Hecklers are something usually associated with comedians, but they’re something musicians have to deal with every now and then too. In the comedy world, obnoxious audience members are something most of us view that’s inextricably linked to the artform. When comedians develop their unique voice and start performing in public, their ability to handle problematic members of the audience grows with them. But because heckling in music is much less common, it can lead to bruising experiences for musicians.
What’s behind heckling?
Whether it’s a person who’s had too much to drink, or an entitled fan who believes shouting personal thoughts up at the stage is an appropriate thing to do, the ugly face of heckling might be a regular fixture at your concerts depending on what kind of music you make and how established you are. Major artists undoubtedly get heckled more than smaller ones, but they also enjoy the innate protection of playing massive venues where insults, complaints, and frustrating comments can’t be heard. Being heckled at a small venue can be tough because there’s no way to avoid hearing rude voices from the crowd.
No matter how popular your music is, you run the risk of getting heckled every time you perform publicly. But it’s important to remember that while some audience members acting up do so in response to the music being played, lots of people heckle for reasons that have nothing do with music. Some give bands a hard time because they’re jealous, angry, or some toxic combination. Others shout things up at stage because they lack certain social etiquette.
Tactics for dealing with hecklers
The vast majority of the time, ignoring hecklers is your best bet. People obnoxious enough to yell things up at the stage are usually attention-seekers, so usually the best course of action is to deprive them of what they want. Focus your energy on the parts of the audience who are there to hear and see you play. But, unfortunately, every now and then a heckler comes along that refuses to be ignored. It should go without saying, but if someone is throwing things at you or doing anything else to compromise your safety on stage, stop playing and ask the venue staff for help. No show is worth experiencing physical abuse over. If someone is being disrespectful but not dangerous, you can always ask the crowd to help you deal with heckling if you feel like they’re on your side. However, this tactic is tricky because directing everyone’s attention a heckler’s way might be exactly what they want. Like all the other elements of live shows, every heckling situation is different, so feel each one out accordingly.
It’s unfortunate that being a musician leaves you open for all sorts of criticism, but it’s unavoidable. The more focus and passion you can bring to your work on and off the stage, the better you’ll be able to deal with obnoxious people.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.