I’m pretty sure I saw the worst band in the world last weekend. I actually paid money to see five clowns run around a stage, display a complete lack of musicality and literally scream into a microphone.
It all happened so fast. I had just ordered some steak and shrimp at a favorite local bar when the doorman starts going table to table and asking for a cover charge for those who were planning to stay and watch the band.
My wife gave me a shrug as if to ask what I thought?
It was the weekend and we’ve always been supporters of local music, so after asking a few questions about who was playing, we ponied up a ten-spot. In the doorman’s defense, he said he knew nothing of this particular band except that they were local and played rock.
Just as our food arrived, the band started in on their first sound check song. How was that?
Envision the harshest sounding guitar tone around, a drummer that believes that every stroke must be played with maximum exertion and a vocalist who could have done voice-overs for any movie involving a young man and a flesh-eating zombie.
No seriously.. I’m being too kind.
My wife pursed her lips together and gave me a “raised eyebrow” smile – an indication that the sound was not to her liking.
I returned a real smile and we both shared a laugh and started eating some delicious food.
The band hit the stage about ten minutes later and it didn’t get any better. We stuck around for the next hour though because we always try our best to support local music and we frequent this club, which normally has the best music in town.
We even hit the dance floor when the band attempted their version of a slow cover song. We applauded at the end and paid our respects – after all, we were weren’t only getting ready to head home; we were mourning the death of a formerly beloved song.
An hour of “music” had passed and we gathered our things to make our way home. You know the band is bad when you’re heading out the door and the doorman looks at you apologetically while saying, “sorry”. As my wife and I were laughing, he insisted that he would be chatting with the booking manager and that this band would not be back.
In truth, we didn’t care. We weren’t planning on staying out too late anyway. We still managed to have a few laughs and we enjoyed a great dinner together. Recalling the band’s stage performance made for a lot more laughter on the car ride home. In all, it was a great evening!
“Enjoying the music” isn’t required for a person to enjoy the evening but if you’re the band playing, you’d certainly like to make sure that happens. If the people want to hear you again, the club will want you back again. You get to play more music and you make more money. It’s just that simple – as it should be.
So let’s use the unnamed band above to illustrate some basic concepts of what it takes to be a rock star.
1) Know Your Audience
If you’re a band that plays death metal and you’re lead singer screams like a ten-year old girl who just had her first period, you probably shouldn’t play at a club that has an older crowd. The 30+ age group doesn’t largely consider screaming a form of music. Maybe some of them did at 16, but people typically develop taste as the years progress. Death metal represents a lack of musical talent for most people and for good reason – it takes little musical talent to create. Sorry.
2) Don’t Be Condescending From the Stage
If you’re in an unknown, local band and you want to guarantee your chances of not returning to a club, simply scream a lot of obscenities and try to project an image of being cooler than you are. Part of the trick here is to have a good understanding of how cool you really are. If you’re a loud, obnoxious front-man in a band, chances are that you’ve overrated yourself.
3) Learn How to Sing
In truth, there are many examples of successful bands that have a lead singer who can’t carry a tune, so it’s not a requirement, but if you don’t know how to sing, you might try actually taking voice lessons and learning such a craft for your desired profession. It can only help your chances. It just makes sense.
4) Relate to the Crowd
This is an extension of knowing your audience but that’s not enough. The best musicians are those that relate to them on a personal level. If you’re not a good story-teller, learn the art. You’ll notice that the best artists around always take a few minutes on stage to tell a personal story and relate a song to a personal experience. People want to know the artist and not just hear the music. It’s all about entertaining. If you’re not big on story-telling just yet, tell the crowd how excited you are to play for them because it’s been a long week at work. That’s something everyone can relate to.
5) Have a Shot Before Hitting the Stage
Ignore this tip if you’e an alcoholic but if you treat yourself to the occasional alcoholic beverage, the best time to indulge is about 15 minutes before you hit the stage. If you’re tight and nervous, the crowd will instantly pick up on that. You want the energy to flow so lose those inhibitions and don’t be self-conscience up there. Enjoy the moment and the crowd will enjoy it also. Confidence looks sexy on anyone and it’s especially noticeable on a musician up on the stage.
I’ve played in bands where we’ve barely had any rehearsal time to throw 40 songs together and I’ve played in bands where we knew the material like the back of our hand. The latter makes a huge difference in your stage presence. When you’re comfortable in what you’re doing, the music looks easy because it is. If you’re spending the whole night trying to remember which part of the song is coming up, you won’t enjoy the performance and that makes it hard for others to enjoy. Practicing also makes you a better musician. Duh.
It’s all part of learning how to be a better band onstage. In the end, it’s all just theater and you’re trying to put on a better show every night. If you can create an emotional connection to your audience, you’ll have a future as a rock star on stage.