Improving Your Live Show: What Should You Do In Between Songs?By
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
I curled up in the coffee shop’s armchair, took a sip from the mug in my hand, and looked around. The coffee shop was busy. In all honesty, it’s as much a venue as it is coffee shop; it has live music daily, a permanent stage and nice sound system, and a loyal group of customers who frequent the establishment to get their fix—both of caffeine and music.
On this particular evening, I was one of those customers. I was there to spend my evening with a few good friends and discover some (hopefully) good music. While I was there for the music, I did not know who would be playing.
As the artist took the stage and began to play his first song, I was pleasantly surprised. It was clear that he was talented and knew what he was doing, and you could tell he had spent countless hours writing and rehearsing the song. He quickly had my full attention.
The first song ended, and he launched into his second song. It was still good—all the key musical elements from the first song were in place—but my thoughts began to wander. By the third song I was occasionally whispering to my friends, and, by the fourth, I was ready for something new.
My fleeting interest had nothing to do with his musical ability. His songs were interesting, and he knew them well. I truly enjoyed the music. But, his performance didn’t catch and hold my interest. This bothered me. As someone who wants independent musicians to succeed, and as someone who is willing to support them in their efforts, I was disheartened. What went wrong?
I realized that sometimes music alone isn’t enough to grab and keep a potential fan’s attention. Sometimes, you have to entertain them.
Not Just the Music
As a general rule, all musicians—even the most reclusive artists—must perform in front of people, at least occasionally. Live performances (and their accompanying merch sales) account for a huge percentage of income for today’s independent artists, and they are the best opportunity to make new fans and cement ties to old fans.
Many new or inexperienced musicians think that playing a successful show means getting in front of people and simply playing their music with minimal mistakes. They might tell a few stories, say a few song names, and introduce the band… or they might not. There is no “rest of the set” to plan, since they count on the music to carry their performance. To them, the music is all that matters.
And they aren’t wrong… Your music needs to be awesome. You need to spend hours rehearsing, getting to know each note so well that you could play your whole set in your sleep. That is a vital piece of the puzzle. It is huge piece of the puzzle.
But… it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Yes, great music can reel a person in. Yes, beautiful art can keep them engaged for your entire performance. But just because it can, doesn’t mean it will. Chances are, the majority of people you’re going to be playing in front of need more.
In today’s economy of short attention spans, 140 character updates, viral videos, and entire worlds on devices in every person’s hand or pocket, musicians face more performance challenges than ever before. There are going to be other things happening during your performance, even in the best listening rooms. So, how do you compete with the hundreds of distractions waiting to steal the focus off of your performance? You give them a great show.
Putting Together a Great Show
If you’ve ever been in a musical, you know that there is an order to the procedure.
- Make sure the music is great—each note should be perfect.
- When the music is nearly perfect, everyone starts learning the script. This includes the performers who don’t have lines; they still need to know exactly what’s going on.
- Once the music and lines are learned, the group comes together to work on blocking (the movement of and transitions between) each scene.
Without the music, there isn’t a musical. Without the lines and proper sequence, there’s no story. It’s nothing more than a collection of songs. Without the blocking, it’s disjointed and bumpy at best. At worst, it fails to capture the audience’s attention.
Why am I telling you this? Because your live show is not much different than a musical.
Creating A Pseudo Script
In a musical, the script dictates everything that goes on onstage. As an independent musician, though, you get to write your own script. You get to decide what goes on in your live shows. Your script includes what you say (and choose not to say) between songs, but it is more than that.
Your script starts with a set list. The right song order is incredibly important, whether you’re playing 30 songs or two songs. If you’re not sure where to start with creating a set list, you can read the article we recently wrote about it here.