The “King of Pop” never put on anything less than a spectacular show; this meant putting in all of the countless hours of preparation to make it better!
Taking your stage performance to the next level means doing some serious self-evaluation
BY KAITLIN MCGAW
ARTISTS HAVE a ton to juggle and master in order to pull off a successful show. From executing thorough promotion to securing proper gear to memorizing lyrics and licks to documenting it all for social networks, the list of “to dos” sometimes seems endless. But when was the last time your to-do list included mastering a new approach to the performance of your song?
Improving your performance is nuanced and requires a critical eye in self-evaluation. Evaluating your presentation (not just your song or lyrics) may feel awkward at first. You’re not a theater-trained actor, you’re rock and roll, or jazz, right? Improvisation can’t be planned. But there are elements of your stage presence that you can experiment with and practice that will yield a deeper connection with your listeners, regardless of your genre. Having taken several workshops with performance coaches (most notably Steven Memel in Los Angeles [stevenmemel.com] and Tom Jackson in Nashville [tomjacksonproductions.com]), I’ve picked up some great tips to take your performance to the next level.
Check Yourself Out Video your next show from start to finish, including stepping onto the stage to the point and exiting it. After the buzz of the night wears off , watch the entire video as if you were in the audience. Musically, you may notice lulls and mishaps—those are things to address in your rehearsal. But what else is there? Do you get bored at any point watching the show? Chances are the audience may have, too. Focus on posture and placement: Are you stuck in the same spot onstage the whole time, regardless of the song? The goal is to create levels and dimensions, even if you feel bound to your amp. Next rehearsal, experiment with a different presentation.
Fill In the Blanks Notice what you say between the songs—does your banter draw listeners in or leave people wanting to get refills on their drinks? If you are a talker, try a few nonbreaks between songs to see how it flows with the audience. Never admit your weaknesses by admitting to the audience something like, “I’m sick,” or, “we just learned this song yesterday.” It leads the listener to expect you to fail, and he or she may not even hear the song.
Review the Best You know you love the performances of U2 just as much as their records? Have you watched a live show to see how they connect with their audiences all over the world? Rent a few concert videos for the sole purpose of taking notes on the things that are great, and the things that are simply average. Each time you watch, focus on a single element: mic technique, guitar performance, or the way the band members interact with each other.
Rehearse the Whole Show Why not use one rehearsal a month as a practice show? Exclude side talk, bathroom breaks, banter, and tuning breaks, and perform the fullest version of what you will do at the venue. Amp it up a notch and invite two or three people to watch, and run your show with breaks for audience talk— where you actually practice how you talk about the songs. Steven Memel encourages acts to spend serious time practicing and perfecting their “show” in the same way they approach studio recording.
Set Your Stage Tom Jackson encourages acts to set the stage the way they see fit; your engineer is going to have a basic setup ready for you to customize. Move monitors where you need them for optimum performance as well as sound. As a singer/pianist, I had found myself feeling “stuck” behind the piano. Now I play the electric piano standing up for club shows, to uplift the energy and connection.
End Like a Pro Next show, why not exit the stage before breaking your gear? Even just a 30-second break allows a sense of a closure to the show, and your audience will not immediately see you go from rock star to roadie.
Having taken a critical eye to my own performances, and video-reviewed both rehearsals and shows, I’ve made several changes to my audience interactions, stage set-up, and song performances. Your show will always be a work in progress—for if you ever get to the point where you are 100% comfortable and nearly on autopilot, it’s time to push yourself to the next level again.