Today my article was inspired by a question from a friend on Facebook. Chris E. wrote me this “Can you write something about how a band should interact with the crowd. We are a good band but I feel like the crowd doesn’t warm up to us like they should. You know how it goes, you play your heart out for hours and nobody cares until they are drunk. Ha ha!”
Chris if I knew that I’d be playing stadiums. I have put a lot of thought into the question though. It happens to us all at some point. But it’s a rare night anymore for me. I hadn’t actually sat and considered the reasons why it’s a rare occasion.
I think there are a few factors to consider. The most important one is, IT’S NOT YOUR CROWD’S FAULT!!! No one comes home and says, “Ya know Hon, I think I’ll pick a place with a cover charge to drink. Plus I’m not in the mood to have a good time, so I think I’ll go out and make sure I won’t have a blast.” Saying you had a bad crowd is the cowards way out. Don’t abuse them either. Saying “what’s the matter with you people?” or “You guys suck!” doesn’t help your cause much. They will turn on you. Someone paid you for coming in and telling them they suck.
Now the fault lies on the band’s shoulders. So what can you do? The answer is what ever you have to. I’m going to quote the late great Bon Scott of AC/DC (rip) “We got what you want, and you got the lust. If you want blood, you got it.”
I think it boils down to these ideas. It’s called show business for a reason. Put together a show. Focus on your strong points. For example, my old R&B band Dr Wu’s Rock N Soul Revue, had a front man who really wasn’t the best at connecting with the crowd during onstage banter. He sang with his eyes closed and didn’t move much. Amazing singer though. So we worked around it by not having any time between songs. The only time we’d stop is if we needed to. The singer also played guitar sometimes and we’d have to stop. Our sharp witted sax player would grab the mic and talk. No dead air. Good music and a lot going on visually on stage.
With Poprocks we had just the opposite. Becca the singer was a dynamic front woman and great singer. She’d go out and grab someone to dance with and force people off their butts physically. I was talking to the guitarist of Vince Vance and the Valliants years ago and he told me “If you can find someone who has the balls to get out their and do their thing, you’ve got it made.” Vince couldn’t sing for shit, but he could put a crowd in a party mode with a snap of his fingers. Becca could do that. On a side note, Becca is my ex-wife so don’t tell her I said anything nice about her. I’d never live it down.
If the band is good and your music is good, then sit and work on putting songs back to back, working them into medleys of whole songs. Thinking of ways to involve your audience. Can we stop here and let them sing the “Talk Dirty to Me” part? Practice going from song to song. Who ever starts that song should have looked at the set list and be ready to go. Time between songs is just a bad habit. I told Chris the drummer for Wu to start the next song no matter what. I didn’t care if the bass player wanted to drink a bit of his beer or stand around and talk about the days events…This is an exaggeration, Doug Evans the bass player kicked ass and was great onstage and off. It only took two gigs before everyone knew to be ready for the next tune. People will tell you how tight of a band you have, and after seeing regular bar bands play 10 songs in a set, we had to play 15 because we didn’t stop. This is an easy way to have a pro band.
This leads me to the next part of the equation. Being the pro’s we are, we now have a show and not just a band with 40 or 50 songs they know. When people come and see a band that looks like and plays like pros, you are giving them what they expected and came for. In turn they will do what’s expected of them which is to scream, yell and dance. It’s subliminal but it works.
Confidence onstage plays a major part. You walk on knowing you’re good and will be even better if the crowd is. You don’t have to pretend to be a rockstar, unless of course that is your persona. That works a lot. I’ve never been pretty enough to be that skinny rockstar so I do what I’ve always done. I make myself look like I’m jamming my ass off, pounding my foot on the stage, letting out a scream now and then, moving as much as I can, looking people in the eye, trolling the edge of the stage fist pounding guys and winking at girls.
Turn your focus musically and physically to your audience. Too many bands focus inward. They are turned toward each other or constantly watching what’s happening stage. Try never to turn your back on your audience. You look at them, grin but let ‘em know at the same time you are doing your job, which is entertaining them. You are the lead guitarist? When you solo take a step forward and let people know you are kicking ass. Lay people don’t always know who is doing what, so smack em in the face with it. Hold that guitar and make your guitar faces and let them think that the notes are just flowing through your body and out your fingers. Some night’s that really happens but some times you have to fake it. The crowd will want to get closer to see how amazing you are. They will want to be part of what you are throwing out there. They will feed off the energy being pounded at them.
