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At one point or another every musician will have to experience what it’s like to perform to an unresponsive or unreceptive crowd. It’s certainly not a pleasant experience, and it can definitely turn quickly into resentment and other negative responses, but it is perhaps a rite of passage for all bands.
People are quick to judge a band performing on stage, whether it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of you or they’re a long time fan. There’s no escaping it. So you’re going to have to learn how to keep an audience engaged and create an emotional connection from the onset, as well as throughout. By channeling your charisma and persona, honing your stage presence, and learning the strengths of your original material to be able to execute a great show, you can win them over night after night.
Sound tough? You can handle it! Here are my four best pieces of advice that will prevent you from ever having to deal with a lame crowd, so you can keep your audience curious and engaged throughout your show.
1. Own the Crowd from the Onset
A live audience is easier to manipulate than it may seem. That sounds harsh, but you need to remember that they willingly paid for a ticket to come see you play, so they’re here to be entertained. A crowd is willing to follow orders from the singer or frontman, on the condition the band demonstrate complete ownership of the stage.
When an audience is uninterested and unengaged, people might start to feel like their time would be better spent elsewhere. This is your opportunity to up the ante from the stage.
You can get your audience to clap in time, demand they move closer to the stage, or suggest they participate in something creative and funny or even as extreme as starting a “wall of death.” Your crowd will be receptive as long as the frontman has an authoritative and commanding presence.
People feel uninhibited when they are enjoying themselves, and there are strong aspects of social psychology that demonstrate how people in crowds will naturally begin to copy each other’s behaviors and align together. As we’ve unfortunately seen recently in the political arena, crowd manipulation can be utilized to create an instantaneous sense of camaraderie and membership to something invisible. Let that something be the enjoyment of your live performance.
2. Exude Confidence
This one’s all about creating a winning mindset. The greatest bands of all time for the most part feature iconic vocalists and musicians who are natural performers — who effortlessly channel their energy and creativity into crowd and are simply a joy to watch. Their charisma is unmatched and they demonstrate complete ownership of the stage.
One of the best examples of this is Freddie Mercury strutting around the stage like he’s waltzing around his bedroom, but with a live audience of eighty thousand people staring at him. Yes, Mercury was one of the greatest vocalists of all time, but there are lessons to be learned through his sheer enjoyment and ownership of the limelight.
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t need to be natural or even easy for you to exude that level of comfortability in front of 10,000 people; you simply need to “believe” that you are this person, this character on stage. Transform your mental self-image and the magic will start to flow on its own. People in the audience don’t know what’s going on inside your head, only you do, so if you show confidence and have fun doing it, that’s all that matters.
3. When in Doubt, Pique Their Curiosity
It’s essential to approach a live music performance with the intent to tease your audience and not give everything away all at once. When you write your setlists, when you approach the final notes of your show, aim to leave people wanting just a bit more.
It’s always tempting to want to use up every second of your time on stage, and to share the meaning behind all of your lyrics in between songs. But to give too much away you risk a crowd becoming bored. This is another lesson from the psychology of attraction. People want what they can’t have, and are titillated by the mystique of the unknown. Make yourself and your live show just a bit elusive, luring, or mysterious, and you’ll impress and entertain while holding something back from your audience. It’s a powerful feeling.
Nobody wants boring, generic, and uninventive communication from an artist they’ve paid to see. In the very least, they want to have fun by knowing that you’re having fun, which leads me to my next point.
4. Have Fun on Stage and Believe that You Belong There
Enjoyment and excitement are both contagious — and lucky for you, music is a great vessel for delivering both of those emotions. Having complete faith in your own music, as well as your abilities as a performer, will allow you to accept the fact that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you when you’re on stage. So just get out there and have a good time!
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t care about your music. But not caring about what people think will make it easier to shrug off criticism, to not take things personally, to exude confidence and mystique, and to have fun doing it. You’ll feel naturally free and comfortable, leading to greater expressiveness and performative emotion on stage. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this “flow,” when an artist is so in the moment that they don’t need to think about what, how, or why, they just do.
The truth is that not everybody is going to love what you do. No artist or band gets to enjoy global, unanimous approval; and no artist is safe from criticism. In fact, if everyone does love what you do, you’re probably doing something wrong. If you can learn to accept criticism and retain a degree of unwavering faith in your ability as a performer, you can actually do anything. That’s the most powerful position to be in.
Believe in yourself, and believe that while you are on stage the audience owes you their time, and not the other way around.
There’s no magic potion that’s going to fix a lame audience, but with these tips I hope you’ll have enough new strategies and ideas to make your life a little bit easier when a bad night comes your way. And knowing how to prevent a lame audience in the first place is key. By making a strong impression as soon as you step foot on stage, you will be rewarded with a curious and engaged crowd. Even if during the performance you run into technical issues, the crowd will remain on your side if you’ve won them over to begin with.
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