You’re playing a set.
The crowd is into it – you know your songs forwards and backwards, the sound is great, you glance at your band mates and flash a satisfied smile.
People start clapping as soon as the song ends, you let them finish, and…
The room goes quiet.
What a nightmare!
You realize, in that moment, public speaking and playing music for your audience are two completely different things.
Even experienced musicians sometimes freeze up when they get to the banter portion of the set.
But you can get better at banter.
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Prepare Some Scripted Banter
For all but the most experienced performers, improvising an entire set of banter is a terrible idea.
Comedians practice their jokes for months.
Politicians read speeches that were worked on by a team of trained staff.
TV and radio hosts read off of teleprompters.
Frankly, if you’re not preparing some of your stage banter beforehand, you’re not working hard enough.
Cover The Basics
If you have worked out a set of songs, you can easily plan a couple of standard banter moments into your set.
At the start of the set, figure out when you’re going to address the crowd.
Sometimes, this will be after your first song.
Some musicians will play two to four songs in a row before addressing the crowd – this tends to build tension, so that when you finally say, “Hey Detroit, how you doin’ tonight?” people go nuts.
If you have band members, an easy banter option is introducing the band.
Personally, I like to do this over top of music, so as to keep energy up, but it's up to you.
Figure out where you’re going to offer gratitude for everyone who put the show together.
Somewhere in the middle or near the end of your set, make sure to thank the promoter, the sound tech, the venue and anyone else who had a hand in putting the show together.
Finally, before the last song or the last couple songs, give a hearty “thank you and goodnight!”.
Promote Yourself Shamelessly
Self-promotion can be hard, but it's necessary.
If you get good at it, self-promo can be a fun and engaging part of your show.
Here are a few things to cover.
Your Band/Artist Name
First off, if you don’t mention your name at least once during your performance, you will be shamed by the jam gods.
It’s easy to forget or mumble your name so quickly people leave without ever knowing who you were.
Look out into the audience and confidently tell them who you are, where you’re from, and what you’re there to do.
You should mention your name at least twice during the show.
Set Up Your Most Popular Songs
If you’re playing a hit of any sort, mention the name of the song and where they can find the song.
If people are familiar with your music, they’ll be excited to hear their favorite song.
If they’ve never heard you before, this is another way to direct them to connect with you on social media or streaming services.
Let Your Audience Know What You're Planning To Do Next
If you are working on an album, releasing an album, going on tour, currently on tour, releasing a video, releasing a single, whatever – let people know!
The key is to be confident and talk slowly.
You should try to find an interesting way to say what you're working on, but if you can’t, just be confident that what you’re doing is interesting and people want to know what’s up.
Plug Your Merch
Failing to mention your merch from stage will literally cost you money.
Go to other shows, take note of how the artist is pitching their merch – if somebody pitches their merch in a way that makes you laugh, disarms you, or otherwise makes you feel comfortable, steal it.
Plug your merch!
Create A Sense Of Connection
Banter is all about creating a sense of connection with your audience.
You want people to feel like they’ve experienced something.
Whether that is connection with you, the music, a laugh, a great time, whatever – your banter goes a long way towards creating a connection.
Storytelling is an art unto itself.
Going to see a great artist is always a treat.
Going to see a great artist that can tell captivating stories can be a life changing concert experience.
I’ve seen great storytellers win over an audience before even playing a song.
I saw Paul McCartney last year, and despite the fact that his entire set list is made up of hits, he told stories that made me feel connected to him.
If you have a story to tell, don’t be afraid to workshop it.
Write out your story, practice it in front of a mirror or practice it in front of family.
Make Your Audience Laugh
Getting the crowd laughing is not easy, but it is effective.
When I play solo shows, I tell stories, but more than anything I tell jokes.
My songs are quite serious and when they are played solo, they are intimate.
Making people laugh lightens the mood and lets people ease themselves into some of the heavier material in the set.
Repeat jokes, steal jokes, do whatever you can until you come up with banter that works.
Personally, I improvise a great deal in my solo set.
I welcome heckling, because I’m quick and confident in front of a microphone – the only way to get there is with practice!
Plan Your Set
If all this sounds terrifying, just plan your set so that you don’t have to talk very much.
Planning out impressive musical transitions and creating a smooth set is an art all its own.
A well-crafted set can have just a few banter moments: a welcome, a merch pitch, a bit of self-promo and a thank you.
Banter Quick Tips
Now that we've covered the basics, I'm going to go through some additional tips rapid fire.
When You Find Something That Works, Keep Doing It
Nobody cares if you say the same thing on stage several shows in a row.
If you’re playing a bunch of local shows, switch it up here and there but don't worry too much about creating a ton of variety.
Take Your Time
The key to comedic timing and storytelling (in my experience) is patience.
I’ve always said that I could read my van’s owner manual on stage, and if I timed it right, I would have the audience’s rapt attention.
Be Calm & Confident
People often overcompensate for their nervousness by acting confident and end up coming off a little rude.
Talk to the crowd as you would a group of friends.
Assume Everyone's Rooting For You
Nobody wants to go to an awkward show.
Remember that everyone in the crowd wants to enjoy themselves and they want you to do a great job.
You can do this!
Take Notes From Other Artists
One of my favorite parts of going to shows is hearing how the artist works the crowd.
Take notes, and try to imitate the best parts of their act.
Imitation will slowly turn into style as you practice!