Don’t Talk About These 3 Things On Stage

Making great music often requires uninhibited self expression. As musicians, we create some of our best work by removing filters on our thoughts and actions. If we come up with ideas that don’t fit the larger context of our work, we easily discard them later. But when it comes to the things we talk about on stage, that same unchecked expressiveness many of us use to write, record, and produce music could end up alienating our audiences and potentially damaging our careers in more serious ways. If you’re new to performing live, here are a few things you should avoid talking about when you’re up on stage:

Making mistakes 

Mistakes are inevitable when it comes to live musical performances, but drawing unneeded attention to your on-stage mishaps is completely avoidable. When you’ve finished performing a song that, in your mind, went horribly, the last thing the audience wants to hear is your excuses and apologies. The average concert-goer doesn’t have the musical training to recognize musical mistakes, especially if your music isn’t widely known. If you or your band makes the glaring sort of mistake that stops a song in its tracks, under certain circumstances it might be in your best interest to briefly explain what happened to the crowd to ease tensions, but then you should move forward with your set as quickly and unapologetically as possible. Listeners want to hear you make great music, not explain yourself when you falter.

Badmouthing the crowd or venue 

Negativity is unbecoming of a band, especially when they’re playing on stage. You might have completely legitimate gripes against the audience, venue, or even your bandmates in some cases, but taking time out of your set to bring up your complaints to the audience won’t bode well for you as a musician. When you talk badly about a venue, for example, they’ll be much less likely to have you back in the future, and they could even tell other venues not to work with your band. And bad mouthing the crowd is always a terrible idea. There’s no situation where insulting or criticizing the people you’re trying to connect with through music will work out well for you and your career. Every time you perform publicly, you run the risk of putting work out there that people don’t like. Lashing out at the crowd will only make things worse if your show already isn’t going well. If, for some reason, the crowd you’re playing for is so disrespectful that it’s not worth it to play, you’re better off wrapping up your set early instead of calling out the audience. 

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Playing the victim

Another bad topic of on-stage discussion is sharing thoughts with the audience that are centered around your band being a victim in some way. That huge record deal that fell through, why you’re being unfairly overlooked by blogs, playlists, and radio, etc. This and many other subjects seem to be focused inward, which doesn’t benefit the audience. Make your listeners your complete focus during your performances, and avoiding these topics while playing live will come naturally. 

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.

AgniDon’t Talk About These 3 Things On Stage


Join the conversation
  • Fred Carpenter - February 26, 2020 reply

    “This and many other subjects seem to be focused inward, which doesn’t benefit the audience.”

    Yeah, Dale Carnegie had it right when he essentially stated that humans are narcissistic and not necessarily all that bright. It’s why I stopped playing… I could never figure out whether to play my guitar for people or bash them over the head with it. My guess is that if Kurt Cobain has his druthers, he would have avoided the music business altogether. He simply went from one form of hell (his childhood) into another. Shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the guy wasn’t happy.

    Misstery - March 1, 2020 reply

    Well said.
    “Play my guitar or bash them with it”

  • Dan - February 26, 2020 reply

    Excellent advise. Customers….. especially paying ones, don’t want to hear about your problems… they want to forget about their own…. negativity, in any form is a No No….

  • Richie - February 26, 2020 reply

    Hey, Patrick, another great advice column. I’d like to hear your thoughts on developing stage presence. Sometimes it gets awkward for some of us between songs. Thanks.

    Misstery - March 1, 2020 reply

    As the singer, in between songs I always have banter (memorized)

  • Michael - February 26, 2020 reply

    Great advice. I’ve heard all three mentioned at one show or another. Ya gotta bring the crowd up, not down. Although Debbie Downer might get a laugh or two….wha, wha, wha…

  • Charles Edward Dyson - February 26, 2020 reply

    Do people actually do this on the regular? I have been to alot if shows and I recall a few where the band said the song was terribly performed and moved on. One bigger band that did this was in flames. But hey they did a really great show anyway.

    Steve - March 2, 2020 reply

    I remember seeing the Beach Boys in concert during the early 70s. They were trying to do some new music but the crowd wasn’t buying it. One of them, can’t remember which one, started insulting the audience and chastizing them for not loving their new music. The crowd started booing and things got even worse until the finally gave in and did “Help Me Rhonda” and then the rest of their hits. The crowd responded and things were fine thereafter.

  • musician - February 26, 2020 reply

    4. Don’t talk politics – ever. It’s divisive, especially these days, and you may lose the interest of half your audience.

    Bob - March 1, 2020 reply

    Please tell that to James McMurtry! I thoroughly enjoyed his songs and he was at the top of my list until he started bad mouthing on FaceBook his fans whom he felt voted incorrectly. Now his music to me is tainted. I listen much less to his stuff and as a songwriter with minor recognition myself I seek out writers of great tunes and that is no easy feat.

  • Steve - February 27, 2020 reply

    I was curious to see what the three items were that you should never discuss. And you’re correct; these are good ones.

    But two things I want to take you to task for, regarding this sentence: “Mistakes are inevitable when it comes to live musical performances, but drawing unneeded attention to your on-stage mishaps is completely unavoidable.”

    First, mistakes are not inevitable in live performance. The best way to prevent them is to practice a lot, rehearse, and rehearse some more.

    Second, drawing unneeded attention to your mistakes is not completely UNavoidable, but is completely avoidable, by I just not doing it.

    Otherwise, very good article, and advise that a lot of new performers and even some seasoned ones, need to apply.


  • jenny darling - February 27, 2020 reply

    i disagree with the point of badmouthing the audience – sometimes it can work and has been employed by bands such as the new york dolls , the stooges . macc lads and sex pistols to name a few – whether it works or not is down to the front person.

