9 things you should never do on stage

by Shaun Letang on June 25, 2014 · 19 comments

in Fast Forward,Promotion

It’s good to know what you should be doing to advance your music career, but it’s also important to be aware of the things you should avoid. Don’t do these things during a music performance.

Music performance no nos

This post on music performance tips was adapted from an article on Music Industry How To. Reprinted with permission.

I’m sure you’ve read guides and posts and advice about how to move your music career forward. While it’s good to know what you should be doing to advance your music career, it’s also important to be aware of the things you should avoid. Unfortunately, doing the wrong things can kill your career a lot quicker than doing the right things can push it forward.

With that in mind, I want to share with you nine mistakes I’ve seen musicians make during a music performance. I’ve tried to leave personal opinion out of it, instead focusing on what will make for a poor show for your audience. After all, it’s them you’re there to entertain, right?

Here are nine things you should never do on stage!

1. Tune your guitar to start the show

Play guitar? Don’t go on stage and spend the first few minutes of your set tuning your guitar. It’s not fun for the crowd, and it just shows how unprepared you are. Practice tuning regularly so you can get it sounding right fast, and plan for time backstage to prepare yourself and your instrument so you’re ready to play when you’re on

2. Argue with the venue staff

Things don’t always go to plan. The show might start later than advertised, there might be a smaller audience than expected, or the sound engineer might not get your levels right. Despite all of this, don’t go on stage and vent your frustration over these issues – or worse, directly argue with staff during your show time.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen this happen multiple times. It’s easy to feel entitled and like you want to get it off your chest, but there’s a time and a place. When you are on stage, you’re there to entertain the crowd and have fun, so be professional and perform to the best of your ability – whatever the circumstances.

3. Make it obvious when you make a mistake

Mistakes happen. What should you do when they do? Simple: carry on with the show! Unless it’s something major, like a part of the stage has fallen down, chances are the audience won’t even notice. And even if they do, if you carry on as normal, it probably won’t bother them. Don’t make a big deal out of mistakes or highlight them, just keep on with your set.

4. Do more talking than performing

Ok, so it’s important that you let people know where they can catch you next or that they can buy your merch during or after your set. That said, no one wants to hear you talking about it for ages between each song. This gets boring and breaks up your show.

Be sure to incorporate short busts of promo across your gig, but keep it entertaining. Mention things in intros while the music is still playing, at the end of songs, and to backing music briefly between tracks. This lets you get out what you have to say without killing the vibe.

5. Disparage other musicians

The last thing you want to do is call out another band. Don’t criticize, mock, or laugh at another artist while you’re on stage. If you’re touring and have been invited to gig at somewhere outside your usual circles, treat the local musicians there with respect. There are so many “scenes” out there currently that are known for bands who just bash each other for no good reason. Chill out and enjoy the music.

6. Let your ego get in the way

On a related note, it’s important to never boast about your act or music while you’re on stage. Keep your ego in check. In fact, get rid of your ego. Keep that all to yourself. As a crowd member, it’s so laughable to see band hype themselves up on stage. If you think you’re great, be great. No one likes musicians who are too full of themselves.

7. Shout into a microphone at close range

As a musician myself, I’m fully aware that it’s easy to get excited by a crowd that is really into your show. If you’re going to raise your voice and interact with your audience, it’s important to be conscious of the volume. Never shout in to a microphone at close range. It’s not always a scream that gets a crowd going.

8. Split up

Never quit your band while you’re on stage! I remember waiting to see a local band for the longest time when I was younger. I finally got an opportunity to see them, and in a really great venue. We got to the show just as the guitarists we’re setting up and tuning.

After catching a late bus, I recall feeling so lucky that we hadn’t missed any of the set. Just as the guitarist on stage had finished tuning, there was a loud banging noise from the other end of the room. As I glanced back, the drummer had left the stage and the guitarists began to pull out the cables. By now the crowd, who had been waiting patiently for a little over twenty minutes, started to panic.

