How Bad Stage Banter Can Kill Your Set

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.

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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.

TylerHow Bad Stage Banter Can Kill Your Set


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  • Justin - March 28, 2018 reply

    I’ve never heard anyone address the stage banter issue, but I bet every musician can relate to what you wrote. Great insight and advice.

  • Tom Inglis - March 28, 2018 reply

    I was playing a private gig once and made a political joke that had gone over great with the rest of the band at rehearsal earlier that week. Unfortunately, I didn’t know we were the featured entertainment at a political fund-raiser for the same party that the butt of my humor belonged to. The room went completely silent. I’ve never made a political joke at a gig again.

    Don - March 29, 2018 reply

    That’s funny now, though I’m sure you didn’t feel that way at the time.

    2 things you never discuss with “strangers” – politics and religion.

  • David Slubowski - March 28, 2018 reply

    I agree with this principal. We need to take an unbiased look at ourselves as an outsider, so to speak. What we believe to be cool or worthy of words can be just a lot of blah-blah that others tune out. I myself don’t mind hearing a little bit if essential, but that’s it. After that, my mind wants to fast forward their talk to the song.

  • Dexter - March 29, 2018 reply

    Great advise. All the topics were spot on.. Sometimes when we hear from others what we are thinking, it positions us to take our own thoughts serious… I will read this over and over while practicing my set with my band.. I definately don’t want get myself into trouble onstage. I’m already shy as is… dexter

  • Chad - March 29, 2018 reply

    lol! Yeah, politics is risky business! When my band started out, I used to banter about social issues (sorta like a rebel fightin’ the system) but I’d keep it pretty shallow because I was trying to exhibit a particular persona – not isolate crowd members. Nowadays I won’t even try. It’s so easy to accidentally walk into a heated topic when you’re blabbing at the mouth.

  • John - March 30, 2018 reply

    I’ve never heard stage banter that added anything to a show. I hate it when the singer for my band tries to do it. I’d prefer everyone just stfu and play. Most touring bands just play music, local bands should do it too.

  • Mike Moxcey - April 4, 2018 reply

    I think you need to decide if you’re good at it or not first. Just like your music. You can do country or folk, not rock or pop, so that’s what you do. If you can tell jokes, start a sideline as a comedian.

    OTOH, especially for soloists, talking _to_ the audience is a very good thing and a skill that should be practiced at open mics and sets: “How y’all doing.” “Thank you, you’re a wonderful audience.” “Don’t you just love this place?” “Don’t forget to tip.”

    If you can’t talk to your audience, at least try to act like you appreciate them. Smile. Bow. Wave. Wink

  • Bruce - April 10, 2018 reply

    It was interesting that you did not mention my pet peeve: on-stage off-mic discussions about the EQ, the monitors, etc etc. Nothing kills rapport with the audience quicker than letting them know you don’t mind if they lose interest because the band is too busy discussing technical matters, or adjustments to the set list. Once the set begins, NO off-mic discussions until the break. Maybe this is too obvious, but sure would help me to alert band mates to it.

  • Bassthrillers - May 3, 2018 reply

    Some good advice which also valid to social media pages and websites!

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