As the front-person of a band, you are the first and primary connection the audience makes with the music. A big part of your job is to engage them, make sure they understand you, and respond to their feedback. Think of the music you’re making as a big house that you’re inviting the listeners into. The front-person is the doorway to the house. You’re going to turn strangers into fans and draw them into your universe.
Here’s an unfortunate, and not so uncommon, scenario. You walk into the club 15 minutes late for your show. When you finally start your set you’re not really feeling it, but you plow on. Three songs in, your voice is beginning to warm up. You open your eyes for the first time and see the people in the front are looking for the waiter––they are restless and bored.
Your audience doesn’t owe you their attention. You don’t deserve them; you earn them. That means having respect for their time. You have to be worth listening to. If you didn’t rehearse enough or if you’re in your own world not caring if they understand you, you are the reason they don’t connect to the music. Here are some ways to share an incredible experience with the people who are willing to become your fans.
Rehearse Your Show
There are a multitude of technical skills you need before you subject anyone to listening to you. Never put the microphone to your mouth without warming up. Why would anyone want to listen to a singer who doesn’t sound decent until the third song? Rehearse your band so everyone knows their parts and you have a common framework. Then you will have the freedom to jump off the cliff together and create a dynamic show.
Create A Climactic Set
The show starts when you walk onstage. Don’t chatter, mumble, talk to bandmates. There should be a beginning, middle and end to the show that has an arc––a rise and fall. Start off with a bang, gradually bring them in closer and closer with the deep dark ballad, and then spool them out at the end so they go home singing the songs. Don’t talk between each song. Let the set build and grow, giving out pieces of your personality before some songs, but building up steam by playing straight into others.
Don’t Be Generic
When you say things like “How you doing, LA?” or “How you all feeling tonight?” you are adding nothing to the moment. It’s filler. As an artist, a performer, a creator, you can’t be like any other band. You should take over our world with your visionary self and make us dream about you at night. You want us to obsess about you and follow your every Instagram post. That means taking a risk and being the artist only you can be.
Mean What You Say
Devote yourself to the stories you’ve written, and if they don’t mean anything to you, re-write them. Your voice, your body and your spirit must be willing to reveal the artistic world you’ve created. It can make you feel vulnerable—you worry you’ll look foolish. But there is no other option. You can’t fake it. You’ll find that when you throw yourself into it, you will be authentic, not foolish. Posing is not a substitute for content. If you have created something meaningful from the stories in your life, you have solid ground to stand on. It isn’t enough to want attention; there must be real talent and creativity––and the real music to showcase it.
Open Your Eyes
I’ve seen too many shows where the front-person stands behind the mic with their eyes closed and assumes that the audience will pick up the vibe. That’s when the audience starts talking to each other and ordering drinks. Part of the front-person’s job is communication, which means that in each song there is something specific you are trying to express that gives your performance an urgency. It isn’t enough to stand there and sing it. You have to perform it—you have to mean it. Make them feel like they are an important part of the conversation. Open your eyes onstage. Put your story and feelings out there and take in how they respond. Every show will be different because the audience is different. It will make your show alive and in the moment, not a prepackaged delivery.
Be present and connected to every song, every lyric, all of the time. Never operate on auto pilot. If you aren’t connected and engaged in this show, why would your audience be? Bruce Springsteen said, “I’ve played ‘Born To Run’ many many times… But the key is, you have to approach it not as a repetition but as a renewal. And to do that your spirit has got to be 100% present. Those songs have been very good to me over the years, and in return I try to be good to them.” Earn the respect and admiration of the audience by sharing yourself with them not just by being there. Let the music move you and allow your body to respond to it. Learn to be spontaneous and even impulsive. Be playful on stage. If you are moved by your music there is a chance the audience will be too.
You have a special place as an artist. You stand on stage in the light while the audience sits below you in the dark. They literally look up to you and want to be like you. But you can’t demand their appreciation; it is an honor you have to deserve. Own the stage, the space, the whole room all the way up to the back of the top balcony. Pull them inside your world. Set the table to start, then give them the feast you’ve created bit by bit. Feed them with your fingers. Don’t let them out of your grip.
This article originally appeared in Music Connection magazine.
Lis Lewis is a voice teacher and performance coach in Los Angeles, CA. She has been training recording artists for over 30 years. Learn more about her private voice lessons. She has also coached celebrities including: Miguel, Rihanna, Iggy Azalea, Bryson Tiller, Demi Lovato, and more. Lis is also the author of the books, “The Singers First Aid Kit” and “The Pop Singers Warm-Up Kit” both published by Hal Leonard.