Today I'm going to look at 10 things you should never do when you've got your gig and are going on stage. These are based on what I've personally seen do and don't work when gigging, so you may find there are a few which don't fully apply to you. That said, I suggest you still give them all a read as most probably will.
You’ll find that almost everything I mention here is taken from an audience perspective. It’s not about how to play a guitar solo the ‘correct' way or how to rap better.
If anything, this piece contains guidelines on how to act when performing on stage. With that in mind, I hope you find these tips useful.
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1. Let Your Ears Get Damaged
My first point refers to something that every musician can neglect from time to time. They’re called your ears. Protect them.
Never step on stage, play a song or even sound check without doing this. You’re an aspiring musician trying to make in the industry and develop a career for yourself. Well, guess what, you need your ears!
You only have one set and once they’re gone, they’re gone. In all my years of touring, studio work and artist management, I have met so many bands who failed to do this. I could lose count of how many artists that go out every night and play to a club which is already loud as it is and wear no protection.
I’m fully aware that wearing ear plugs feels weird and makes everything sound muddy. But I promise that you will get used to it. It’s better to deal with it than have to lose your hearing prematurely.
2. Argue With The Sound Man In Front Of Your Audience
Focusing on your hearing again, my second point is in regards to your monitor mix.
Let’s face it, if you’re playing in a clubs that are 250 max capacities, a lot of the time you won’t be dealing with grade A sound engineers. Occasionally you’ll come across someone who knows the room inside out and works flawlessly. Everyone knows that a live stage is going to sound different when the room is full including your sound engineer. So, as you can imagine, as soon as you start your set, he will be focused on taking the muddiness out of the front of house.
Let him know if you need something changed in your monitor mix early on. However never ask more than two times if you need something changed in your mix. Sometimes you have to make the best of a bad situation.
Your audience did not come to the show to see you liaise with the sound man over a boost or cut at 1k in your guitars. If you’ve got an average mix after you’re inquiries, deal with it and have fun performing on stage.
3. Take Too Long To Tune Your Guitar On Stage
My third point goes out to all you guitarists: Don't take too long to tune your guitar on stage! Do it before where possible, or at least don’t step on stage if you can’t tune a guitar quickly…
Nobody likes to hear you sharpen that B string for three and a half minutes. Even better, buy a pedal that silences your guitar while tuning. They’re not expensive so really you’ve got no excuse. Behringer make a guitar tuner that I’ve personally used for close to 4 years without failure. It retails at close to $20. That’s $5 for every year I’ve used it and it hasn’t once let me down. Go figure.
4. Point Out Your Performance Flaws
Regardless of how many shows you play, you will always mess something up in your set. Never (I mean never), highlight this after the song finishes. Don’t even try to disguise it by claiming it to be technical difficulties. Your audience most times won't ever notice it. And even if they do, your focus should be on ending the show with a bang. The crowd always remember the start and the end of your show vividly. Get those parts right and you’re solid.
5. Talk Too Much When Performing
If you’ve got a half an hour set, don’t be that band that talks for 15 minutes and plays three songs. Just don’t do it. I’ve seen this far too often in touring bands that jump on a local show as a support. I get that you’re here to make an impression and try and entice me into buying into your brand as an artist. Well, actually showcase your material in your live show. I came for the music and the stage jokes come second. This is one way to make your audience completely disregard the legitimacy of your act.
6. Bring Other Musicians Down
So let’s say that you're a touring band who has been added to the show, or in fact any local musician on any show…
The last thing you ever want to do is call out another band. Don’t criticize, mock or laugh at another band while you’re on stage. It’s a really good way to guarantee you’ll never get a gig in that town again. There are so many “scenes” out there currently that are known for a group of bands who just bash each other for no good reason. Chill out and enjoy the music.
7. Appear Big Headed To Your Fans
On a related note, it’s important to never boast about your act or music while you’re on stage. Keep your ego in check. In fact, get rid of your ego. Keep that all to yourself. As a crowd member, it’s so laughable to see band hype themselves up on stage. If you think you’re great, great. But seriously, no one likes a musician too full of themselves.
8. Shout In To A Microphone At Close Range
Never shout in to a microphone at close range. As a musician myself, I’m fully aware that it’s easy to get excited by a crowd that are really into your show. If you’re going to raise your voice and interact with your audience then it’s important to be conscious of the volume.
Remember a mic carries your voice across a room also. Everyone bounces off of each other based off of your movement anyway. It’s not always a scream that gets a crowd going.
9. Forget Why You're There
Probably the most important part of your attitude on stage is to never forget why you’re there in the first place. The stage is the number one way to showcase your music and increase your fan base.
Trust me when I say that few labels take any interest in an act that has no touring experience. If you have ambition and goals as a band, then never forget why you’re there when you’re on stage.
10. Split Up!?
Never quit your band while you’re on stage. I remember waiting to see a local band for the longest time when I was younger. I finally got an opportunity to see them and in a really great venue. We got to the show just as the guitarists we’re setting up and tuning.
After catching a late bus, I recall feeling so lucky that we hadn’t missed any of the set. Just as the guitarist on stage had finished tuning, there was a loud banging noise from the other end of the room. As I glanced back, the drummer had left the stage and the guitarists began to pull out the cables. By now the crowd, who had been waiting patiently for a little over twenty minutes, started to panic.
Noise and confusion circulated around the room very quickly. A moment later, the vocalist took to the mic. “Eh, we’ve actually just broken up. Sorry.” And that was it. To this day, I have no idea why.
There was no further explanation. From an audiences perspective, it has to be one of the worst things I've ever witnessed. At least leave band differences it till after the show your paying audience has come to see.
There you have it, 10 things you shouldn't be doing on stage when gigging. As I mentioned when beginning this piece, there are no rule and regulations to performance. This list are guidelines that I have interpreted and feel could be helpful for you. Of course, every musicians is different, so some may not be appropriate to you.
So pick and choose which ones are right for you. If you have any more to add, let me know in the comments.