When your band takes the stage, it goes without saying that putting your best foot forward is paramount. From connecting with fans, to leaving a lasting impression on the venue and promoters, bands should always enter a live performance with their A-game prepared. You never know who is watching (and listening).
Your live show is representative of you as an artist, and in the world of music, how you rock a stage makes a world of difference in career trajectory. So, what are the key factors setting apart bands that shine on stage from those that fizzle under the lights?
On the most basic level, it comes down to focusing on what you can control, and dismissing what you can’t. A killer live performance has less to do with stressing over external pressures, and more to do with preparation among band members.
In a hectic festival environment, there are going to be many things you can’t control—the quality of your sound, a broken string that takes a precious five minutes of your set to replace, a bad patch cord that you spend sound check scrambling to replace, and likely that one drunk asshole who still thinks non-stop requesting “Free Bird” is funny.
So here are some things you can control:
Being on time
Get there early and stage your gear so that you can maximize your sound check and minimize your headache. Avoid being late and set yourself up for success. Sound check is a limited amount of time to ensure everything is correct; don’t squander those precious minutes running behind.
Don’t show up late, and don’t go over. Seriously, respect the time slot! It’s a bad look anytime but especially at a festival when you’re sharing a stage (and probably a backline) with tons of other musicians. Even if the crowd is yelling “one more song!”, if there’s a band after you, don’t try to cram in an encore that makes you go over your set time. Being considerate in any musical community goes a long way.
From a festival-goer’s perspective, nothing’s more annoying than the show not adhering to the schedule–a sentiment shared by fellow bands and the production team. Which brings us to the next point:
Respect the sound engineer
This person is responsible for how your music sounds to your audience. Do not piss them off. Even if they are being grumpy to you.
But seriously, make friends with your engineer. Learn their name, ask them how their day is going. The person running the board is arguably the most important person in the room when it comes to having a successful show. Festival sets are high stress, high speed environments, so go the extra mile to be cool to your sound person. They will appreciate it and it will make sound check go 100% smoother and make your band sound better.
Sticking around to support other bands
This should honestly go without saying, but it unfortunately happens more often than not.
Build your community. Support the bands/people you love. Introduce yourself to bands that surprise you with an awesome set and exchange contacts for future gigs. Other musicians are your greatest asset and most rewarding resource. If people want to talk to you about how cool your set was—make time for them. Sometimes taking a minute to talk with someone is the difference between someone being a fan or superfan.
How you represent your band (brand)
There are 300+ bands playing a festival, but none of them are you. What makes your band, your band? You don’t need a gimmick, just a solid understanding of what you bring to table and do in a way nobody else does.
Reiterate your band name. It’s a good idea to have something to give to new fans/friends (merch, business cards, download cards)… so they can pull it out of their pocket the next day and talk about how great you were to all their friends – especially if your band name is tricky or easily forgettable. Bring merch! This is a great opportunity to get in front of a new audience – make sure you have stuff for them to buy or take home or learn more about you and your music.
Have something to announce during your set! Another upcoming show, new release, music video… whatever.
Beyond the music and gear, attitude carries tremendous weight in how your performance comes across. Professionalism comes from preparedness and a positive mental attitude.
Crowds are smart. They are perceptive and can decipher between genuine and counterfeit. There’s no hiding when you’re under the lights. So approach your set with your honest self and a positive attitude.
Connect with yourself, your bandmates, the crowd, and realize you’re all creating an experience together. Be present and enjoy the moment.