You got the gig. It doesn’t matter if it’s playing to three of your friends in a local venue or a headline slot at the House of Blues, you’re booked and it’s your time to shine. There’s no backing out now.
We’re going to take a look at some of the fundamentals of preparation, from centering yourself mentally to the dos and don’ts of giving a ripping performance.
So, pick up your drumsticks or your guitar pick and pay attention to these top tips – here is how to get ahead on stage.
The Psychology Behind Giving a Great Performance
There are no shortcuts when it comes to performing like a pro on stage. It takes persistence, study and a lot of confidence to get to the next level in this industry.
- Practice, practice, practice. No excuses here, you’re going to have to put the hours in. The more times you play your set, the better and more natural it will sound.
- Look the part. Whether you like it or not, image is a massive part of the entertainment industry. You don’t all have to dress in matching suits, but focusing on your appearance and putting a bit of effort into your appearance will help you to feel confident on stage.
- Get in the zone. It’s no secret that the best bands lock into each other’s rhythm and become more than the sum of their parts. Huddle together, meditate, and perform some pre-show rituals with each other. Whatever it takes, getting on the same wavelength as your band is important.
- Project success. Preparation and practice will get you 95% of the way. The last 5%? Visualizing your success. If you can see yourself blowing the crowd away, you’re more likely to do just that. Even feigning confidence will help to keep your nerves at bay.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving a Killer Performance
There’s a lot to think about before your show. Are you going to sell enough merchandise to break even? Is this the best choice of the set-list? It’s important, but you need to focus. Don’t forget the dos and don’ts:
DO warm-up. It’s the middle of the tour, you’ve played a few shows and your voice is feeling strong. The worst thing you can be now is complacent. If you don’t establish a proper warm-up routine for every show, you run the risk of a blowout that could kill the tour.
Top athletes don’t skip their warm-up, and neither should you. Going out on stage when your rusty isn’t impressive. Nail your arpeggio sweeps, practice some paradiddles and drink liters of lemon and honey. It’ll pay off in the long run.
DON’T get drunk. All right, you want to live the rock and roll lifestyle. You’ve watched Slash swig from a bottle of Jack and pull off a ripping solo, or read about the stuff that John Bonham threw down his neck before pretty much every Zeppelin live show.
You might think that that is the way to perform, but you’d be wrong. The Dutch courage you get from hitting the cans in the van before a gig won’t do anything positive for your performance.
If you really want to have a beer on stage and look the part, make sure it’s your first one. Keep your head clear, take it seriously, and you’ll play better. Hit the bar after the show and act like the rock star you want to be. Play well enough and you won’t be paying for them all night anyway.
DO engage with the crowd. The people out there have paid good money to be there, and they want to be entertained. Or, they’ve paid good money to see the band you’re supporting anyway. These are people supporting the live music scene. You’ve got to grab their attention.
Eye contact, communication and confidence can turn around a hostile crowd and get them on your side. Keep it up and it’ll work wonders for your image and reputation as well.
DON’T skip the soundcheck. This one might have something to do with drinking before the show. Or a last-minute argument with the singer about the set-list. There are a hundred reasons why you might miss the soundcheck, but none of them are good enough if you want to play your best.
The venue sound guy doesn’t know how you set up and guess what, he or she doesn’t care what you sound like. If you expect to nail a great live sound on the fly with no preparation, good luck to you, but it’s probably going to sound below par. Turn up, tune-up and work your sound to the room.
Practice Makes Perfect
You’ve heard it before; you’re probably bored of hearing it. But that effortless live performance you see the biggest bands in the world deliver is the result of thousands of hours spent behind the drum set and shredding your fingers to pieces on the strings.
Natural talent is great, but nothing compares to the grind of practicing the fundamentals until they are burned into your brain forever. It’s doing something over and over that builds muscle memory. When your hands, arms and feet hit the right spots on autopilot, you’re on your way.
Sorry if you thought you were going to learn some actual secrets, you know, selling your soul to the devil or singing your own lyrics backward before a big gig sort of stuff. It’s a bit more straightforward than that:
Practice. Prepare. Focus. If you do these in equal measures, you’re going to create your own luck.
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer and music educator, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper – one of the web’s most popular free online drumming resources.