Playing your heart out in front of an uninterested crowd is an awkward, nightmarish situation that most musicians have experienced at least a of couple times during their careers. The unwritten deal that many artists think they’re agreeing to when they perform is that if they play well, the crowd will thank them for it with their attention and an enthusiastic response. But like lots of music out there, every performance situation is complicated. Here are some tips on how to play your best in front of an unresponsive crowd:
Don’t play like you’re taking it personally
Not taking it personally when you’re playing in front of people who could care less about what you’re doing isn’t possible for most musicians to do. After all, you’ve spent countless hours and a massive financial investment to get to the point where you’re playing shows, and it can feel like a slap in the face when a crowd isn’t respectful of your art and sacrifice. But rather than letting it get to you, it’s a much better option to play the best that you possibly can despite the lack of energy you’re getting from the crowd. In a way, playing angrily, badly, or insecurely just proves to the crowd that they’re right about you. So give every crowd your best––even if they don’t deserve it.
Don’t assume anything about your audience
It can be easy to make sweeping judgements about your audience from getting a tepid response after playing a few songs, but that tendency could end up hurting you in the end. While you might think you’ve got a crowd figured out by the energy and volume of its response to your songs, the truth is that you really have no idea. Sometimes it’s awkward for listeners at performances to show they’re getting into it because they think it makes them feel vulnerable. More often than not, people like this save their enthusiasm for after the show at the merch booth. Or it’s completely possible that your intuition is right and the crowd didn’t like your band. But rather than figuring out all this on stage mid-performance, play your best, let the cards fall where they may. and assess after you’re done.
Take the good and save the bad for later
Something very hard but absolutely necessary for performers is to make good use of the positive energy a crowd gives you while deflecting any bad vibes while playing. This is an art in itself, and it involves understanding and interpreting your audience’s energy up until the point that it’s bad for your performance. If you can tell a crowd just isn’t into it, that insight is important, but you’ll need to learn to ignore until you’re done playing. When a crowd just isn’t giving you anything back, it means that you have to double down to make up for the deficit. Not at all easy to do, but nothing in music really is.
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.