I got a very nice e-mail from an independent artist this weekend who is deluded. She thinks I’m some kind of expert on this whole artist thing. Upfront, I’m not. Not at all. But I’ll try to help anyway.
She wants pointers on how to do what she does better. So, a blog post offering some tips about the performance aspects of being an artist. Here are some Dos and Don’ts. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
1. Don’t ever introduce a song with “This song is called…” or “This song is about…” It’s my opinion that this is incredibly boring and adds nothing to the experience of hearing the song. Also, when the audience hears the song, if you’ve written a standard pop/folk/rock/country song (and that’s what you and I do right?) they’ll figure out both what it’s called and what it’s about soon enough.
2. Do feel free to say nothing. Most singers aren’t good talkers. They don’t realize this because no one will tell them, but I’m your buddy. I will. You’re probably not as good a talker as you are a singer. So, please, sing more and talk less. If you have to talk, then say something that adds to the experience of hearing the music or being with you and everyone else in the room. “This song is called..” accomplishes neither. Tell a story, a joke, pray, confess, interact, whatever, but please, for the love of all things entertaining, make your words experience enhancing.
3. Don’t stand still. Standing still makes you appear to lack confidence, like you’re hiding against the wall nursing bad punch at prom.
4. Do move. Margaret Becker taught me this. She noticed that even during the measures without words I stood still at the microphone as if I was tied to it. She told me I was free to take a step back for those four beats and bob my head or jump or whatever I felt like doing. It was magic. Suddenly performing was fun and I was a lot more confident and natural looking.
5. Don’t use a music stand. You’re not in band. Again, this makes you look unconfident…and not prepared.
6. Do memorize your music or use an inconspicuous cheat sheet. If a song is new, it’s entertaining (oddly) to pull out a sheet of paper and let the crowd know you’re trying out a new song on them. No problem. Otherwise, memorize. You don’t need the words anyway. It’s a crutch. (You hear me, worship leader guys?) If you CAN’T sing without the words (you’re lying) then write the first word of every line on a piece paper and tape it to the monitor or floor out of sight. And don’t stare at it. Steal a glance now and then but work toward going paperless. You’ll feel and perform better.
7. Don’t close your eyes…too much. It’s natural for some of us to close our eyes when we sing about or to God – not sure why. It just happens and it’s not a bad thing. But it can disconnect the audience. Should you ever close your eyes? Sure. But don’t spend the entire night behind your eyelids. You’re robbing yourself and the crowd of connection.
8. Do make eye contact. Make eye contact with every single person in the room, even if it’s thousands. You’re in a conversation with the entire room, so look all of them in the eyes. You’ll feel more connected to them and they’ll feel more connected to you and what you’re singing.
9. Don’t talk like you work for a record label. Don’t say, for instance, that the next song was your “first single” or that it was recorded for the “EMI label group”. This isn’t interesting or helpful – doesn’t add anything to the experience for the person in the seats. And it can sound pretentious.
10. Don’t let the crowd size affect your mood.
11. Do what you do for the reasons you do it, no matter who or how many show up to hear you. The smallest crowd I ever played for was in Waco, Texas. Actually, BOTH of the smallest crowds I’ve ever played for were in Waco, Texas. For one of them I moved the “show” to a couch backstage where I sat and took requests and just hung out with people. It was a great night. I was still myself, doing what I do for the reasons I do it, just on a smaller scale. For the second tiny Waco show my attitude sucked. I was in a huge beautiful theatre. I was embarrassed in front of people I knew and wanted to impress. My reasons for doing my job changed that night and I went home angry at myself for performing badly and letting my attitude wither like it did. I wasted an opportunity to have fun and do my job well. Hopefully you have better reasons for making music than impressing as many people as you can. Hang onto those reasons no matter who or how many show up to hear you.