I’ve seen a bunch of great bands this week, one local but mostly larger touring acts and I contrast that with the local shows I’m accustomed to, the open mics and battles of the bands. Some performers really have it and some that some are just begging you to ignore them. My insights are by no means facts so take what you like and leave the rest if it suits you, being in your element will do more for your presence than trying to follow my advice down to the letter.
Firstly, as always, a great artist steals. Just do what your heroes do, take bits and pieces from all of them and discard the things that didn’t feel natural or just didn’t work. But you gotta steal from a lot of people, if you just model all your stage presence on Billie Joe everyone’s going to call you a Green Day rip off, as they stand at the back of the room at your shows (bonus points if you know what locals I’m talking about there). So steal from a lot of people and run it through your own filter and you’ll come away with something that’s familiar and yet unique.
Okay now on to specifics:
Posture. No matter what you do on stage whether it’s solo, full band, poetry, or comedy, stand up straight and keep your head up high. If you look sheepish we assume you think you suck and if you think you suck we are sure to agree.
More than just posture though you have to take up a lot of space, think about your shoulders – are they square with the stage or do you look like you’re deflecting away?
This leads over to movement. In drama class (which you should have taken) you should have learned that normal gestures on stage are small gestures to the audience. You have to make big gestures to seem normal so you have to go really big to be a spectacle. And you want to be a spectacle, whether it’s the kookiness of Conniving Cadavers or the mysterious intensity of Electric Revival you have to be larger than life.
And here’s the tough caveat: you have to do while seeming totally natural. Tony flops around like sugar high toddler on stage with Cadavers but it’s an extension of his real personality so it works. It’s not about just be yourself it’s about just being the biggest possible version of yourself. So rehearse your big powerful gestures until they don’t seem rehearsed.
Banter. This is the toughest one to breakdown because a lot of different types of banter are great and really the difference between good and bad banter is just delivery.
One thing that will always be true is slow down. You want to spit it all out, leave no pauses that feel awkward, and get back to the music but trust me speaking slowly and confidently will pull people in. If you mumble or rush it’s exactly the same as talking to any group, if you act like it’s not important then we will happily ignore you.
Never be apologetic and never be insincerely grateful. Don’t say thanks for coming out on a Thursday when you mean holy fuck there’s like no one here. We can tell.
Don’t bother thanking the other bands unless you actually like them. We can tell.
Don’t tell us to stay tuned for the next band, we’ve already decided if we’re staying or not.
Don’t try to be a stand up comedian (unless you are a stand up comedian I am trying to make this more universal.) What I mean is don’t set up bits that involve asking rhetorical questions and don’t say anything subtle or clever expecting a response you won’t get it. You’ll seem desperate if you wait for it.
If you’re going to make fun of an audience member make sure to do it only once, unless they actually are being a piece of shit. If you’re going to get a laugh at someone’s expense give them a shout out later it’ll keep the room feeling balanced. I learned that from a stand up comedian.
One more thing on comedians (and remember if you’re in a band you’re not a comedian don’t be a tit) you should always say what people are thinking. Point out things the audience is perceiving, if something is happening and the audience is whispering about it and you don’t say anything you’ve just created a barrier. I shouldn’t have to say that’s bad.
Eyes. This one’s easy. Make a lot of eye contact with audience members, make eye contact with your band mates if you’re in a band. And occasionally look up toward the back of the room like you’re deep and majestic and shit.
One last thing that’s tough to categorize. If there’s some either silly or serious that you do at every practice do it on stage. It’ll put you in a good head space and it’ll the audience will pick up the tradition and start to look forward to it. Hence the power stance and the wind mills during specific songs in the Greystone set.
Also, look up what a trashcan ending is and do it the exact right amount.
So as always I’m not an expert this is just based on my opinion and experience so sound off and tell me what you don’t like people doing on stage, who famous or local you think are heroic examples.