BECOME A PERFORMER
Chances are, many of you chose to become a musician because some part of you is a natural performer. You like to be the centre of attention, or at least somewhere close to the centre. In many circumstances during day-to-day life this trait is frowned upon but as a musician, you find yourself the centre of attention every time you step on stage to perform, or post a video of yourself playing online.
Your audience is relying on you to perform; you need to make the transition from musician to performer.
The word performer has connotations of eccentricity, exuberance and boisterous energy; it conjures the image of an outspoken front-person putting on a show, vying for applause and relishing the attention. But the intricacies of performance are much more than that stereotype, and what performing entails is actually different for each person and group. A performance can be subdued and restrained, and still be great.
Your performance should provide a visual representation of how you intend your music to be heard
There are different types of performers; over-the-top, super happy, super serious, disgusting, reserved, shy, apparently normal, and everything in between; there’s no rule on which you should be or how you should act on stage. The most common performer is a slightly exaggerated version of themselves; it’s actually rare that a person changes dramatically, or adopts a new personality on stage. Those are the select few.
Essentially, the audience is looking for someone or something on which to focus their attention while they listen.
At its most basic level, your performance should provide a visual representation of how you intend your music to be heard: a smile in a happy part lets the audience know you intend it to be happy, a grimace while playing something intricate lets them know that this section is difficult to play. If you want the audience to dance, you lead by example.
If your performance is appropriate for your music, your music becomes more convincing. Chaotic, energetic music will only be enhanced when performed by enthusiastic, energetic people. A sombre, melancholic performer will portray sombre, melancholic music more effectively than if they were running all over the room, showing off their wireless setup.
Authenticityis essential to a good performance. The audience have to believe what you are presenting is real or know it to be intentionally embellished. There’s no more effective way to win over a crowd than with an emotional, honest performance; honesty makes emotion relatable, and therefore people will relate to your music.
If you’re going in the other direction and acting out a fantasy like dressing in costume, becoming a different persona or being a DJ; do that convincingly. Make sure you give everything you have into pretending you think it’s real. Music performance can be theatrical and fantastical as convincingly as normal and familiar.
P.S I’m joking about the DJ part. Who would do that?
Equally important is knowing when to ‘turn it up’ (I don’t mean volume, guitarists…); when to give more to your performance and when to dial it back, especially when performing in a group. The last thing you want is to overshadow someone else when it’s their turn to shine. Your group needs to be on the same wavelength in regards to the performance of your songs; performance is individual and collective. Discuss this as a group before your show and decide on the best way to represent your music together. A group that’s in sync (not In Sync the group!) will portray their music much more convincingly than a group with five radically different performers.
I once toured as a drummer with a high-energy hardcore group. The band were good and sometimes we would get people dancing at our gigs. Two of the guys in the group loved to move; they would jump, spin, dance and run around the venue each time we played. Their energy inspired a friendly competition between each other to see who could pull off the most over-the-top moves. Their performances eventually influenced myself and the other band member to step up our performance to match them. Once we were in sync, we had the crowd moving every single show. The difference was dramatic and obvious.
Form solid relationships with the other people in your group. This, more than anything, will help your collective performance. When the audience watch musicians interacting on-stage, feeding off each other's energy, grooving together: the music becomes personified and relatable. People will want to be part of your tight-knit group, they want to be part of what’s happening, and they will want to join in.
Getting your performance right can transport your music to the next level and consistently win you new fans at every show.
Becoming a performer is simple in theory, but takes practice and experience to do it well. Here’s a good way to start:
Before your show, listen to your music from an objective point of view and try to pinpoint the vibe, emotion or meaning of each song. If you wrote the song, think about the motivation behind your songwriting choices; imagine ways in which you could represent that meaning or vibe on stage.
Think about how you present yourself on stage and how you could change your presentation to make the meaning and vibe of your music more convincing. Try to imagine your performance from the audience’s perspective and imagine how you could enhance their experience; think lighting, visual effects, props, costume, makeup and movement (or lack thereof).
Another way to improve your performance is by watching others to find out what works and what doesn’t. Live gigs in person are great but if they’re in short supply, look up live videos of your heroes and the musicians you admire. Study what they are doing and ask yourself if it would work for you to do something similar. Do the flashing lights and pyrotechnics really convey the sorrow you want to express?
Some people are more naturally talented performers than others, but performance is a skill that can be learned through practise. Everyone can do it. Working on your performance, and getting it right, can transport your music to the next level and consistently win you new fans at every show.