Noise and confusion circulated around the room very quickly. A moment later, the vocalist took to the mic. “Eh, we’ve actually just broken up. Sorry.” And that was it. To this day, I have no idea why. There was no explanation, and from an audience perspective, it has to be one of the worst things I’ve ever witnessed. Leave band differences for after the show your paying audience has come to see.

9. Forget why you’re there

Probably the most important part of your attitude on stage is to never forget why you’re there in the first place. The stage is the number one way to showcase your music and increase your fan base. If you have ambition and goals as a band, then never forget why you’re there when you’re on stage.

Bonus! Don’t leave your ears unprotected

As a musician, your ears are one of your most important assets (they’re pretty useful in day-to-day life too). While it may not affect your relationship to your audience, what many musicians don’t realize is loud music can damage your ear drums and cause tinnitus; a constant ringing in the ear. Unfortunately, I’ve got this. It’s not fun. While I’ve learned to live with it, for over a year it caused me serious sleeping problems and other issues.

Don’t make the same mistake I did, protect your ears. Don’t have music unnecessarily loud, and when you’re gigging and rehearsing, wear ear plugs. You need your ears, so take good care of them.

Conclusion

Gigging is a top form of promotion and one of the truly fun things about being a musician. If you want more advice on effectively promoting your music, have a look at my free marketing eBook for musicians. It’s one that’s already helped thousands start doing the right things in their music career. Hopefully it’ll help you too.

Any other mistakes you see musicians making when gigging? Let us know in the comments!

Image via ShutterStock.com.

This post was written by Shaun Letang of Music Industry How To. If you want more advice for forwarding your music career, you’ll probably want to start with his free music promotion eBook.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

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Charlie Galvin September 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Nine great pieces of advice, well worth heeding. Another related piece of advice is not to ignore your audience. I have seen bands that banter back and forth among themselves and almost never say anything to the audience between songs, sometimes, not even “thank you” for applause. It can make the audience feel disconnected and irrelevant.

Reply

Max September 30, 2014 at 11:19 pm

I’ve been touring regularly for 2 and a half years, and it’s funny because all of these are SPOT on. Reading them really made me smile. I would totally like to add something, and this may be more of an opinion oriented “what not to do” because it happens to be a huge pet peeve of mine. I play in a metal band, and there’s usually 3-5 locals every night opening the show, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bands do this: when they line check, the vocalist SCREAMS to check the mic. It’s a metal show. The crowd knows you scream. There’s nothing more awkward then someone sceaming “CHEEECCCKKK” when there’s nothing else coming out FOH. But anyway, great article and great advice, most people learn gig etiquette the hard way.

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Bill Kennedy December 16, 2014 at 6:14 pm

This may come under the ego column. Usually it’s an acoustic performer who tells a story about every song he does. “This is a song by Dudley Dowrong who was high on airplane glue when he wrote it.” And he or she goes on and on as if they personally know the artist who wrote it. It’s OK for a song or two but not every song….
That’s my complaint and I’m sticking to it…..

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Bill Sass December 30, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Just a couple of other thoughts, start ON TIME, nothing irritates people having to wait for excessive lengths of time after the advertised start time. Also, take minimal breaks and keep them short. People and promoters have paid good money to see and have you perform, give them what they paid for and then some. You have no idea how beneficial this will be over the long run..

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Capt. Lou January 20, 2015 at 7:41 pm

OK i’ll throw in my 2 bits. Stick to the arrangements. Nothing can confuse the other players like the guy who gets the “inspiration” to take off on a ten minute solo. One of Our best shows was our first CD release. We played all the songs on the CD just the way they were recorded. We added a few songs at the end to round out the show. The drummer kept playing at the end of the last song, so the rest of the band joined in. We all looked at each other for an end spot. Ya think anyone noticed?

