You can already picture it. Stepping onto the stage and looking out into the audience, you dream of seeing hundreds—no—thousands of faces staring back at you, screaming with excitement as you take the stage, singing every word back to you. An audience that feels the same way about your music as you feel about your favorite band’s music.
It’s the dream.
And honestly, it’s well within your reach.
But there are a few things you need to line up first, and among the most important is to have a live show that has people wanting to come back for more every single time. How do you do that?
Build up the hype—before and after the show
Most people need to see the same thing an average of 7 times before it really sticks—before they truly take notice. That’s why we’re often inundated with the same ads over and over again, because advertisers know this. And it works.
Your business (that’s your music career)—and the way you promote things is no different. You need to remind your audience of what’s coming up, as well as what they’re missing if they choose not to take that step. And you need to do this over and over again. Just be sure you’re doing it in a way that actually builds hype instead of spams.
For instance, I don’t want you to post the same show flyer and write “come to our show” 10 different times. That’s not getting anyone to your show. Instead, I want you to find creative ways to get the word out.
Before a show this looks like:
- Stories where you casually mention the show coming up as a part of something else you’re talking about “IE: today we got pizza and went to the party store to get some awesome supplies for our show on Saturday.” then you show the supplies, mess around with it for a bit, have fun, and move on. You make it part of the conversation, not the focus.
- Ask other bands (preferably those on the bill) to do a post or a story talking about what they are most looking forward to this weekend—have them include mention of the show. Again, part of the conversation, not the focus.
- Do a post asking fans to submit or vote on what song you should play at the show—then re-share, add your thoughts/text/etc
For hype after the show:
Ask your fans to take photos and/or videos of you performing, share it to social media and tag you, and then after the show, share it to your own social media.
Even if you have a small audience and only a few people do this (or you ask your merch person or friend to do it the first few times) it’s a great way to build anticipation for the next show and show people what they’re missing.
Let your personality shine
Listen, I have all the respect in the world for artists getting on stage and baring their soul to the world in front of others. It’s not easy. But if you’re going to do it, then do it. Don’t get up there and half commit by singing your songs but remaining stiff as a board, or not talking, or being afraid to show any ounce of personality. That makes for a boring and unremarkable show.
I know it can feel scary on stage and off to truly let your personality shine, but think of all your favorite bands, the ones whose live shows you never miss—are they going through the motions, trying not to stand out or are they baring it all up there, with a like-it-or-not attitude? Which one is more memorable?
Get your audience involved
I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been to where there’s no audience involvement and it is a huge missed opportunity. I get that it can feel a little awkward and you don’t know what to say, plus you don’t want to come off gimmicky, but trust me on this one—audience interaction is a must.
I don’t mean to point at someone and say “hey, you aren’t dancing!” and I don’t even mean doing something as overdone as “how we doing tonight Wisconsin?!” but you have to have a dialogue with your audience if you want to keep them paying attention and engaged.
A few ways to do this are:
- Ask them to shout out the answer to a super simple question they can ask without thinking. IE: “where can we get a great slice of pizza around here?” or “Jonny and I were just debating this and you can see I have on stripes and he has on polka dots—which one is better?”
The idea is to get them involved, shake things up and break up the night, and build a repertoire. Especially if they’re new to your music, breaking up these songs they don’t know with a little banter, can really help them stay engaged.
- Ask them to clap along. I know it seems a little gimmicky but it WORKS.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You know how you practice your instrument? Well you also have to practice your performance as a band. When you get together for rehearsals, especially before a show, don’t just run through the motions to make sure you know the song. Spend time talking about how you can make this a better live experience for your fans. If you want to have parts where you talk to the audience (like above) then figure out where in the show you’ll do that, and add them to your practice routine.
If you want there to be some synergy and interaction between you and the other band members (which I think there should be, because when the audience feels like the band actually likes each other and is having fun, they have more fun), then practice that as well until it feels more natural.
You can’t expect these things you’ve never done before to just come naturally in the middle of a show, you have to practice them for a little while until you get more comfortable and can improvise. But for now, it really is ok to practice and learn as you go,
Play every show like you’re at Madison Square Garden
The golden rule. Whether you’re playing to 5 people or 500, you should be performing like you’re playing your dream venue every single time. Not only because the people there came out and paid to see you and you owe it to them to give it your all, but because you never know who’s watching, and on top of that, you can do with all the practice you can get.
The bands who have seen massive success didn’t get that way because they phoned it in on performances they deemed unworthy of their best energy—they got that way because they gave it their all every single time, no matter what, and they knew that would only make them and their live show better.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.