One of the most wonderful things about music is that it is such a sharable medium. It can communicate and connect in ways that transcend barriers.

As a musician, engaging with your audience effectively can take your performance from good to great (and keep them coming back for more).

Take a moment to remember your favorite performance. It can be in a movie, from a music video, or to a live audience. What stood out to you most? Chances are, the performance you’re thinking of made a lasting impression for one of a few specific reasons.

Of course, we live in a world where COVID-19 has reshaped the landscape of live performances. Thankfully, you can apply what you learn from this blog post to both virtual and in-person shows.

Below are four tips to help you understand what live audiences want and how you can deliver.

1. They Want to Feel Included.

Your audience may have paid to see you, or they could be watching for free from their couch. Regardless, they have chosen to spend time paying attention to what you are doing. Reward them for that! Here’s how.

Talk to them.

Picture this: a musician walks on stage and sits with their instrument or behind their mic. They say nothing. The musician plays their song, finishes, and without a word walks off the stage – never acknowledging the audience at all.

Sounds awkward, right? If you were a member of that audience, you’d probably wonder what was going on with the performer and how you were supposed to react.

Always open your performance by greeting the audience and introducing yourself. Get a gauge of how they’re doing during your set. Feel free to respond to their responses too!

Make eye contact.

It can be tempting to close your eyes throughout a song. (This is an area that I personally struggle with.) Avoid that temptation!

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the music and “in the zone” that we forget that the audience is there. While zoning in on occasion can be great, make sure your audience sees you engage with them too.

If looking directly at people is too hard when you’re starting out, try finding a spot in the back of the room to lock in on. As you work up to making eye contact, start by finding 2 or 3 friendly faces and continuing to come back to their gazes.

Ask them to join in!

If you’re delivering a familiar song, ask the audience to join in with you on occasion! If there is a part in your song that repeats and is easy to pick up, you can apply the same concept.

You can also encourage audience participation if you’re delivering instrumental performances. Ask the audience to clap, wave their hands, or snap along with the music.

When you invite your audience to share in your performance, you’ll be able to feed off each other’s energy. However you choose to include your audience, they’ll be happy you did (and so will you)!

2. They Want to Feel Emotionally Connected/Entertained.

What sets the technically perfect apart from the engaging performer is emotion. Often, audiences will readily forgive (and even forget) small mistakes you might make if you engage them well on an emotional level. Here are a few ways to make that happen.

Know your subject.

Prepare and practice enough that you know your song(s) thoroughly. If you’re able to perform them without thinking, you’ll be free to focus on injecting emotion. (If you’re looking to improve your practice method, be sure to visit the Bold Music Practice & Theory Library.)

Another element of knowing your subject is understanding what your song is about. Whether you’re a singer or an instrumentalist, study your piece! Understand what mood, subject, and emotion the piece is meant to communicate.

Make your practice sessions performance sessions.

Once you are confident that you know your material, figure out how exactly you’d like to deliver it. Practice it that way!

On the day of your performance, you’ll thank yourself. You’ll be familiar with your desired style of delivery and will have the confidence to give it your all.

Communicate that feeling.

When exploring modes of expression consider the following:

  • Pay attention to how your musical dynamics express the emotion of the song.
  • Match your facial expressions and gestures to the feel of the song. From a full dance move, to a wink, to a simple reach of the hand, small details can make a huge difference. Record yourself during practice and adjust as needed!
  • Believe what you are talking about/committing to what you’re playing.
  • When thinking about your performance, consider your outfit as well! Wear something that you’re both comfortable in and that complements the song you’re singing.

3. They Want to Hear YOU Authentically.

Find your own voice.

As you go through the practice process, pay attention to what feels natural to you. Are there areas where you’d like to alter your delivery? What can you add or subtract from the performance to make it true to your artistry?

Once you answer these questions, make the necessary adjustments and incorporate them into your preparation. When it’s time to perform, you’ll be able to relax into being yourself; your audience can feel that!

Choose/write songs that you believe in and that suit you.

Whether you’re performing someone else’s work or something of your own design, believe in and commit to your song! Your audience will notice if your heart’s not in your performance.

Although you may love a particular song, it’s equally as important to choose pieces that suit you and your abilities. For singers, choose songs that complement your vocal range, texture, and style of delivery. For instrumentalists, select works that showcase the best elements of your playing.

4. They Want to Understand What You’re Saying/Playing.

Enunciate & Articulate!

For vocalists, you have the task of not only delivering the right notes, but also the right words. Your audience may or may not be familiar with your song. Be sure to enunciate your words so they can clearly understand what you say or sing.

For instrumentalists, articulation is important as well! In your practice, work to make your playing as clean as possible so that your performance flows and is easy for your audience to lock into.

Work with your musicians and/or sound technician.

If you’re playing with other musicians, make sure that you’re able to communicate during your performance. If communication is poor, your audience will likely notice that something is “off.”

By contrast, if you and the other musicians can stay on the same page, your audience will remember a wonderful experience first and foremost. Be sure to discuss both your transitions and transition signals during rehearsal. If you’d like to further hone your skills in this area, check out Clai’s article, “How to Play Well With Others.”

When it comes to the day of performance, keep communication open with your sound technician as well! As a rule of thumb, show up early enough to complete a full soundcheck. Be honest with your sound tech in regards to what you are and aren’t able to hear as well.

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, when you perform, make sure that your audience is engaged and included and that they can understand who you are and what you’re communicating. As we get back to live performances (and reinterpret what it means to perform “live”) keep these tips in mind!

Want to try them out?

  • If you’re a student with Bold, talk to your instructor about Sofa Sessions on Wednesdays and Gig Night on October 24, 2021!
  • Pin this post for later using one of the pictures below!