Learn Performing | The Charisma Factor

Whether it''s fair or not, commercial musicians don''t typically hit the top of the pops solely because they are extremely talented instrumentalists or singers. The “x-factor” for fame (apologies to Simon Cowell) is as brutally simple as this: The audience has to like you. A lot.
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Lady Gaga pulls out the stops to captivate her audience and put on a knock-out show.

Whether it''s fair or not, commercial musicians don''t typically hit the top of the pops solely because they are extremely talented instrumentalists or singers. The “x-factor” for fame (apologies to Simon Cowell) is as brutally simple as this: The audience has to like you. A lot.

Getting a career-making number of people to notice you, remember you, and develop a jones for constant “you” updates is a mysterious and often-treacherous dance that has eluded even the smartest entertainers and managers since the dawn of celebrity. No music-biz svengalis are ever 100-percent successful at churning out superstars, and if there was a foolproof formula, we would all be uber-rich and fabulously famous.

But there are some elements you can consider to determine if you''re on the right track to making yourself a seductive, bigger-than-life you. Of course, the next sucker-punch of unfairness is that some artists are naturally charismatic, and you should hate them if you''re not one of them. Happily, vast lineups of bona-fide superstars were not “naturals” either, but they worked intensely to construct a superstar façade. Here are a few suggestions to kick off your journey to legendary status.

KNOW YOURSELF
Eric Clapton barely moves a muscle when he performs, while Eddie Van Halen used to whiz around stages like a Tasmanian Devil. Likewise, Frank Sinatra kept his stage presentation tuxedo-cool, while Lady Gaga employs outrageous costumes, phalanxes of dancers, and massive video screens to help present her songs live. There''s no right or wrong to any approach—simply that the persona that works for you is golden. What usually doesn''t work is when you try to be someone you''re not. Eventually, audiences tend to see through the phoniness.

BE COOL
Coolness is linked to pop culture, and there is a definite “cool factor” for every age group. Study it. Know it. Embrace it. And then mold it to your particular style. You don''t have to rock tattoos, goth makeup, and piercings if you''re an artist of a certain age, but if you''re playing, say, a blues club wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Dockers, and Birkenstocks, you''re going to have a hard time convincing the audience that you''re cool enough to be star material.

COMMAND EYEBALLS
Not to get overly woo-woo, but you need to expand your delivery to reach every audience member and resonate through every inch of the venue you''re playing. Shoegazing had a short lifespan, because audiences usually feed off being surprised, enchanted, and conquered. Jim Morrison read books on crowd psychology—a genius move. Actors perform bigger on stage than when making films. Want to ensure people can''t stop talking about your shows? Study everything (and everyone) you can to learn how to zap your stage persona into each spectator''s eyeballs, heart, and mind.

FEED THEIR HEADS
Scripting your set can help you distance yourself from boring acts, mediocre performances, and various other also-rans. You should control the energy in the room with a savvy set list full of emotional ramp-ups, cool downs, and crescendos. Production elements (video, lighting, set design, etc.) must support and even amplify your show''s dynamics. The goal is to keep the audience energized and engaged from first note to last note. Terminate distractions (dead spots when no one talks, tuning moments, etc.) until no one even dares go to the bathroom for fear of missing something transcendent.