This is a must when playing original music. You better be kicking ass live or no one will stay past the third song.
Crowd participation. What concert have you ever been to where they didn’t involve you at some point, actually many points. Dr. Wu was 75% crowd partcipation. Sing alongs, making them join in on the fun we were having onstage or some nights faking. Either way at the end of the night people were sweaty and tore up if they kept up with our show which was nothing but Memphis 60’s R&B tunes. Poprocks would pull people up onstage throughout the night to sing a line or two, dance, while their friends came out and cheered them on, and go wild at the end of the night with a planned dance off with the wildest women we could find. This also was the reason we were forced to go to court over a flashing incident from an audience member. We knew they were gonna flash the audience, the audience knew it was gonna happen and the girls up there knew they were going to. That piece of shtick loaded our pockets for a long time. Matt Poss threw sing alongs and other shtick into his show. But in each of these bands we all had the same objective. Involve the crowd to feed off that energy. It’s a mob action when you yell “SOMEBODY SCREAM!” and the entire place roars.
Another great way is to just ask them.
Jon Clarkson of X-Krush brought up a point at a show that we were playing together. He brought up the theory of the invisible barrier. You know the spot. A trash can in a beer tent no one wants to cross, the dance floor edge, a chair even. For some reason people will line up behind these invisible barriers. In the middle of a song or in between tell them to move forward, you want to see their pretty faces. If they are dancing at the back of the stage tell them to come closer. They will. Tell them to get on up a few times after loosing them up with a few screams, and other rockstar clichés. The reason they have been done so often is because they work.
My last major point is to sacrifice a few sure fire songs to open with. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was the opening song for Poprocks for a long time. It would have been huge later in the night, but you know what? It got people off their butts the first few songs. They better dance to it now because it’s not going to be played again. And if we’ll throw that into the first set then the rest of the night has to be better. Right? Soon people will come to catch the beginning of your show and know they need to get up early. It didn’t always work but we worked harder if it didn’t.
Part of your show is to make the stage look like it’s a pro band. We placed amps on chairs sometimes, or on cable boxes but we also covered the boxes and chairs with a black drape. Go to Wal-Mart look on the dollar fabric table and buy a few yards of black cloth. If you have cooling fans paint them flat black. Anything that can be hidden should be. No cases behind the drummer.
You are a kick ass band. Make your audience know it. It boils down to confidence. Confidence in your self, your band, and in your audience. Once everyone knows their part, dead crowds will become further and farther between. You want your audience to leave feeling they are better for the experience.
The other option is play really, really popular songs. That’s a guess, I never went that route full force. Poprocks was close. You have to weigh musical creativity with paying the rent sometimes. Find that middle ground to stay inspired. As for song selection refer to an earlier blog about not being married to your song list. Some songs just aren’t live. Matt Poss has four albums out but he doesn’t play every song off them, he plays the ones that go over live. That in no way means the other songs aren’t great he’s recorded.
Chris, that’s my theory. Put on a good show, give the audience what they want, which is entertainment. Guide them along with subtle ways and sometimes obvious ways. Look like you are always having fun and the crowd will pick up on it. Focus on them and not on each other. Look and act the part and the crowd will usually follow. Plus you’ll make more money with a show. Focus your music. Don’t play “everything” you won’t play enough of any one style to satisfy anyone. Most of all Chris have the fun. You are playing with a great band, your part is as important as everyone else’s. Now let your audience know it. If you implement these ideas and use them for the next six months and people still aren’t getting off their ass, write and we’ll come up with some other ideas.
I’ll embed Van Halen live. Only Dave for me so don’t argue. I know I’m right on this. Watch the fun, the swagger, the crowd participation. You don’t have to like the band or the show but learn from one of the greatest live bands of all time. Watch their focus. It’s not on each other it’s on the audience, and Jesus it’s Eddie Van Halen, I’d be focused totally on him. Watch and learn and you’ll see each one of the points I mentioned.
Special note to Chris. Thanks for reading and the question. This doesn’t only help you but it brings these points to the front of my mind and how I will apply it to my new project.
Now as a side note, I’ll be putting together a band from scratch, so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is. I’m no longer a member of the Matt Poss Band but that being said they are the same friends I knew before, during, and after playing with them. It’s a very amicable split, no bad blood. No hurt feelings. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So I’ll have plenty to write about while implementing my own words.
Buy my freakin’ CD! Thanks for reading. Keep those ideas coming in.