There are some performers like Abba and older performers from the 1960s and 70s who
that would just stand on stage, play, and not move around at all. Then there are other performers like Michael Jackson, Kiss, and Bon Jovi who do way more than just move—they set up elaborate stunts. Which should you do, and why should you care?
Not every band has the income to pull off the stunts that bands like Kiss or Bon Jovi are able to perform, but that shouldn’t deter you from understanding what they’re actually doing there and how you can possibly use these methods to improve your own performances.
The point of said stunts and stage antics is to direct attention, create energy and emotion, and create moments for the audience to remember and talk about after the performance is over. The energy and emotions that you can create through your own movements onstage are powerful ways in which to enhance the song that you’re singing in the moment. Creating specific, memorable moments, and cultivating energy and emotion, are great goals that we will go into in more depth later, but for this article, I just want to talk about directing audience attention, and how you can use this skill to create a great show.
You need to be able to engage your audience, and simply standing still doesn’t accomplish this at all. The music by itself is great, but if people wanted to just listen to the music, they could listen to it at home. The idea is that you get something extra from performances. And what is the best way to engage the audience? You don’t want every member of the band fighting for the audience’s attention—you need to work together as a unit. A lot of musicians believe that stage performance should be an impromptu and improvised thing. However, many of the artists who have improvised their live performances and had great success doing so have performed in front of audiences thousands—if not tens of thousands—of times. They have built up this skill over the years through trial and error.
The issue with “guess and check” is that it takes forever, and when a market is full of professionals, if you come off as at all amateurish, it will hurt you in the long run. So, initially,2 you need to plan things out with intent. As you get better, you can start to improvise more and more because you’ll have the skills to fall back on. At that point, improvisation will definitely add a lot of performance value to your show.
If you’re new to this, you should be practicing improvisation during band practice. The first step to working on performance skills is simply directing the audience’s attention
When you’re playing a live show, especially in rock music, you may have moments where the instruments should get more attention than the vocals. If a guitar solo begins, the guitar player should move towards the front of the stage and the singer should back off, moving briefly into the background. If the singer stays up front the whole time, then they will draw the audience’s attention away from the guitarist.
If you have a drum fill, you can find a way to accentuate the drummer as well. If you have lights, use lights that will shine directly on the drummer as the fill begins, and if you’re really well-off, you can pull the floating drum kit stint just like Motley Crue!
If you’re playing a chorus that is really high-energy, and you want people to jump or pump their hands in the air, obviously the singer should be replicating the motion that you want from the audience and should be moving around with the same amount of energy.
If the whole band stands in one spot the entire time and never moves, the audience will get bored because you’re no longer controlling their experience. They’re going to begin to look around the venue rather than at the stage, and this is definitely not what you want to happen.
If you have rises and platforms, you can use these to help direct audience attention. If the bass player and guitar player lock into a riff together, you can you draw attention to this as well.
The whole idea is to control the audience’s attention, so that you’re controlling their entire experience. Certain aspects of the song will need this more than others.
Start from these tips, and you can build from there to create a fun and captivating show!
Chris Glyde is a vocal coach based out of Rochester, where he runs Rochester’s School of Contemporary Voice. If you’re looking for voice lessons in Rochester, check him out.