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John February 3, 2015 at 3:52 pm

One other thing is not to criticize other musicians in your band during a show. I
Played drums in a 3 piece house band for 4 years , 5 nights a week. The lead singer would say things about me over the mic. It was unprofessional , we fell out and he eventually went to the club owner and had me fired. It was a small club but a stage is a stage so keep the ego in check. Accept a compliment and move on. Be professional under all circumstances.

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Tim Evans February 10, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Also while performing.. It is best to have a policy to always be in control of your show… No excessive alcohol use along with drugs… I have played with other band members, who lost control of their drinking, which caused problems during the sets.. They would start turning their volume up the more they drank…

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G February 24, 2015 at 8:27 pm

I’ll provide another example of what not to do on stage: Not talk to the audience. Yes, the crowd doesn’t want to hear a lot of chatter. But to say nothing to the crowd is an insult. They have taken the time and trouble and money to come see and hear your band. Talk to them! I have seen so many bands and artists, even the big guys – get on stage, not announce the band or recognize or introduce the players or the songs. Just standing there like sticks doesn’t make it. Talking to the crowd is easy – it’s just getting over that first sentence, a lot like writing a story — the first line is the toughest. An easy way to break the ice is to simply announce the band by name and let the audience know you are there to entertain them. Then, between songs, if nothing else, tell the audience what you are going to do next, who the song is by, what it is about, and maybe why you wrote it or why your covering it. The audience will appreciate it, and you will gain by letting them get to know you. The audience loves to be recognized. Talk to them.

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Tom Williams March 4, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Don’t plug or unplug those guitars (with batteries on-board) with the amp on. I’ve done it – the look from the sound man is not warm

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Bownze April 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

#10 Don’t pull your dick out on stage.

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Robert Burton Hubele April 14, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Hi Shaun,
I have tintinnitis from fronting loud bands, shooting guns, driving heavy equipment, flying planes. I also found it harder and harder to perform with other musicians as I couldn’t stay on key. I got a pair of top-end digital hearing aids through Workmen’s Comp. because of the heavy equipment thing, and not only could I stay on pitch, but it relieved me of the constant ringing. I recommended a friend who had the same problem, and the results were the same. It would be well worth your investigation.

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Hammer May 12, 2015 at 9:40 pm

While on the topic of what NOT do do on stage, my rule no.1 &2 is –

ALWAYS USE THE LOO BEFORE YOU GO ON!

A piss break during a set is not acceptable.

I used to do local crewing for big shows in Brisbane, Australia. At on big show at the QE2 Stadium, the follow spot crew got stuck in traffic on the way to the gig (only one road to the stadium, and 50,000 people showed up, so there was just a tiny little traffic jam….)
Us local crew, jumped in to operate the follow spots so the show could go on, but unfortunatleyone of the guys ignored rule 1 & 2 before getting up into the rigging.

And this particular Band did 2 X 2 hour sets.

About halfway through set 1, I hear the following conversation in the talkback headset

Spotop – “I gotta get down”
SpotBoss – “What the…. Who the **** is that?”
Spotop – “It’s Spot 1, I gotta get down quick!” (spot 1 was directly above the singer)
SpotBoss – “Why?”
Spotop – “I’ve gotta take a *****, I can’t hold on much longer”
SpotBoss – “Clench you bastard, Clench!”

I won’t write the rest of the conversation, too much bad language, but there was nearly a punch on in the lighting rig as Spotop was replaced, and he never worked as local crew for that mob ever again.
It’s not considered polite to poop on a superstar (without permission)….. :-)

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CelloJim June 2, 2015 at 2:17 pm

NEVER yawn onstage and never pick your nose!

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Frank Duffield June 2, 2015 at 3:13 pm

As Bill Sass commented, Start on time, Minimize breaks and give the audience what they paid for and then some!
This is your chance to share the love you have for music, try to give the “whole” audience your attention.

Reply

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