage to illustrate a song, and know that it doesn't affect your offstage relationship. It's like a play and the band members are the cast. You aren't going to literally act out the story in the song, but you are going to use each other to show your emotions.

Practicing your act before you perform it mustn't lead to a state of mechanized presentation. Whatever led you to throw your fist in the air and your head back the first time you did it, has to be there every time. Once you have a wide vocabulary of movements and gestures that you're comfortable with, you can take more chances in your live performances. If you can throw yourself on the floor it's not too hard to writhe to the edge of the stage. If you lean on your guitarist during a solo, you won't be embarrassed to rest your head on his shoulder. On the other hand, you must also select from all the options the ones that best express your concept and throw out the rest. It's all well and good that you love to tap dance but you may not want to include it in your rock act. Or then again, you might. Once you open the door the possibilities are endless.

Spontaneity is a crucial part of a vital stage show. Whatever your personal style, whether it's wild or sedate, fun-loving or serious, you need to be genuinely affected by your material and it has to show. As the front person, the responsibility for a charismatic performance is mainly on your shoulders. You have many elements at your disposal: music, words, arrangements, movements, costumes, attitudes, smoke bombs. Construct a well-practiced framework to perform within, one that's guided by your concept, and it'll give you the freedom to improvise.

See also:
Vocal Health Tips and Backing Vocals

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