Sounding Smart Onstage
I am not a fan of rap. However, we should discuss what happens onstage when you aren’t playing. Onstage patter, rap, talking to the audience, or any other name you wish to call it- it’s important.
I took this photo from a recent gig in downtown Ft Worth. I’m sure all of you recognize the vantage point- behind the mike. Us performers get one and the crowd doesn’t. However, it’s vital you learn what to say and when and how to say it. Otherwise, you may not be coming back.
I started doing gigs with my Dad in 1970 at a Baptist church in Michigan. There was no talking to the congregation. Dad played acoustic guitar and sang lead vocals, while I played one of my dozen licks on electric guitar and sang occasional harmony. “One and done,” meaning we did one hymn, put down the guitars and we were finished for that Sunday. The preacher was the only person speaking and I didn’t have to consider talking between songs until a couple years later with a high school band.
Some performers talk very seldom to their audiences while others share intimate details about songwriting, inspiration, etc. A good way to develop your stage speaking skills is to watch other performers you admire. Some performers have a very natural way of communicating with the crowd verbally. Take notes when you observe a performer address a crowd successfully. YouTube can be helpful with this subject. There are some things I think that are important to consider, especially as you address the crowd as a solo performer.
Know your role. Many times, solo performers get smaller, more intimate gigs than a larger group. Many of my solo shows are in someone’s home and I try to behave myself in a respectful manner. This definitely includes what you say or sing over a microphone. It’s important to understand a client may have family, friends, business associates or the like and want to talk with them. Yelling out “Hello Cleveland” or “Let me here a big !#$%% yeah!” is in appropriate and may likely get you fired, if offensive enough.
Let’s discuss profanity here. I don’t use it in my speech and don’t perform material which includes it. That’s a personal decision, but it’s proven lucrative for me over the years. I often find myself playing audiences with small children, teens and the elderly in the same group. Since I don’t perform music with vulgar language, I never need to debate about “will this song offend someone?” I often have clients who use such words, especially after imbibing alcohol. However, it’s their event and often their home and they are free to behave as they wish. I am a professional musician and am paid good money to provide a service for them. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, since those things may have an effect on what I say over a mike. One tasteless remark over a microphone will undo all the good a performance accomplished. It may well be the last gig I play for this audience and keep me from anyone else booking me for another show.
It’s important to sound intelligent over the sound system when you speak. Earl Nightingale said “ our education is the one thing we can’t hide.” Be aware of current events and read a newspaper, magazine or website regularly to exercise your mind.
This is helpful when speaking extemporaneously over the PA. Many times, I will be interacting with the audience and have to think on my feet, so to speak. I don’t want to get into an argument or battle of wits with people over a mike, especially in someone’s home, country club, etc. Try and remain respectful, even if the event goes south. Record your shows at regular intervals and listen to your onstage rapport. Make improvements where needed and make your onstage patter as effective as your music.
Spend some time and effort on your over the mic speaking skills. It will pay off in bigger tips, more overtime and better gigs. That’s been my experience, as well as that of most successful performers I have seen.