Songwriters, how to prepare for playing liveBy Don • Category: Live Music, Songwriting Advice, Songwriting Articles
To do your songs justice when playing in front of a new audience, you owe it to yourself to work on some of your stage mannerisms. Even a great song can end up sounding rather mediocre if the groundwork isn’t laid for the audience to be receptive to your songs.
Here are a few tips to help budding songwriters make a lasting impression at any gig or open mic:
Practice through a PA
This is a great way to get used to dealing with a mic. Some people are great at playing their songs while sitting on the edge of their bed or at their kitchen table. But it’s a different story when getting out there and standing up and performing in front of a mic. So setup a PA and practice. If you have a buddy with a PA system, ask if you can come over one night and practice in front of it.
Still no access to a PA? Then at least setup a mic stand with a mic – even if it’s unplugged – and play your songs. You’ll find yourself much more comfortable when you get to your gig.
Practice song intros out loud.
Do you like to share a little background on your songs? If so practice speaking into a microphone in front of an imaginary audience. You’ll find the stories come out sounding much more natural when you actually play in front of people.
Practice “thank you’s” out loud.
Many beginning performers have a tough time acknowledging the applause at the end of a song. Some just look at the ground nervously, while others say the same words at the end of each song: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Instead, come up with some great little one-liners. Have a few prepared for the times when there aren’t a lot of people at the venue and three people clap. Say something like, “Thanks mom for clapping!” It’s a humorous way to let people know that “Hey, somebody IS playing up here!”
Practice any jokes or stories out loud.
Similar to the last two points, practicing any dialogue out loud is always a good thing. Get some funny stories, make up some funny shit about your song. I have a song called “Simple” and for the last couple of months I have said it is a response to Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”. It gets some laughs. Then I elaborate on how her and I got into a big fight and we aren’t dating anymore. Corny? Yes. But it gets some laughs and puts people at ease (including myself).
Additionally, I always find that funny stories or jokes work really well right before I play a serious or earnest song. It helps people to listen. They don’t just think you are a depressing tortured songwriter – which can be a put-off for some people who want to have some beers and relax and have fun.
While practicing, do not stop when you make mistakes. Keep playing and learn how to gloss over or move on from mistakes in live play.
This is very important. Nothing screams amateur more than stopping and starting a song several times. Also learn to laugh about it and make jokes. On one of my songs it has a tricky ending and if I didn’t practice it enough (or have had one too many beers) I screw it up. It’s the ENDING too. So it sticks with people. Sometimes if I screw up I just laugh and say something like, “Anyways, it goes something like that.”
Everybody does dry runs in front of an imaginary audience, from top tier musicians to comedians to presidents of free nations.
You owe it to your songs – your BABIES – to deliver them in an appealing way as possible.
How do YOU prepare for live performances?