To me, being a singer and a musician always implied playing with other musicians and performing live in front of other people. I totally enjoy playing the piano and singing on my own. But as much as I LOVE the song-writing process and singing in a studio, music to me, is to be shared and lived with others, through a good live performance.
However, if you dislike playing live and want to create music in your studio without having to bother with live shows, I totally respect that. I have actually met several musicians who didn’t enjoy playing live so much. Instead, they preferred to invest in their home studio, writing music for themselves and others.
So, this article is for all of you who desire to have a career in live music and want to push your live performance to the next level! Needless to say this applies to singers but some parts may apply to other musicians.
So here are, to me, the 4 pillars that make for a great live performance.
1. Be prepared and give your best vocal performance
Master what you are here to show and give
Most of the time performing live is about delivering music and songs that have been recorded before. It isn’t likely that in my Metal scene people would perform live by just jamming along with each other! So when you enter the stage, you need to know what you are going to sing. My advice here is: you’d better know it VERY well. Here you can find out what are the 5 steps to arrive prepared for a live show.
On stage, you shouldn’t have to think about anything and certainly not about what you have to do up there. If you’re a singer, know your lyrics so well that you don’t have to ever think about them. Here I show you how to memorize lyrics and never forget them. Know how to sing your songs so well that you don’t have to think about how to hit that high note while singing the song.
Knowing your lyrics and your songs, knowing every part, when the solo comes in, how the song starts and ends, gives you the freedom to concentrate on your stage performance. Furthermore, it releases you from the fear of not knowing when your verse or any other part comes in.
Remember to know your songs and what you have to sing very well. This way singing your parts becomes automatic and nothing happening around you can distract you.
Make sure you have a proper microphone. To be able to properly sing live you need the right gear of the right quality. You need a very good microphone, adapted to the size and type of venues that you mostly play at.
I’m not going to get too nerdy about gear in this article. My point here is just to remind you that you can have the most beautiful voice in the world, if you use a low-quality microphone, people won’t have the chance to hear it as they should and give it the justice it deserves. Furthermore, you won’t have the right information in your ears to help you place your voice in a nice way that will prevent you from damaging it.
Once you have a nice microphone, you need a good monitoring system. The only one that I recommend for singers is to use molded in-ears with wireless monitors. It’s the best way to 1) protect your ears, 2) create a nice sounding environment for you to be able to hear yourself properly and place your voice in a comfortable way.
Singing live doesn’t mean you have to sing loudly. Sing the best you can. Sing with a lot of energy and a well-supported breath, but not necessarily the loudest you can (it’s the sound engineer’s job to adapt to your voice, not the other way around). Pay attention to the sound quality of your voice. Put ease in your singing, don’t strain or push, unless it’s absolutely needed to stay on pitch.
To follow up on this idea, and it goes without saying, mind your pitch, without making an obsession about it. One thing that makes singers lose self-confidence is to be told we’re out of pitch. Sometimes, it can happen, and we might not be aware of it! So make sure you’re comfortable with the mix in your ears and you can understand the harmony of the song without any struggle.
Give your best vocal performance, sing gracefully. Singing live has to feel easy and graceful. Singing live should feel effortless and nicely, like smooth. Because if it feels flowing and graceful to you, it will sound and feel flowing and graceful to your audience. Make sure you are well warmed-up before a show since you have to give your best from the first second you’re on stage until the very end of the show.
If a note scares you or if you don’t feel like you can hit it nicely on a particular day, approach it differently. Don’t get obsessed with the idea of sounding like the recorded version of yourself all the time (although it is nice to keep as an ideal reference).
When you sing with a band, you are not performing alone, you need your bandmates to do their part and they need you to do yours. Even though they should be able to keep playing the music even if you miss your start for instance, it is very uncomfortable for the whole band when someone makes a mistake.
I would always recommend to keep in mind at all times that a band is a team. It means that everyone knows what he or she has to do. Not only do you want to give the best to your audience, you also want to be reliable for your bandmates. This will increase their trust and pleasure of playing with you.
Furthermore, the audience might not notice some of your mistakes, but your bandmates can, which can lead to frustration. Not honoring your part and not taking yourself and your role (not to say “job”) seriously enough, can bring a lot of frustration to your bandmates. Which in the long run, can totally affect your relationships. And you don’t want that.
Instead, keep a “One for all, all for one!” mindset and give your band the best of yourself or at least, as much as you expect from them in return.
To conclude on this first pillar of what a good live performance is about, I’d say that once on stage you want to be free of having to think about what you have to sing. You want to be prepared, hear yourself well enough to give your best vocal performance. Hence your ability to focus on the 3 other pillars that will make your stage performance better. In this article I walk you through the 5 steps to arrive prepared for a live show!
2. Charisma & Energy
Singing well and feeling comfortable is great, but if you end it there, to me, that’s only 50% of what makes a great live performance. When you are on stage, people not only listen but also watch you. You’re here to give a show, to embody the songs, to convey emotion to your audience. Your best allies: charisma and energy, the fuels to use your body properly.
