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Songwriting Guides > Performing > Becoming a performer
Songwriting Guides
Becoming a performer

Performing your music in a professional way can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a songwriter. Audiences (and the music industry) are always impressed by performers who can handle the stage and the studio, and who get on with the job in a professional way. By professional we mean being prepared for a performance, and not being phased by sudden changes - the PA breaks down, a broken string or one of the musicians has got lost on the ring road (believe us, it happens!)

Being prepared is crucial - this means everything is prepared - the songs, the instruments, the set, the line-up, even the banter.

Some performing dos and dont's:

Go on when they say you are going on

The MC announces the next act. Then you say "hang on" and disappear to the toilet, or you are rummaging in the back of your guitar case for your lucky pick. No. Be ready to go on and, go on when they say your name.

Tell them who you are

If there is more than one act on the night, not everyone will have come to see you. The noise from the bar may have meant some people missed your name when it was announced. Make sure they know who you are. Tell them at the beginning, and tell them at the end.
If you want to be really cheesy you can have a backdrop, or if you are in a band, writing your name on the bass drum head can help. But just saying your name a lot can do it.

If you can, get reputable venues
Catherine Bell, Chrysalis Music Ltd

Don't lose their attention

This is where a certain amount of practice and experience helps. For a performance to really work it should build through the act. It's like a journey and you need to take them from one place to another. Stopping and starting to tune up, reading the lyrics off a piece of paper or constantly having to check the set list is going to lose their attention very quickly. Then you have to start work all over again at getting it back.

If you need to change instruments or guitar FX and keyboard patches, then order the set so that these changes are quick and easy. Make sure everything that can be is pre-set and at the right levels. Learn your set. If you keep forgetting stuff then you probably haven't rehearsed enough. Avoid noodling between tunes, it looks sad and gets on everyone's nerves.

Catherine BellCatherine Bell, Director Rights, Chrysalis Music Ltd
Playing live is a good way to get your music noticed. "People send in so much stuff to us it can get buried."
Listen to Catherine Audio help
If Things Go Wrong:

  • There isn't anyone on the circuit who hasn't had some piece of equipment blow up or break on them. Have a plan to cope with emergencies like that.
  • Take spares of as much as you can carry (and don't forget to tune any spare instruments before you go on).
  • Have something up your sleeve. A drum solo, some kind of tune you can jam on with a reduced line-up or something for the singer to recite. Anything will do - just don't stand around on the stage looking embarrassed.
  • Don't be afraid to stop and start again. Even the most experienced and famous performers have done this. If you start in the wrong key, for instance, it may be impossible to sing the song. Stop, take a deep breath let the audience know you're going to start again and then go for it as if it hadn't happened. It's easy to get hung up on a mistake and then ruin the rest of the performance. Forget it and move on.
Stage Banter

This is a surprisingly tricky thing to get right. Some people develop a kind of alter ego for a stage act, but it's generally best to rely on being yourself. Try and go a little beyond just saying the title of the next song. Most importantly, whatever you say, say it clearly and into the microphone. Remember to plug anything you have to sell (CDs or your next gig), and don't let them forget who you are.

It's a lot harder than it looks to come across well in front of a huge crowd of people but it will be expected of you, especially as a singer. The silver lining is that it does get easier with practice!

Be Nice To People

Often, at circuit venues, the actual promoter won't attend the gig. They'll rely on feedback from the engineer and door staff. If you want a good report-back, make sure they like you. The other important people to get to know are the bar staff. They're there every night and people often end up chatting to them. This means they can be putting around some good word of mouth long after you've left the venue.

More importantly, if an A & R scout comes to see someone who turns out to be rubbish, they'll end up sitting in the bar and finishing their pint before they leave. Often they'll ask the bar staff who's been in lately and whether they were good.

Send us your views or read other peoples'
Send us your comments on: Becoming a performer

Don't let another band start setting up while you're playing or packing down yourselves, you really have to treat other bands the way you want to be treated. If you take an expensive amp or guitar to a gig, then look after it yourself, I've come across too many people who try to start fights because you moved their precious gear out of my band's way onstage "without asking". Manners are the order of the day!

Trevor Marty Rochester,Mn. u.s.a.
I have noticed that fostering a great sence of humor about this is wonderful as well. If something 'bad' happens....well do what you can, laugh, draw the audience into that laughter chances are they have experienced bad days too. People are remarkable forgiving really. Above all remember... "People go out to have a good time...let them."

JB, Manchester
"Noodling" is what guitarists do in guitar shops, and is basically messing around not really playing anything in particular but trying to look as flashy as you can. Also known as "dumping your trick-bag"

Bob Fretwell Sierra de Yeguas, Spain
Good sound hints from you, but, please...what is 'noodling'? I could perhaps guess, but may be wrong. Is this an 'in' word at the moment or one so old even I never heard it as a youth? Thanks, Bob Fretwell

martyn mulhere\paris
being irish on the performing parisian scene,i've experienced murphy's law so always have a few tricks up your sleeve like an accapella song for example...eye contact is also an underestimated part of performance...break a leg!!!

Sharon Morgan King's Lynn Norfolk
I found it very usefull, as i'm working on some work for college and had to find out about performing. I thank you your help.

stacy parsons banbury oxford
i have been performing live for 4 years now and people say that im very good. i want to know how to get a demo tape to people to listen to to see what there opinion is and see if i have got what it takes to make it in the music world.

Songwriting Guides Writing a Song Performing Why Perform your Own Songs? Becoming a Performer Vocal Training Gigs Getting Paid for a Gig Working with Other Writers In the Studio Publishers Record Companies Management Staying on Track
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