In one way or another I have been a part of the Tampa Bay music scene since 2001. Because of this involvement, I find myself at plenty of open mics and showcase. Often I am asked to judge or critique the participants, something I like to do. I feel that it is a way to help some up and coming performers grow in their craft. After attending a few of these I started to notice certain patterns...and not the good kind either. So with the hopes of helping a few more up and coming artist I present you seven tips to improve your stage performance:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
It is believed that to become a master of any craft you have to practice 10,000 hours. No matter what that craft is, playing a sport, acting, writing, anything; including performing live on stage. The best stage performers often rehearse before the show. I would recommend that you take an hour or so, everyday to practice. Practice in your bedroom, practice in your living room, practice in your garage or even the shower. Whatever you do...practice. No matter how many years you have been performing, you still have to practice. For those of you who are just starting out, I recommend you take advantage of the many showcases and open mics out there. Not because you will be promoting your music, but because the stage time is valuable. One final note on practicing, when you practice at home, practice with a microphone. Which leads me to...
2. Learn how to hold a microphone
This one thing alone can significantly improve your sound on stage. I see many performers hold the microphone like they are afraid of it. With a loose grip, I have honestly even seen pinky fingers extended. The correct way to hold it is by grasping it with all your fingers wrapped around it. Make it an extension of you and your energy. Hold it firmly, but don’t squeeze hard the whole time; squeeze it hard when you need that extra strength in your voice. This motion actually helps you expand your ribs and your sinus. DO NOT hold the microphone like an ice cream (this is actually a pet peeve of mine), this makes your voice sound thin. Also, do not hold it to where the butt of the microphone is straight in front of your face. The best way to hold is at a 45 degree angle with the butt towards the floor. Keep a good distance from your mouth. Too close to your mouth and your voice will be muffled, too far and it will not pick up the sound. How will you know what the right distance is? Practice!
3. Have show tracks made.
Pet peeve #2 (there are actually a few). When performers sing or rap over their songs. Why not just get off stage and let the DJ play the song? We came to see you perform not lip sync over your track. This bad habit leads to so may others; like instead of singing, the performers ends dancing and completely stops singing. I notice that this trend is typical with those who lack confidence. If I am judging a competition the person who performs over an instrumental automatically scores higher over those performing over their pre-recorded vocals. One excuse I hear often is that the sound system is crappy... well the sound system is going to be crappy with or without your pre-recorded vocals. Also, how are you supposed to perfect your craft if you don’t get in the habit of performing to a show track? How are you going to learn to control your breath, if you can always count on your vocals to be there for you when you run out of breath? Man (or women) up and get show tracks made and begin practicing to those tracks. Yes the first couple of time you perform live with them you might stumble a bit, but over time you will be better for it.
4. Get your show together BEFORE the show.
I am amazed at how many times a performer gets on stage, gives the DJ a CD or a thumb drive and has not planned which songs he / she is going to perform. This is amateur hour at it’s worst. The audience has to sit there and watch you tell the DJ (or the sound guy)..."No play the next one”..."What about track 5?”..."OK, yeah, that one, let’ try that one” ...For Pete’ sake, how are you on stage and don’t know what song your going to perform?...makes me want to throw tomatoes at a person, but that’s not fair to the tomatoes. In all seriousness, no matter how small the audience, you should always aim for professionalism. As much as you want to perform, if you don’t have your show together, you should consider not performing that night and coming back better prepared the next time.
5. Stop performing for the floor.
How do you know a performer lacks confidence and is suffering from stage fright? He / She stares at the floor the whole time. I understand that there is a lot going on in your head and that this is probably an unconscious act, but from the audience point of view it makes you look meek. The person who does this, is also most likely performing over their own vocals, completely skipping whole verses (hoping no one notices) and not holding the mic correctly. This is that uncomfortable performance that seems to go on forever, and we all just want it to end. Even if your nerves are getting to you, look at your audience, engage with them. Pick a couple of people from the crowd and look in their direction. If you appear to be having fun your audience will have fun with you.
6. Stop signing your songs.
This one appears to be just for the rappers. This occurs when you have not practiced enough and don’t really know how to engage with a crowd and control the stage. In an awkward fashion, the rapper tends to sign language his entire song. A video of this performance can be watched with the volume muted and you will still know what the song is about. This person needs to learn how to stand square on the stage, ten toes planted firmly and take control. Again, engage with your audience, look at them. it’s OK to use your hands to relay a message here and there but when you do it for every line it comes across amateurish.
7. Leave the homies off stage.
This one is also strictly for the rappers. There is no need for the whole squad to get on stage with you. We came to see you, not you and 15 of your close friends. I understand that often they are there for moral support, but if they truly want to support you, they should be in the audience right in front of the stage. Let them cheer you on with the rest of the audience and hopefully that energy will spread to the others. I have noticed that the unnecessary stage hype men fall into three categories. The first is the one who gets on stage and turns the energy way up. They bounce like a lunatic to every song. As entertaining as this is to the audience it completely takes away from you and your performance. Homie number two is the one with the phone making it all about them. They are either snapping or going live, hoping to score some sweet loving later on because they are on stage. This person brings nothing to your performance and is probably more annoying than sir bounce a lot on the other side of the stage. The last homie type is the most unnecessary of all. This is that awkward dude standing in the far back dark corner almost standing still and looking at the floor. This dude is usually rapping the whole song line by line and every once in a blue moon pops his head up to half scream and ad lib, then return to the safety of the dark corner. This dude makes me sad. I should not be sad at your show.
I personally like it when a performer takes the time to talk to their audience, introduce themselves, let us know where on social media to find you. If you have commercial releases, tell me where to stream them, or buy them. I like a brief interlude between some songs. It helps with crowd engagement. If a particular song has special meaning to you, share it with your audience, just be short about it. I know that in open mics and showcases it is usually not the case, but if you can do a sound check before the show, do it. At the very least get there early and give the DJ or sound guy your music. Finally if you are registered with either BMI or ASCAP (which you should be if you write your lyrics or compose the song) then make sure you report the show when you are done. This way you can collect royalties for the performance.
I know this writing pokes fun at some of the things you might be doing right now, but if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that I am right. If this music thing is a hobby for you and you do it just for fun, then by all means ignore this writing, you are not my target audience. However if you plan to perform music for larger audiences and have fallen victim to some of these bad habits, then I hope this writing has helped you.