Tag Archives: music advice

How to Lead the Audience

Excerpted from How to Play Madison Square Garden: A Guide to Stage Performance, (Not More Saxophone Music Inc., 2011) by Mindi Abair, member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Lance Abair, and Ross Cooper.

The first 10 seconds are the most crucial to winning over an audience. How you walk onto the stage is important. It gives the audience an idea of who and what is important. If you walk onto the stage initially looking at the other band members and their equipment, it appears that 1) you think you are more important than the audience or 2) you are ignoring the audience. If you walk onto the stage immediately looking out into the audience to see everyone, you convey the impression that you can’t wait to become friends with everyone. This immediately gives the audience a feeling of importance, and ultimately causes them to like you from the very beginning.

The best way to prepare for walking onto the stage is to have all of your equipment, microphones, guitars, drumsticks, etc. ready so that you can pick them up and/or put them on without even thinking about it. This enables you to be free to check out the audience from the first step you take on stage, and this starts the show off in the most personal and effective way possible. You’re confident, ready to give as a performer, and this is your time. Look them straight in the eyes, and then rock them!

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

Walk on stage as if you own it and you belong there. Exude confidence and success. Don’t confuse the terms confidence and success with cockiness. Cocky people are generally not well liked. On the other hand, people don’t want to follow someone who appears to be unsure of themselves or worse, a loser. They will follow a winner anywhere. A great smile will do wonders. It imparts the feeling that, “I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it a million times before. Come along with me. This is going to be great!”

Be You

One of the difficulties in explaining the best way to meet the audience is that performance styles can be so wildly different. For example, the high energy rock group KISS comes out blasting and uses a lot of intricate lighting and pyrotechnics. On the other end of the spectrum, jazz singer Norah Jones comes out performing a more low-key, sensitive marriage of music and lyrics. These two approaches are completely different, but they are completely correct for each act. The higher-power rock group needs to establish themselves as such. The warm and smooth singer-songwriter needs to likewise establish the environment and level of intimacy that facilitates the best possible presentation of his or her material.

The important thing to consider is how you and your group intend to meet the audience. Do your best to make a statement regarding who you are. Establish your character very early, and you will be able to take the audience on a journey from there.

Many years ago a famous R&B singer-songwriter, who had a number one hit song on the Billboard charts, was performing a live concert. After the house lights were dimmed and the singer took the stage, the audience went wild. They were anxious to hear some of the most brilliantly executed R&B music of the day. Instead of playing R&B, this artist started playing old standard songs, as if he were the piano player in a nightclub lounge. The crowd was forgiving, however, they were a bit disappointed. The expectation that a certain character would emerge from the stage at the outset didn’t happen. Once again, establish your true character early so you can move to take the crowd on a journey. Don’t start off on a tangent. You can journey toward this, but a tangent should never start or end a show.

After you have played your opening musical segment, the audience will applaud. Respond to the audience’s applause by thanking them and by making a statement that will help to establish the tone of the show for the night.

You Control the Show

Control of the show is a simple concept that can either make you or break you. Part of any successful relationship is knowing who’s in charge. You are in charge. There are no exceptions to this hard and fast rule. You should be in control of a number of things, including the overall feel of the show, the content, the amount and quality of interaction with the audience, and even the pacing of the show. You should always go in with these things in mind. Even though it is the audience who is buying the tickets, you should realize that they are paying you to be in charge.

Actors are always taught to never break character and to never allow hecklers or interruptive elements of any type to break their concentration and performance. As musical performers, somehow that’s never taught to us! But the concept works for any type of performer. Is there someone in the audience who is yelling out a request for a song continually? Is it distracting people from what you’re doing on stage? Is it distracting you from what you are doing? Move the show along. Don’t lose sight of what you’re on stage to do.

Apply and maintain pressure on the audience. Audience pressure is created when the performer’s actions on stage compel the audience to become interested and involved. The opposite of pressure, “dead air,” where the audience loses interest with what’s happening on stage, should be avoided at all cost.

Huh? You May Already Have Hearing Loss

Following a recent live music event, I interviewed a longtime musician who joked that his years of gigging have made it more difficult to carry on a normal conversation. I patiently repeated my questions, trying to speak in an abnormally loud voice. When I asked if he’d ever considered using musicians’ earplugs the man laughed at the absurdity of such an idea. Unfortunately, hearing loss really is no laughing matter, especially for musicians.

The auditory system is one of the body’s most delicate sensory systems, and when you are frequently exposed to excessive sound levels, the system can be easily damaged. Though many people associate musician hearing loss with rockers (20% of whom have some hearing loss according to one Norwegian Institutt for Klinisk Medisin study), any type of musician is at risk. Often, only when noticeable hearing loss has already occurred, do musicians take the problem seriously.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets guidelines for the maximum time you can safely be exposed to various sound pressures measured in decibels (dB). Below is a table with approximate ranges of safe exposure for various instruments.

