As a musician, few experiences live up to the rush of performing your own music on the big stage.
Whether you’re preparing to play your very first show at a local venue or you’re looking for ways to perform at a higher level, there are practical steps every musician can take to improve their craft. Here are six tips for performing live music.
1. Take Care of Your Ears
Noise levels that exceed 70 dB for a prolonged period can damage your hearing. The noise levels at most concerts hover around 95 dB or higher.
Beyond hearing much of the sound that comes with the house speakers, the performing musician is also being exposed to the high noise levels that come from the stage monitors—and even in-ear monitoring systems in some cases.
If you enjoy performing live music but also value your sense of hearing, you don’t have to choose between the two.
Rather, invest in a high-quality pair of hearing protection headphones. If you find that headphones are too bulky or infringe on your ability to perform, at least wear a simple pair of earplugs.
2. Make Practice a Priority
You can listen to a track repeatedly and rehearse a song during soundcheck, but nothing is going to prepare you for the nerves, jitters, and adrenaline of a live performance quite like practice time.
There are two types of practice settings you should consistently invest in. The first is personal practice. While it can be challenging to find personal practice time, doing so allows you to focus on your craft without interruptions. It’s recommended that you spend 10 – 15 hours a week practicing your instrument.
The second setting is group rehearsal. Preparing with the people you’ll be performing with will help you develop chemistry and a familiarity with how each member plays. As group rehearsal should be a mock version of the performance itself, be sure to remove any distractions!
3. Craft a Strong Setlist
Failing to properly flesh out the setlist for your performance in advance is a recipe for an awkward evening.
First, determine the time you’ve been allotted for your set. If it’s 30 minutes, you’ll most likely have time for 4 – 5 songs after you factor in talking and transitions. If it’s a full 60-minute set, you might be able to perform closer to 9 or 10 songs.
Next, discuss the flow of the performance. Many bands will make the faster, high-energy songs the bookends of the set, leaving a few moments in the middle for the slower songs in their catalog.
It’s also a good idea to save your strongest song—your “hit”—for last. If you have multiple “hits”, spread them out evenly throughout the set—leaving at least one for the end of your performance.
4. Be Fully Prepared
Live performance requires many different types of instruments and equipment. As you’re preparing for your concert, make sure you have all of the details from the venue on hand.
Are they providing amplifiers or will you need to bring your own? Are they providing a house kit or will you need to bring your own? How much time is allotted for setup and teardown between acts?
These are critical details that, when neglected, can quickly turn an enjoyable night into a sour one.
5. Arrive on Time
Nothing keeps you in good graces with a promoter or venue quite like timeliness, as being late inconveniences almost all parties involved in putting a live show together.
Double-check the load-in time for the concert and aim to arrive with all of your gear at least a few minutes early. Depending on the size of the concert, you may also be allotted a separate sound check slot. Loading all of your gear in on time will allow you to maximize your soundcheck.
Make sure you and all members of the group are crystal clear on when and where you need to be at all times.
6. Engage With the Audience
Fans often attend live music events to experience a connection with the artist. As the average U.S. community has at least one live music event per week, make sure you give your audience a reason to see you perform again!
So, when you’re finally on stage, use unique ways to engage with your audience. These moments could be as simple as talking to the audience between songs.
However, these are moments you will want to prepare in advance. While some performers can speak eloquently with little preparation, that’s not always the case. It’s easy to ramble or fumble while on stage, detracting from the fan’s experience and making you seem unprepared.