Artist Development mic on stage

Published on September 12th, 2013 | by Hugh Hession


What it takes to win over your audience, Pt 3

This is part 3 of 3 series on winning over your audience. This series brings to light the typical mindset of a band when dealing with a difficult or a non-responsive audience and offers time-tested tips on how to overcome performance obstacles with your audience whether you’re playing in a new city or just dealing with a general snag at one of your shows. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

In part 3 of this series, we are going to suggest some actual tips that can help you turn a less-than-inspiring performance into a show that everyone attending will actually remember the next day.

One thing you need to understand is that the music is just a part of what makes a great show. I’ve witnessed bands nail their songs on stage, but they were boring to watch. As a result, my attention span diminished. The number one debilitating belief of a musician is that it’s all about the music and nothing else matters. NOTHING could be further from the truth. This is why major music artists hire performance coaches to teach them these necessary skills. Folks, a live performance is not only a listening experience, but more importantly, a VISUAL experience! You may as well ask your audience to just put a blindfold on if you’re not willing to put on a show. Better yet, why not just hand them your CD when they get to the door and then send them on their merry way. The bottom line is, people go see bands for the experience. This is your chance to sell yourself and show people why your band is a “must-see.”

A month or so ago, I interviewed bass legend Rudy Sarzo (Queensryche, Whitesnake, Quiet Riot, Ozzy and Blue Oyster Cult). This was an excerpt from the interview on the importance of putting on a memorable show.

“I’ve been to shows in my early years where I was bored! I’m like, man I could have just stayed home and listened to a freakin’ record instead of going through all the expense and trouble of being here…I got better things to do. Or, I’ve been to a show that just blew me away and inspired me to be a better musician and as a fan, I’m like, I love these guys, I love what they’re doing. To me, I’ve never forgotten that and I’ve never lost that. You know, that’s what I take on stage with me, every single night. And then I get off stage and I’m all about the next show. I do an inventory of how I did on the last show and look for ways to improve the following show.”

Remember, it’s not just a show, it’s an experience!

1. Tear down the wall

It’s time to stop playing as if there is a wall between you and your audience. This is your chance to shine. I hear so many artists complain about how no one pays attention. l agree that some venues are not band friendly (which leads me to the question as to why you are playing there in the first place), however if your audience isn’t paying attention, then you are obviously not giving them something to pay attention to! Tear down that wall and join the party!

2. Develop eye contact

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “the eyes of men converse as much as their tongues.” Or was that Gene Simmons? Anyway, lack of eye contact tells someone that they aren’t important and it shows that you aren’t interested. It can also convey a lack of confidence. If you have a problem breaking down that proverbial wall, the first thing you need to do, is engage your audience through eye contact. Don’t stare them down. That will have the opposite effect. Trust me when I say, that eye contact alone has powerful results. if you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.

An eye can threaten like a loaded gun; or can insult like a hissing and kicking; or in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, make the heart dance with joy. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

3. Get rid of the predictable set list

Stacking your songs one after the other and merely announcing each song before you play them gets boring quickly. Start thinking in ways you can visually enhance your show and create something more interesting. Maybe you can take a cover song that is in the same key as an original and blend them together. How about changing it up and putting down the electric and picking up the acoustic for a crowd sing along? Get interesting. Interesting sells.

4. Be ready to change up on the fly

Always be ready to change up your set if it’s not working. You can’t have a “one size fit’s all” mentality. If you’re playing a show to an audience that has no clue who you are, what sense does it make to play all original songs? Even bands like Imagine Dragons had a 50/50 split between covers and originals before they were signed. It just makes sense. Use your cover songs to draw your audience in. Then, you can capture them with your originals. Trust me. They’ll be much more receptive.

5. Bring something from left field

I used to work with a hard rock band that fit into the category of Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. What blew my mind about these guys was their song list. Here they are playing some tremendous original material, and then bang, they throw in a rock version of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep. They actually started the song with the chorus – three-part harmony acapella.  It rocked and the crowd went NUTS. The Sexual Side Effects have what they call a rock-n-roll circus, where they team up with The Imperial Opa Circus and Syrens of the South burlesque troop. It’s different, but memorable. Great examples of stuff that will get you noticed.

6. Implement stage positioning to engage your audience

What is stage positioning you say? It has to do with how and when you move to various parts of the stage. For example, if you’re a guitarist and are about to play a solo, don’t hang out in the back. This is your moment! Move towards the front of the stage and take your rightful spot. This shows people that you are playing a solo and engages them into the process. Everyone else should be hanging back and let you do your thing. Another effective positioning move is to play off other band members. Venture over to their side of the stage and jam together. The Eagles were a huge example of this. Joe Walsh and Don Felder used to try and outplay each other constantly. It’s why their performances were so exceptional, particularly on songs like Hotel California. Every band member should be utilizing effective stage positioning – not just the lead singer!

7. The lead singer is the ringmaster

Everything evolves around the lead singer. They are the emcee for the night. Singers, you need to understand that your position automatically places you into a leadership role. There is no getting around it. You control the vibe of the show with both your bandmates and your audience. Someone needs to call the shots and when you’re on stage, there is no time for a democracy!

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About the Author

owns and operates Emerging Artists Entertainment Marketing & Consulting, LLC - a company devoted to cultivating aspiring music artists, He is also the head of Hession Entertainment Group, LLC (artist management) and the Music Industry Liaison for the artist discovery site, TalentWatch ( He has over 25 years experience in the music business as a performer, composer, producer and artist manager. Hugh holds a BA in Marketing and is a professional member of NARIP and a voting member of The Recording Academy. He often speaks at seminars and workshops on artist development.

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