Hearing Loss chart


As you can see from the table, the dangers are real and occur with a wide range of instruments and genres of music. Following are some tips to reduce the danger of hearing loss.

  •   Purchase and wear musicians’ earplugs. They are superior to traditional earplugs because they offer “flat” attenuation, while traditional earplugs tend to filter more sound from higher frequencies, resulting in a muffled sound.
  •   As you can see from the table, each instrument has a wide volume range. When possible, practice more softly, or play your electrified instrument “unplugged.”
  •   To reduce your overall exposure to sound, take precautions in your daily life. Avoid any environment where you need to raise your voice to be heard. Wear earplugs or earmuffs when mowing the lawn or operating other loud machinery, and turn down the volume on your television and iPod.
  •   During rehearsals take frequent, 15-minute silence breaks.
  •   When you have a break during your gig, take a moment to step outside and give your ears a rest.
  •   Spread out so you are not being blasted by the musician next to you. Also, move away from on-stage monitors and amplifiers.

For more information on musician hearing loss and additional tips visit House Research Institute at www.hei.org or Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (HEAR) at www.hearnet.com.

last gig go

How Did Your Last Gig Go?

The now defunct Eastern Airlines used to have a slogan: “We’re only as good as your last flight.” Maybe the airline is gone, but that slogan had a lot of truth in it. You’re only as good as your last gig in the mind of the people who heard you the last time you played. Not all gigs live up to your expectations. It could be a club or a private party that doesn’t come off exactly as planned. Maybe there was a crappy venue-provided sound system. Maybe weather, or any number of other circumstances, kept people away, and the attendance was far less than expected. We’ve all played gigs where we can’t wait for the night to be over or played gigs where the booker just wanted “background music,” and  no one pays any attention to you or your band. It’s tough playing for a small crowd in a huge room, particularly when hardly anyone knows you’re there.

We hear all the motivational hype about putting your best foot forward, thinking positively,  and when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, etc. It’s easy to preach these things when you’re on the outside looking in. It’s not that easy if you’re in the middle of a gig that’s the absolute pits.

Some time back, AFM Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio was in town. Now, even though we’re not in a major metro market, there’s a casino, many musical theaters, off-Broadway productions, quite a few concerts, and some decent club work, especially for younger groups. There’s work, if you want to go after it. We got talking about various local musical talent and I wanted him to hear a group at a well-known club, on a night where it was snowing like crazy. Not only that, there was little promo that the band would even be there. Few people showed.

The problem, however, was that one of the people who actually did show was a concert promoter who brings in major acts to one of the local theaters. He had verbally committed to using the band as a warm-up act for a national band where the pay was over scale and the exposure was significant. He was there less than an hour.  The band was on a break for half of that time. No one in the band figured out who he was, and they didn’t know he was coming. When the band did play, it was obvious that the drummer had more than enough to drink. The band simply did not have their hearts in it and they were goofing around more than actually playing their best charts. I was embarrassed for my AFM guest. It got worse. The concert promoter left the club and found another band.

And there lies the moral to this little episode: “You’re only as good as your last gig.” We are musicians. We play live music—we don’t push a button and let recorded music play. We are entertainers, professionals, and musicians who have spent years learning our craft. We want to get paid decent bucks for our talents and skill, and we want our clients to get what they pay for. Actually, more than what they pay for.

Don’t cheat the person who hired you, or the audience in front of you, no matter what the size. Play like your next gig depends on it. Play for the hotel staff; play for whoever is in your audience. Play for yourself. You never know who might be talking about you long after the chairs are piled on the tables and the lights are turned out. It could be an agent, a meeting planner, a club owner, a corporate exec, the manager of the hotel who books groups, someone who’s getting married and looking for a band, a record producer, or maybe just the person who hired you. One dissatisfied person will tell 20 others. Those 20 will tell 100 … and on it goes.

But whether you believe it or not, someone is always listening. Not only that, social media can spread their thoughts in a hurry. You never know if that one person could advance your career or put it into a holding pattern.

If you work a single, a little self-discipline can go a long way. If the room is sparse, make friends with every person in the room. If you’re in a band, don’t let one irritated musician in your group bring down the whole affair, just because it wasn’t what you expected. You’re an AFM member; you are a union musician. You get paid to play to the best of your ability to a crowd of 1,000, 100, or maybe just one. Make it a stellar performance, like your career depended on it. Who knows? Your next gig and your income might depend on it as well.