  • Martin Edwards - February 27, 2020 reply

    No amount of practice will totally eliminate mistakes, (multiply that by the number of band members)! But I found out that audiences are more forgiving of them than performers. I have also been part of an audience where the lead singer has ranted on about crowd numbers, quite forgetting we were the people who did turn up! Hah! What huge record deal 😂

  • Quin Quinlan - February 27, 2020 reply

    I would put a fourth thing up here: Don’t talk politics. Dolly Parton just talked about this very thing. When asked why she has never publicly taken a political stance, she replied: “Why piss off half my fans?” She’s one smart cookie.

    Johnny Gerosimo - March 11, 2021 reply

    Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joan Baez, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Eminem, Pussy Riot, etc. – there’s a reason why it’s not up there, I’d rather listen to all of them over Dolly – Have the courage to be hated, be yourself and people will ultimately appreciate your honesty. You’d be surprised how many fans will replace those that you “piss off” at your shows.

    – stay safe y’aLL

    …just us here…

  • Paul Mex - February 27, 2020 reply

    Interesting article… certainly two out of the three points highlighted, which shouldn’t be conducted on stage, were undertaken by the Sex Pistols back in the day. If anything, these antics bolstered their career, as opposed to holding them back.
    Perhaps things have changed drastically nowadays, or maybe the general outlook is too overtly careerist and corporate minded, whereby sometimes mistakes not only add to the fun of proceedings, but can sometimes, inadvertently advance an artists progression.

  • J shadda - February 27, 2020 reply

    In my beginning stages of performing I had to learn this but mistakes will happen but the best thing to do is practice practice and also recording yourself and your band while practicing also really helps look over the videos and see what can be improved on, taking out, or even added

  • anthony - February 27, 2020 reply

    Politics should also have been included. Stating your for or against a political party or someone from a particular party might piss off half of your audience and make them hate you. Example of how don’t to behave: Ted Nugent

    anthony - February 27, 2020 reply

    Meant to say: Example of how NOT to behave:

  • Gerg - February 27, 2020 reply

    It’s true, it can cause an effect on the estranged crowd, but they were estranged to begin with!

  • Ed Bone - February 27, 2020 reply

    Number 1 rule in live performing is DON’T STOP!!!!

    Johnny - May 26, 2020 reply

    THANK YOU!. after 20+yrs playing with a million different musicians. It never fails to amaze. To this day I see people stopping in the middle of a song. It not only zaps the energy you have worked so hard to create. It also can make things uncomfortable for your band members. For me personally, I feel like I have to worry about u missing a note (which I do A LOT) but just killing the energy. I thought they taught this in day 1.
    Sorry for the rant. I just wondered onto this site. And I love it. Great response by the way

  • Joyce Lindsay - February 27, 2020 reply

    I agree with you, never stop, just keep on going to the end of the song.

  • C.L. Smith - February 27, 2020 reply

    Common sense advise, but very important for bands and solo artist to remember.

  • Lilly - February 27, 2020 reply

    Must have been a typo, no doubt. I read and understood ‘avoidable’ anyway ;o)

  • Carol Dorn - February 27, 2020 reply

    Why be negative. We do what we love. We smile and sing our hearts out. Have fun and get it done.
    then with a big smile I thank the band members and the audience . We walk away with our heads held high.

  • Chris Lingsch - February 27, 2020 reply

    Here’s another thing not to talk about on stage.
    I book bands and small solo or duo acts for a Tavern I own. Not often but I have had a few acts show up very late, one just last night I literally told them to leave since they didn’t even call or message anyone to let us know they would walk in 20 mins after their scheduled start time and then expect to set up. In the past I had one duo who’s guitarist showed up 15 mins later than the start time. He had an excuse of bad weather which we did have that night and everyone is entitled to a pass once in a while. But during their set later on they began making cute little jokes about excuses for being late as if this was somehow amusing to them. What some players fail to realize is that by not being professional in this way you not only hurt yourselves by potentially not being invited back, but you also hurt the venue. Patrons can be impatient and if they came for music that is running later than advertised many will simply go home or go somewhere else. Venues lose money and if you are the root of the problem they will also lose you faster than a burning match. Word can travel fast in a music community and it can lead to your group or you being sort of blacklisted as, let’s be honest, an asshole who’s hard to work with. As a musician myself I’ve always tried to be accommodating to the venues I have played in even the ones who are run by a miserable proprietor because THEY HIRED ME. They are your employer for the night. You either cost them money or make them money preferably the latter. They are not doing you a favor because they really dig your music, you are super cool or you have groovy hair. You are in no way entitled to let your arrogance or immaturity(making a joke of irresponsibility like lateness or taking long breaks,etc) effect your future professional relationship. You’re not Van Halen with the green M&M story and you’re not Axl Rose quite yet so blowing off responsibility(showing up high or drunk or late or not at all) isn’t a good trait to let forge your group’s reputation especially when there is a large pool of other great acts who are chomping at the bit to get work from venues and who look at it as not only something they love, but a job they love. You might be amazing, the next Hendrix but no one cares if you are unemployable.

  • Dennis Erickson - February 28, 2020 reply

    Well yeah but, what if you have to live in a tent on a one-way street because the guitar player played like a B-flat instead of a B and the record producer in the audience, like, winced and like killed your potential deal and so you called him out on stage because the audience should know why I’m a loser. Peace.

    Johnny - May 26, 2020 reply

    HU?🤔 LMAO HOPE that was hypothetical

  • Diana Lynn Howard - February 29, 2020 reply

    I myself say very little, because talking will just rob me of time when I could be singing an extra song!

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