Charisma, the little extra “they” have
Charisma is that one particularity in someone’s (stage) presence that makes it impressive, impactful, intense. It’s a personality trait – like any other trait – that some people have more of naturally. Charisma impacts others, how they perceive you and wish to interact with you. All great leaders, actors, singers, have charisma. They give others the will to listen to them, to follow them, even to obey them. Somehow there’s something connected with authority but it doesn’t have to be in a negative way.
Charisma will empower your stage presence and overall stage performance. There are ways to boost your charisma which to me is closely connected with your self-confidence and the energy you carry with you. Both can be upgraded and lifted up and I’ll get to that in more details in a following article.
Energy, master your own fire!
Energy, which we are all made of, is that drive, fire, fuel that once mastered, transcends yourself and nourishes your body’s expressiveness.
Stage performance is the combination of playing your instrument and embodying your music. Your entire body and being, perform. Your fire, fuel, must flow in every cell of your body. It must enable you to move around effortlessly to create the body language that will match your interpretation and artistic universe.
Energy lies in the intensity of your presence, no matter what you do. It drives your movements, supports your singing and your presence throughout the whole show. But having energy isn’t being energetic and moving around constantly. You can have energy remaining still or moving very little.
Energize yourself, free yourself in order to BE yourself. There are some basic rules about stage performance that I’ll cover in another article. I’m not going to tell you here how you have to move on stage. For the same reason that no one should tell you how you should sound like with your voice. Instead, you have to find your own voice and your own way of unleashing your true self on stage but you need to gather and use your energy for that, no matter if you jump around or remain behind a mic stand the whole show.
Energy can be hard to canalize (been there!) and sometimes hard to gather. We will get to that in another article!
We are musicians, we create art. Our role isn’t just to entertain people. We’re here to help them process their emotions while we are processing ours.
Knowing your part and unleashing your energy serve you and your ability to feel and transmit emotions to your audience through your music. If you have to focus on what you have to sing, or if you don’t know how to move on stage – maybe because you have not yet removed some inner blocks which lessen your capacity to let your energy flow -, there’s a high chance that you will stay far from your heart and emotions which as a consequence, might not reach your audience. As I mentioned previously, once on stage, you should be out of your mind and fully in the present. Feeling and living intensely through your music and connection with others.
People connect to music through their emotions – which is highly irrational and impossible to predict or measure. Emotions create these magical moments for you and your audience, they build bridges between hearts and open doors between souls. Vocal technic and charisma can impress but if they don’t help you to feel and share emotions, people might see what a great singer you are but they might not get touched as much. And if they aren’t touched, they won’t engage in your band and music so much.
So remember to open your heart, to live your music with the intention of sharing it with others; this leads us to the 4th pillar of a great live performance which is interacting with your audience!
Now that you know your songs and have embraced your power and energy and are connected to your heart, you can open your eyes and sing to the people in front of you and the ones playing with you on stage!
Interaction starts on stage
Not only do you sing for an audience, you’re first of all sharing the stage with other musicians. They are your partners in crime, they are part of the show as much as you are. Moreover, it’s actually quite a wonderful feeling to be doing the same thing all together, as a team, a wolf pack, all going in the same direction. Living these moments is one of the reasons why the bond between bandmates can be so strong. It’s actually quite hard for people outside the band to understand this connection. So make your bandmates a part of your interpretation of the songs, play and connect with them, have fun! The more fun you have, the more your audience can have fun too, as it’s really enjoyable to watch people having fun together!
Learning how to interact must include to know when to step back to let others shine. Your bandmates can have their solo moments, especially your guitarist. It’s time to let him invade the front middle part of the stage, or his own favorite place and do something else from another spot. Following the same idea, it’s great to create a band stage presence that enables everyone to move around and interact with the audience (except for the drummer, he can still hide behind his cymbals, he doesn’t know the first rows can still see all his crazy faces!).
You and your audience
You don’t sing for yourself only, you sing for your audience. The best way to have your audience engage in your show is first to engage them. Sing for them, sing to them, look at them. You are on stage because there is an audience. These people are the reason why you are doing something you love. They want to embark on a musical journey with you. Make sure every single one of them feels invited to board your ship!
In between songs it’s nice to talk and engage your audience . You can also share your feelings, anecdotes. You can introduce the next song giving some context or a specific reason why this song has been written and so on. How you engage and what you talk about is highly personal. My only advice here is to find your own way to do that. A way that makes you comfortable and natural, still keeping in mind that it’s part of the performance.
Not only do you want to sing to your audience, you also want them to take part in the show. Any move, any game that would make the audience follow a certain gesture, or sing, scream, answer, gives a lot of dynamic to your show. People might even surprise you with their jokes and answers. Stay open and curious about how people love to enjoy your show in front of you. Know how to receive the way they show appreciation which can totally differ from one place to another. For instance, after a show in Argentina in 2018, the audience surprised us by singing “Olé olé olé cada dia te quiero màs” for 10 minutes! It was a unique reaction to our show and it was heartwarming to see and feel!
So, to sum up and conclude this article, the essence of a good live performance to me is the conjugation of a great and emotional vocal and stage performance with playful, powerful and engaging interactions with your bandmates and audience!
Thank you all for your attention! I will share more of my personal approach and go into details of what is described above in upcoming articles!
If you have any question or thoughts you want to share with us, feel free to express yourself in the comment section! I’ll make sure to reply as much as I can!
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