Have you ever come away from a show – big or small – and been absolutely floored? It takes more than just great songs to leave this kind of impression on a crowd. You need a great show.
A great show leaves you energized the entire time, mesmerized by what’s happening on stage. A great show is well played – sounding almost like it’s been pre-recorded. A great show makes you feel something.
There is an art to crafting a show, just as much as there’s an art to crafting a great song. There are people in the world (such as Tom Jackson) who make their living taking an artist’s live show to the next level.
But if you’re already playing shows and rehearsing frequently, there is much you can learn on your own. Over the past two years, my band and I have played over 200 shows, and we’re still in the process of perfecting the stage show.
Here’s what I’ve found has helped us so far.
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Singers, Record And Analyze Your Show
This was the first step we took towards improving our show. We began recording every single set and then listened back to it (usually in the van) later. Initially, we just used an iPhone to record the set.
However, we soon got tired of the poor sound quality – we wanted to hear every note of every instrument.
Around this time we began playing better venues, and we could usually take a line off the board. We traveled with a small audio interface, and recorded every show, did a quick mix on it, and listened to that.
When you listen back to your show, mistakes are painfully obvious. Speeding up, slowing down, dead air, losing energy, banter falling flat – you get the joy of reliving every moment. And believe me, it motivates you to do better.
Gradually, we worked these kinks out of the set, working on one thing at a time until it was gone. It took over a year to arrive at a show that we felt proud of presenting.
But then… we started videotaping.
Videotape And Analyze Your Show As A Rapper
We bought a GoPro about a year after we started getting serious about improving our show. Wow. What we witnessed was certainly enlightening.
As soon as we saw what we were doing (and weren’t doing) on stage, we knew that we needed to step it up.
We had become so focused on playing well (because all we were listening back to was audio) that we had stopped moving altogether! We were totally boring to watch.
You need to practice how you move on stage – literally. What looks cool, what looks dorky. Eventually, our show became a lot more active – we loosened up, rocked out a little more, stole some moves from other musicians, etc.
The comments began rolling in: “it looks like you have so much up there!”, “you guys have great facial expressions!”
The time we spent working on our show was paying off.
Compare Your Show To Other Singers Or Rappers
Guess what? There are literally hundreds of great tutorials available entirely for free on the internet! They’re called YouTube videos and you’ve probably already watched a few of them.
Spend a night watching full, live sets by artists comparable to your act. These artists didn’t get where they are today by having a boring show, so take notes.
This is how we found answers to our problems. Here’s an example:
Problem: we talked too much on stage, it killed the energy of the set, and our jokes weren’t funny.
Our Solution: talk less.
New Problem: there’s a bunch of awkward silence between our songs, and the energy dies, even without the talking.
Our Solution: figure out what other bands do in-between songs.
We quickly began to notice that pretty much every great band has transitions between songs. This was such a big revelation, that I’m going to spend an entire section talking about it in just a moment.
Another issue we had was an inability to communicate and “rock out” together on stage, because I was stuck behind my keyboard.
So, I watched some other bands with keyboard players who play a lead role in the instrumentation, and realized that most of them don’t face the crowd, they face in towards the other musicians. Problem solved!
Everything from how you move to how you groove can be improved by watching artists who’ve already figured it out.
Keep The Energy Up – Create Transitions
The single biggest thing that improved our show was transitions between songs. Now, without saying much, we keep the energy up, keep the audience engaged, and pull off a very professional looking show.
Our transitions range from: new pieces of music we've written for a transition, to quiet chords in the background while the front man talks, to a big “trashcan ending” that blends into another song, to a simple kick drum beating while we tune up and have a drink.
These things are simple, but take a lot of planning and time to put together. They can also easily be copied from other band’s sets.
Just be careful you don’t go overboard; you need to give the audience time to clap and cheer. Otherwise they feel like you didn’t connect, and they’ll end up confused about which song is which.
Along with the transitions, you can plan out your stage banter. Pushing merch, social media, and telling stories is much easier and more engaging when there is very light background music happening. It also leaves room for an effortless start to the next song.
Another word of warning: if your background music is too busy, it sounds like you’re in a musical. Keep it simple.
Constantly Sub Out Weaker Songs For Stronger Ones
Lastly, we stopped being precious with our songs. We are constantly subbing out our weaker songs for stronger, new songs. This applies mostly to originals, but also to covers if you have any in your set.
Eventually, you want to blow the audience’s mind with every single song you play. Not just the first one, and not just the last one.