You don’t want your onstage banter to take the focus away from the songs you sing. On the other hand, a key part of engaging your audience can come with expressing a few kind words of welcome and thanks at the opening and more thanks at the end. But, what about all that time that passes in between that opening thankful welcome and that closing grateful goodbye?
Generally speaking, you need to limit introductions to songs. Oddly enough those breaks more often than not invite the audience to chat amongst themselves. The more they begin to talk, the less they’re primed to listen. Then, your performance becomes a battle of trying to get their attention. Each song then becomes little more than background music.
On the other hand a relationship is formed between the performer and the audience member. If a song has a significant story or point of interest that will heighten its impact and deliver the message with greater clarity, that story or point should be shared. But it needs to be conveyed as succinctly and colorfully as possible.
In other words, let’s say a song is about a death in the family, you should say so. Then, if the song is a memory piece, it has a clearer point of reference in the heart of those receiving its message for the first time. If the song expresses an apology or a regret, it then has more power because the listener realizes the person has passed on. But again, you want to give only enough information so that the audience can frame the song.
Normally singer-songwriters just jump into each piece with little or no introduction. But there are many times as an audience member you can find yourself thinking things like, what’s he talking about or who is she angry at, instead of having that one little piece of information that would then keep you focused on the song.
The best rule of thumb is to ask yourself, what is the song about? Or if the song is a cover, what does this song mean to me that I want to share? If you can’t answer it in one simple sentence, you might need to rethink the song. But that might also indicate that your audience needs a piece of information to help understand the message.
For example, let’s say you write a lullaby, but it’s for the child you lost years ago. That gives it more meaning. And it draws your audience closer. Or maybe you’re singing a cover song that has a special place in your heart.
First Gig = First Date
Think of that information you share about your song selection as the sort of tidbits you might share on a first date with someone you really like and want to get to know better. Now don’t get all goofy and gushing and ramble on spilling your guts about absolutely everything you think, feel, dream, and crave. Just share information that helps your audience to more fully appreciate your work, enjoy your company, and want to hear more.
Test Run Your Yack + Whine
Always test any of your onstage banter with at least three people that will level with you. Make sure one person does not know you all that well. An ideal situation would be people with fresh eyes and ears who know none of your secrets and possibly didn’t even know you sing or write or both. But of course finding total strangers or people that barely know you that would be willing to listen is not very likely. A possibility would be acquaintances of good friends that don’t know you that well at all.
In any case, you must do a practice run of your in between song chatter and set ups for songs to work out the kinks, clarify, make cuts, and become more focused. If all else fails, do a video recording of the run-through of your banter; or at least get an audio recording; and then, have an in depth critical self-review.
Know What’s Happening
Be aware of any current events or goings on at the venue that your audience will likely relate to. A nod to a specific local cause or a nearby connection to one of your songs can be incorporated into your onstage talk. The worst thing is to clam up completely. The more relaxed and open you are onstage, the more relaxed and receptive your audience will be in the long run.
Head Off The Heckler
If it is clear that an audience member, such as a heckler, or a group of people are making it difficult for others to hear and appreciate your performance, make a general statement. Ask people to be considerate of those who want to hear. This will likely get the attention of a staff member that will then get the venue manager or owner that can then remedy a situation before it gets out of hand. Only do this when it is clearly a distraction not just for you as a performer but for others you see in the audience who are clearly distracted.
And finally, always express gratitude. Thank your audience for coming. Offer a quick thank you or an appreciative nod and smile after each song. And then, close with whatever works for you as a simple, comfortable way to show gratitude for their time and attention.