Let’s get real—most local shows are boring. I can’t tell you how many variations of bands standing in one spot on stage, rushing through their set, not talking to the audience, and leaving immediately after their set I’ve seen. In almost every industry getting people to leave their house and attend an event is incredibly difficult, and for the music industry especially, it can feel impossible.
While a large part of this is human nature—we see it across all industries and age ranges—it doesn’t help that for most of us, when we do venture out (usually on a weeknight at 9pm because shows don’t care that you have to work in the morning and are already exhausted), and then pay $5 to get in and another $5 for a beer, you want the thing you’ve just gone through all this effort for to feel like it’s worth it. And when a band takes the stage, mumbles their name, sort of bobs around for 30 minutes and calls it a day, it doesn’t really feel worth it.
And look, it’s not just your personal reputation you’re hurting, it’s the industry as a whole. Because when we see enough bad shows in a row, we stop going.
So if for no other reason than the industry deserves better, check out these tips for engaging your audience and making each and every show memorable.
Make sure your audience can understand you
This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. Know how to talk into a mic so that when you tell me your band name, I can actually understand what you’re saying. Tell me at the beginning of the set and then tell me again at the end. People will be talking and wandering in and out all night. Mentioning it twice isn’t overkill, it’s just a better way of ensuring people can find you.
Talk to your audience
The jury is out on this one—some people say they hate small talk during a show, but I think what most people mean by that is, they hate pointless chattering that goes on and on for way too long, that sounds like incoherent mumbling anyway (see above point). In order to engage your fans, you have to give them something to care about. While some of the audience might be made up of existing fans, odds are at least 50% of them have no idea who you are. Telling a quick story (I’m talking 30-45 seconds max) before your song that gives the audience a good chuckle, or makes them feel anything at all, is a good start for warming them up and getting them to actually care about you.
You might feel like you’re playing rockstar by asking your fans to clap along or stomp their feet or by splitting up the room and having one half do the “oohs” and the other do the “aaahs” during your chorus, but trust me when I say that giving your audience something to do will get them off their phones and engaged, which means they’re paying attention, which means they aren’t just sitting there wishing they’d stayed home. Even if they get bashful and don’t clap along (guilty), trust that you’ve got their attention and they’re taking notice. Your effort is worth something.
Give them something to talk about
Every memorable show I’ve been to has one of two very important things in common: the first is that the band had tons of energy. It didn’t matter if it was a nationally recognized band playing to thousands of people or an unknown indie band playing to 10—they had an insane amount of energy that you could feel from the audience, and it was infectious. The second is, they made it an experience.
Bottom line, you should try to treat every show as though it’s a one of a kind experience for those that have dragged their tired bones out to see you—because it is an experience—the only question is if it will be a memorable one or a forgettable one.
Stick around after the show
A lot of bands tend to skedaddle right after their set—not only is this kind of bad form to not stick around for the other acts, but it takes away the opportunity to a) build relationships with the fans you’ve just made (and existing ones) b) it eliminates sales opportunities if you’re not at your merch table chatting it up and c) it just kind of makes you look like a jerk.
Hang around your merch table before but also (and especially) after your set and engage the people that come up to you. It doesn’t hurt to have some kind of freebie that you can give those that come wandering up, but you also want to engage them in real conversation. If you’ve seen them at a few shows, get to know them so you can address them by name next time. Have you ever noticed that your hairdresser always remembers who you are and that you have a golden retriever puppy? That’s because they make a point to write that stuff down and reference it, because they know how important that relationship is. Your fans are no different.
If you have no idea who the person at your merch table is, still say something like: “Hi, thanks so much for coming out! I’m so and so.” Then they introduce themselves and you keep the conversation going. Connect over the other bands on the bill, ask who they’re there to see, what venues they like, what their favorite pizza is, it doesn’t matter. As long as the conversation is flowing and you’re connecting, they’re going to remember it.