It’s one thing to be a talented musician. It’s much more difficult to play well and engage an audience during a live performance. But if you want to be successful, you must learn how to master the latter skill.
4 Tips for Better Audience Engagement
Every musician has, at one point or another, caught themselves daydreaming about walking out to a frenzied crowd and playing a high energy set where the audience hangs on to every note and sings along to each word of the lyrics. There’s a sense of euphoria that comes from imagining yourself in front of adoring fans. It’s the thing that keeps washed up musical acts coming back for more, even when they should really hang it up. It’s also what drives amateur artists and bands to get better.
Unfortunately, very few musicians – professional or otherwise – can truly engage an audience during a live performance. Their music may be good, but they just can’t bring the sort of onstage charisma that’s needed to keep people locked in.
While your musical skills obviously play an integral role in your success, it’s the intangible factors that make the biggest difference. Understanding this, here are some of the secrets to better crowd engagement:
1.- Be Flexible With Your Set List
One of the biggest mistakes amateur or inexperienced musicians make is developing a rigid set list and sticking with it no matter what. While it’s nice to have a set list for guidance, you need to be willing to make changes as you go.
The Grooves, one of Houston’s leading wedding bands, is a great example. They typically meet with the bride and groom prior to the reception and figure out what sort of music they want played. Then, once the evening gets going, they start to adjust the set list based on the crowd’s response and requests. Because they can play everything from jazz to rock n’ roll, they have no problem getting people on their feet.
As a rule of thumb, start with the most popular music you play. This hooks people in and ensures a positive first impression. Then once you’ve established some trust, play around with some lesser-known stuff. Entertain, then educate.
2.- Use Mirroring
“When you arrive onstage at a gig, it’s vital to realize that the crowd wants to like you. Providing them with physical cues to express their support is the ideal way to break the ice – all it takes is a little physical mirroring,” says P. Barney Barnes, an expert in the music business.
Mirroring is what happens when a musician walks out on stage and lifts his hands above his head and starts clapping towards the crowd. The natural inclination for people in the audience is to clap back. As you gesture, so will the crowd. Keep this in mind and use mirroring to drum up engagement.
3.- Make Eye Contact
Nothing screams “nervous” more than a musician who refuses to look at the audience. If you want your audience to be relaxed, you need to interact with them. This means taking the time to make eye contact with individuals in the crowd. Depending on the size of the audience and the setting, you may even interact with individuals during or between songs.
4.- Master the Transition
“An audience is attracted to a performance that feels natural, and creating that vibe is established as much between songs as it is during the music in the set,” Barnes advises.
If you want your performance to be smooth, you need to master the transition between songs. Try writing down a few bullet points on your set list so that you always have something to say.
Make the Crowd Go Wild
Engaging a crowd in such a way that they leave their inhibitions behind, sing along, and enjoy themselves for 30 to 90 minutes at a time isn’t easy. Musicians have spent decades trying to get it right, yet only a small fraction of people have prevailed. By taking the advice outlined in this article and applying it in a manner that’s conducive to your musical style and onstage presence, you can be the exception to the rule.