When you get on stage, you’re all about the music. You’ve practiced your songs, you know every word (without peeking at the lyrics), and you feel 100% your best with your eyes closed, letting the music take over.
Stage banter can feel like a whole ‘nother beast.
Some people are natural born talkers – they can get up on any stage and have the crowd rolling with laughter, crying, and applauding throughout their show.
You know how to handle yourself in conversation, but how the heck do you talk to a room full of people? Especially without sounding sleazy and overly promotional? Ew.
Here are 16 tips for great stage banter that will make a genuine connection with your audience. You’ll feel like yourself, and be able to promote your record/socials/website without sounding like you’re trying to recruit anyone to a multi-level marketing company!
Great stage banter is promotion, participation, and practice.
1. Practice your banter when you practice for your show
Yup. This one is just that easy. Practice your banter just like you would your songs. It may feel forced at first but TRUST ME, practicing your banter ahead of time is a life saver. To keep it feeling natural, imagine how you would like to come across on stage, say some words, and make adjustments as you go. Work it into your set: play a song, put a little banter after it, and play your next song.
Practicing what you’ll say ahead of time keeps you from having those “Oh shit, what do I say here?” moments on stage. Because playing out the scenario ahead of time gives you the words you need so you never have to come up with something on the fly.
2. Psych yourself up not out
Gina Barnette is a TED talk coach, and she suggests using positive thinking and all that nervous energy to psych yourself up, not out:
Barnett warns that negative self-talk can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. … Psych yourself up with phrases like, “I’m so excited!” “It’ll be great!” “I can’t wait to share this idea!” Basically, whatever key phrase makes you feel happy.
Gina Barnette, blog.ted.com
3. Keep your thoughts positive
When you’re on stage, and before you get on stage, keep your inner dialog positive. If the thought of talking on stage really gets your especially nervous, this one’s for you. When you feel your thoughts starting to lean toward “I hope this goes well… What if I make a mistake? I’m so bad at this stage banter thing.” I want you to immediately SHUT IT DOWN.
The moment you have a thought like that, repeat after me: “I’m practiced, I’m awesome, and I’m 100% myself. This is going to be great. There’s no reason to think that it won’t. I know exactly what to say.” Keep your thought positive!
4. Keep it short!
Stage banter should be short and sweet. Because talking to a crowd from a stage is not like talking with a person one on one. It’s not a conversation. It’s you, up there essentially carrying on by yourself.
So keep it short and sweet. Don’t monologue for 7 minutes before you start a song. That takes a lot of pressure off you already, right?
5. Introduce yourself to the room
If you’re playing to a new room or see some new faces, introduce yourself. You can introduce yourself at the top of the set. After your first song is another good place to drop your intro.
When wording your introduction, be yourself! Keep it short and sweet, and speak to the room like you would to a friend. Don’t feel the need to list your accomplishments or awards – it will come across as self-absorbed. The more you can be yourself, the more natural you’ll feel – and the audience will feel that, too!
6. Intro your songs
Share a little about a song before you play it. Where did the idea come from? Is it a true story? Did you write it for a friend who was going through a hard time? Did it win an award (you can slide that in here if you like)?
Perhaps it’s a slow song and a good time for people to grab partners for a slow dance. Tell them that!
It’s always interesting to hear about where a song comes from.
7. You don’t have to intro every song
Truly, don’t feel obligated to introduce every single song.
My rule of thumb is if you have a 3 song set, you should say a little something between each song.
But if you have a set of 4+ songs, then you don’t need to introduce each one. Just the ones that are opportunities for good and interesting introductions.
8. Share stories from the writing room
Did something funny happen with a cowriter when you wrote the song? Share it!
Was the song almost not written because of crazy circumstances that happened that day? Tell us about that close call!
Give your audience a glimpse into your life as a singer/songwriter. It’s not every day that people get to hear stories behind the music.
9. Dedicate a song to someone
Got an encouraging song about a dark subject? These are great opportunities to dedicate a song anonymously to those in the room who may be struggling at the moment. You can bring a lot of light to someone listening to your music this way. Just make sure that the song is something that will lift someone up, and to keep it anonymous (unless you know that someone would be ok with it!).
If you know someone personally who you’d like to dedicate a song to, go for it! Shout them out! Just make sure the song is flattering and that you’re not exposing any private matters of theirs on stage. For example, if you have a friend who really likes a particular song of yours, tell her you’re singing this one for her tonight! “My friend Jane loves this song and she always quotes it to me in texts – so this is for you, girl!”
On the contrary, you can dedicate a song “To all of the jerks that ever broke your heart.” That will get the room on your side real quick!
10. Shout out your cowriters
It’s always a classy thing to mention who you wrote a song with. You can introduce your song this way really briefly: “I wrote this one with my friends Jane Doe and John Smith.”
When a song is finished and the audience is clapping, you can credit them there, as well: “Thank you. Wrote that one with John Smith and Jane Doe.” Done. Class act.
11. Tell a joke
If you need to tune your guitar real quick and want to avoid the awkward sound of tuning, try telling a joke. Dad jokes always go over well – the cheesier the better. Just be sure to keep them true dad jokes: PG, and fun for everyone.
12. Ask your audience questions
I LOVE doing this. When I ask questions especially at the beginning of a set, it gets the room engaged right away. Everyone wants a chance to speak up. When someone answers your question, you can start a little quick chat with them. It really makes someone feel special. Plus, it helps me get into the mindset of that casual, conversational banter that feels the most natural. Some things you can ask the room:
- “Who’s been here before?” (raise your hand to indicate a show of hands)
- “It’s my first time in [city.] I’m from [other city] – where are you all from? You locals? Shout it out!” Share a short story or memory of any of the places you hear.
- “So who’s ever sent a text when they were really too drunk to do it?” This is a good way to lead into a song. I use this line to lead into my song, Drunk Text. It usually gets a sympathetic laugh!
- If you mention someone else like an influence of yours, add on a “Have you heard of her before?” You’ll get some yes’s and maybe some nope’s. You can answer them directly if you want, but sometimes even just the acknowledgment of the audience is enough to help them feel engaged.
13. Call and response: Teach them part of the song
If you have a song that has a really awesome call and response section, spend a few minutes before you play it teaching it to your audience! You’ll have to feel out the room for this one, but it can be a great way to get the crowd involved. They will not forget that song!
14. Always say thank you
Thank you’s go a long way. Thank the venue or the host for having you. Thank the crowd for applauding after each song (but only once they’ve started clapping, never before). Thank the room again before you play your very last song. “It has been such a pleasure playing for you tonight, thank you for coming out. This is my last song, and it’s called [song title].”
You can end your set with: “It has been such a pleasure playing for you tonight, thank you for coming out. This is my last song, and it’s called [song title].”
15. Point to your socials
The end of your set is a great time to point the room to your social media so they can follow you. You can do this before you play your last song, or after your very las song. “Thank you! If you want to hear new music and keep in touch, follow me on instragram at [username].”
If you make it a practice to follow back people who follow you, tell them so. I like to add “If you follow me on instrgram, leave me a comment that you were here tonight so I can follow you back!”
16. Got a merch table? Tell them you’ll meet them there
This is key for selling merch at the end of the night. If you have a merch table set up, tell the room that you’d love to talk to them and that you’ll meet them over at the merch table after your set. You can say more about the merch you have for sale, but you can keep it as simple as that. “Thanks for listening, you guys. I’d love to get to know you a little better, so if you want to talk or pick up a CD, I’ll be over at the merch table for the next [x amount of time.]”