When it comes to playing an instrument, I have close to zero credibility. Outside of being able to tear up a dance floor and the two-and-a-half weeks I gave playing the keyboard a (somewhat) earnest shot, I’m not the most qualified. That’s why I have so much respect for my clients and stick to my day job as their publicist.
But as a publicist, and self-proclaimed human cartoon, what I do have plenty of experience in is banter. Man, I can talk for days. Not that you needed more evidence, but I clearly do plenty of that here on Flypaper. I’m surprised the editors haven’t asked me to pipe down yet.
As a performer, it’s not enough to simply get onstage and play your tunes. It’s important to pay attention to the rhythm and pace of your show as it unfolds, utilizing transitions, tuning breaks, song flow, and audience engagement to round off the entire experience. In fact, if you can keep audiences entertained between your songs, you know you’re on the right track to becoming a beloved live act. The key to all that is mastering stage banter.
Here’s a great example. Watch how Chicago’s the Kickback masterfully adlibs a great moment of stage banter to introduce their song “Rob Our House” at Lincoln Hall to engage the crowd one last time before leaving the stage.
Whether it’s informational, conversational, or creative, it’s your chance to allow fans to connect with the person behind the music, which bodes better for the longevity of your artistry. Your onstage banter is one of the best ways to distinguish your live show from everyone else’s, make it a lasting, memorable experience, and ensure that your project will live well beyond your recordings.
Don’t Drag It Out
While I definitely encourage you to open your mouth for more than just carrying a tune, I am not proposing that you issue a state-of-the-union address. Keep it short and to the point.
Whatever you say has to have purpose, whether it’s making the crowd laugh, sharing a key detail, or engaging someone in a way that draws attention. I’m sure you have something to promote, and you’d be foolish not to plug it, but make sure you zero in on what matters most, and keep the message succinct: your album is about to drop, you’re on your first tour, you’re recording with a great artist or bigwig producer.
There’s no reason to speak between every song, and it’s not even imperative to introduce every song title. In fact, it might end up feeling stale. If there’s a cool narrative behind a song, share it so fans know where you’re coming from. Have some idea of what you’re trying to convey so you don’t run in circles and bore the house. The music is still the focus. The stage banter is a lesson in multitasking.
Your words carry weight. Don’t just deliver — captivate.
Believe in the magnetism of the live show and the crowd eating out of your creative palms, and then use it to your advantage. See banter as an opportunity rather than a challenge and make it as natural as possible. Unlike a comedy show, where heckling and judgment are far more common, the crowd is inclined to applaud and support you.
In practice, onstage confidence translates to good volume, enunciation of words, eye contact, and solid posture. Use your body as much as you use your voice. Be positive, and have conviction. You’re in a band, dammit!
Find Your Voice
Early on, it’s okay to emulate your musical heroes. Take notes, and feel free to borrow technicalities, but make it a point to quickly find your own nuances before it jeopardizes your integrity.
See more shows in person and online. Practice in front of a mirror even if you feel like a doofus. Try to remember what organically ran through your head during the songwriting process, and, if you’re comfortable with that, then you already have plenty to talk about. Watch what makes your audience react, and be open to their commentary and energy. It might take a little bit of vulnerability at first, but soon after you’ll learn to feel comfortable opening up in front of a crowd.
But if it doesn’t come off as natural, it’ll be counterintuitive. Live audiences of any medium have an uncanny ability to size up authenticity. Swallow the embarrassment of practicing in front of your mirror if it means you kill it in front of a packed house.
Remember Key Details
I can’t tell you how many SXSW sets I saw where bands forget to mention their own name, let alone other showcases or forthcoming releases I might’ve potentially purchased. There’s no quicker way to shoot yourself in the foot and, unfortunately, there’s no getting that time back. No industry executive is going to take the extra step to make sure they’ve got your name right.
This comes down to a matter of focus and nerves. Marketing 101 states that repetition is what causes an impression. Impressions translate to sales and brand loyalty. Believe it or not, I’m not talking about toothpaste. Still talking about bands. Though you do need to go to the dentist regularly.
As a general rule of thumb, hit the basics:
- band name
- where you’re from
- what you’ve got going on
- what’s coming up
- social media and next shows
Start there and you’ve done your job. Say something memorable, funny, and unique, and then the one way to go is up.