Knowing how to best present yourself on stage can be a tricky endeavor. For some artists, being funny and personable plays really well on stage, but other artists are better off shutting their mouths and letting their music speak for themselves. Stage banter isn’t something that can be practiced like music, but it does have the potential to ruin your set if it’s done the wrong way. Here’s how:
When things get negative
Negative stage banter has killed more than a few otherwise good sets. This is tricky because musicians are expected to be honest, transparent, and genuine on stage, and negativity is a real emotion. But in the larger context of a performance, complaining or saying anything critical, mean, or overly self-deprecating tends to bum out an audience. Yes, when you perform, you are showcasing you and your personality a bit on stage, but when it comes down to it, all anyone really cares about is your music. If your stage banter ever veers off into negative territory, make sure you correct course quick.
When you tell the same stories over and over again
In the habit of busting out the same story at the same point in your set night after night on tour? Well, you might not know it, but sometimes your audiences can tell. How? Well, chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a musician and not an actor. And while both acting and music are artforms built on the idea of performing, being experienced in music doesn’t make you an actor. Audiences want authenticity, and repeating the same story every show throughout a tour might come off as fake or forced. Remember, sometimes not saying anything at all on stage is better than talking when it doesn’t feel natural.
When you’re bad at public speaking
Many incredible musicians feel confident and in control on stage right up until the music stops. If this sounds like you, then you might just not be cut out to master the art of witty stage banter, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The answer here is to either let someone else in your band do the talking or to skip it altogether if you’re playing solo.
When it doesn’t add anything to the set
When it comes to talking between songs, a good thing to ask is if your banter is adding anything to the show experience. A well-told story or joke or an honest dialogue with the audience can help solidify your relationship with listeners, but if the things you say on stage don’t really add anything, then it’s probably best to keep the talking to an absolute minimum. I remember a 2003 Radiohead set in Seattle where all Thom Yorke said was, “Thanks. This is our last show of the tour. We haven’t seen our families in months,” right before the last song of the set. The show was incredible, and to me, it had the perfect amount of stage banter.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.