7 Ways to Improve Your Live Performances


7 Ways to Improve Your Live Performances

by Bruce Wawrzyniak

IAMA Winners Downhill Bluegrass Band  performing live on stage

IAMA Winners Downhill Bluegrass Band performing live on stage

Booking the shows, playing the shows, promoting your live dates, keeping up your website and social media, and writing and rehearsing. These are all a regular part of the schedule that a singer/songwriter keeps. But where in there is time left – or where in there are you making time – to evaluate the end product?

You’ve got the songs written, and certainly those are the key. Not only because without songs to sing you’d be on stage in front of mic like a stand-up comedian, but, because you can be real good at booking yourself, but if the songs don’t move anyone, no one is going to attend all those shows you so successfully scheduled yourself for.

Here are some tips on making sure that once you step into the spotlight, the people stay – and listen.

  1. Arrange to have a couple of your live shows filmed. Yes, it’s great content for YouTube and/or your website, but more importantly, this is for your own internal review. You know how you sound on-stage, but do you know how you look? This doesn’t have to be a huge production or a new line item in your music budget. Even if you just put a camera on a tripod and leave it there, get some footage you can watch. I’m not a big advocate for video off of a smartphone, but to just have something for your own study, that will even suffice so you can see what the audience members are seeing.
  2. Don’t do your entire show sitting down. Singer/songwriters face enough stereotypes (see the aforementioned stand-up comedians). Don’t add to it by sitting on a stool for two whole hours. (Dare I say don’t even bring a stool at all?!) Stand up, move around, and give the audience a reason to not nod off or look down into their phones. If you don’t look interested, why would they want to give you their undivided attention?
  3. Be very strategic about your set list. I’m amazed at people who tell me, “I don’t do a set list. I just play what I feel in the moment.” And thus they play four ballads in a row and start losing audience members to sadness or disinterest or fatigue. Mix up the ballads and the mid-tempo and the up-tempo songs. Plus, during the booking process, ensure that you can play all originals. If they want a mix of cover songs, have a good combination that will keep people interested when you start playing a song of yours that you want them to know.
  4. Be a good storyteller. There’s a huge difference between saying, “Here’s a song I wrote about my first car,” and painting a picture of what the make and model was along with the color, any defects, the reason it had meaning to you, and why it made enough of an impression on you to actually write a song about it. Imagine going to a songwriters festival and just playing your songs without any explanation or setup. The stories behind them would be noticeable by their absence.
  5. You don’t know what the audience members are each going through, good or bad. Hopefully you are playing shows where they’re paying to see you. That in itself should be a big reminder that they’ve made a conscious choice to hear you add to their celebration or help them with their current plight. There should be no cruise control setting in your act. Play every time like it’s your first show and your last show.
  6. Pick one table or audience section to play to and draw them in. Then move on to the next table or section. And so on. Don’t play just to the person or people right in the front. The guy at the back deserves to hear you just as much and he could very well end up being that “you never know who might be in the crowd” person.
  7. The devil is in the details, as they say. Practice good mic technique. Befriend the sound tech. Have your guitar in tune so you’re not adjusting on the fly during your very first song. Don’t close your eyes the whole time you’re singing. These are all a part of the equation that add up to a live performance you can be proud of at the end of the night.

As they say, wash, rinse, repeat. Use the above as a checklist and/or create a Live Show checklist so that you are ready each time you take the stage, and leave the audience members applauding and wondering when and where they can see you perform next.


Bruce Wawrzyniak is the president of Tampa, Florida-based Now Hear This, Inc., which specializes in management, promotion, and booking for musicians. He is the host of the weekly show, “Now Hear This Entertainment,” which has gotten listeners in 80-plus countries around the world. He writes a weekly blog at www.NowHearThis.biz and is the author of “Bruce’s Bonus Book: A Collection of Tips for Up-And-Coming Entertainers.” He is a regular attendee of songwriters festivals and served as a speaker at a Young Songwriters Workshop in Nashville. Look for him as a panelist at a major music conference in the southeast later this year.

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7 Responses to “7 Ways to Improve Your Live Performances”

  1. Timothy E. Hall says:

    I can’t agree with all of it.
    Sitting and performing while playing is part of my duo’s schtick. We do a couch concert regularly with above fair attendance. Hell if Ben Taylor, James Taylor, Darrell Scott sit during their entire performance… Well, guess they must not enchant their audiences.

    I get the point, but you have to be able to determine whether you are performing for a listening crowd or trying to entertain the troops, there are obvious energies to be addressed.

    I never go fishing for attention, I’m very technical in my playing, I have a duo partner that rules the mic, and he’s talented at keeping the audience. His reads the audience, and our set list changes as the population changes.

    Just my 2¢…

    TE Hall

  2. Melissa Clark says:

    I’ve heard that “folk artists are a bit arrogant and condescending” and perhaps you just showed my why this perception exists. Your comment reminds me of the guitar reviewers who, before giving you what to consider in a guitar, feel obligated to tell you all the guitars they own.
    The points here are valid and just as songwriting workshops are intended to help improve a song, so this is here to help improve the performance. By the way, comparing yourself to successful recording artists is fun, but what purpose did that serve?
    This isn’t even 2 cents’ worth but what the hey?
    Melissa Clark

  3. Maria Fattore says:

    I am stunned to see a web site dedicated to acoustic music talking about mic technique. Acoustic music is a completely different experience from large concert format. By basic definition— acoustic music is NOT amplified. That means no sound tech, no mic, no electronics, because once those elements are present the actual sound the audience hears can be electronically manipulated.

  4. Bruce Gertz says:

    I agree with everything. I understand that folk artist get intimate and quiet and sit with guitars but I always stand as well as all my band members except the drummer and pianist. I feel I need to work on my movement. I’m a bass player. On upright bass it’s a little more subtle to move attractively while on electric, bass guitar I can move around like dance. Also I think it’s important to smile at least occasionally so the audience sees you enjoying it too. You don’t want to look like you’re in pain the whole time.

  5. Rich Campbell says:

    All great advice, which will be promptly ignored, and even belittled, by many.

    You have two main things you are presenting to your live audience: how you sound and how you look. Some even entertain with how they smell through incense or other herbs. Priests are geniuses at engaging all your senses in order to elevate you to a feeling of awe and mystery, invoking a larger-than-life transcendent experience.

    Way too many pretentious artistes think their sounds are so groovy that they can ignore all visuals, movements, pacing or emotions. All the better for those of us who have paid off our mortgages over the years by entertaining, enlightening, and elevating all our fan’s senses for an hour at a time.

    Want to really blow your audience’s collective minds? See if you can arrange your setlist to metaphorically follow the “hero’s journey.” It doesn’t need to be literal, just a sense of pacing where your entire set is one compelling story that they could not possibly pull themselves away from before knowing how it ends.


    This will make no sense to 99% of musicians. Count on seeing the other one percent on the charts 🙂

  6. Tom Stein says:

    While these are mostly good suggestions, I disagree with the one about storytelling. The minute a performer starts reciting some long-winded story about their personal motivations for writing a song, I am instantly bored to tears. The music should tell the story on it’s own. Otherwise it isn’t worth listening to. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, and any explaining needed can happen afterwards (e.g. in an interview) and even then only if the song is a hit and really needs any explaining. I love how Miles Davis always refused to talk about his music. Music should stand on its own.

  7. Guy W. Stoker says:

    Very good blog in most cases. Only thing is I’m a piano-vocalist so need to sit down. Lol. I know I need to be careful about my facial expressions when I perform, there’s times I look like I’ve swallowed a wasp. 🙂

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