Is stage banter something you try not to think about until you’re on stage?
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.
Eep. 🤐 It may feel not so easy.
Some people are complete naturals. They can hop up on any stage and have the crowd rolling with laughter, crying, and cutting up like they’re all old friends.
But what about us introverted artists? Can we ever get the hang of stage banter?
Introverted artists can absolutely nail their stage banter
If the thought of talking to people from the stage sends chills down your spine, I have some great news for you. Stage banter is a practiced skill. Anyone can do it!
Stage banter is a practiced skill. Anyone can do it!
As a textbook introvert myself, I can attest to the fact that these 16 tips below have saved me on stage.
Introverts and shy performers can become stage banter pros with practice and material they can use over and over again.
Why stage banter is so hard
Stage banter is different from everyday conversation, but not that different.
- You know you need to promote your music, but don’t want to come off as self-absorbed
- You can talk with the audience, but have to watch the time
- You want to feel candid, funny and interesting, but polished and professional
It can become a bit of a balancing act, but once you learn the ropes, you can start to relax and find your groove. It just takes practice.
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 an MLM. 🤦🏻♀️
Great stage banter is Practice, Participation, and Promotion.
Keep those three P’s in mind when you’re practicing your songs. In fact, write down your set list, and inject little notes between songs where you can do the following:
Practice: Practice your stage banter (what you’re going to say and when).
Participation: Look for moments in your set to involve the audience by talking with them and involving them in your music.
Promotion: Find natural places to promote your album, socials, website, or email list, etc. and make sure you do it!
1. Practice your banter when you practice for your show
This right here is the key takeaway. Practice your banter just like you would your songs.
Practicing what you’ll say ahead of time keeps you from having those “Oh shit, what do I say here?” moments on stage.
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. Write it down, even.
Work it into your set: play a song, put a little banter after it, write down what you like best, and move into rehearsing 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.
Playing out the banter scenario ahead of time gives you the words you need so you never feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
2. Psych yourself up not out
It’s helpful to work on clearing some of that nervous energy before a show and transmute the rest of it.
To clear, try movement: Shake your hands out, dance, jump, do burpees, run from your house to your mailbox and back! Moving your body is a great way to burn off excess nervous energy that may otherwise get trapped in your body. When you’re working on your banter and practicing your set, try some movement when you feel you’re getting butterflies.
As for any nervous energy that remains, let’s use it to our greatest advantage.
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 hit the brakes.
What If’s and fantasies about things going poorly will only spark your nerves.
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!
[Psst—Looking for a community of songwriters to collab with, write with every week, and share your songs with? That’s exactly what we do inside Song Club! Come make songwriter friends and get weekly songwriting resources 🤍 See you in the Club!]
4. Keep it short!
You do not have to be endlessly interesting and well-traveled and wax poetic about music and your artistic inspirations for minutes on end. No monologues needed. Keep it short. Remove the pressure to be long winded.
Phew! Doesn’t that feel better already?
Stage banter can absolutely be short and sweet. In fact, I feel it’s more effective. Because as you know, talking to a crowd from a stage is not like talking with a person one on one. It’s not always a conversation. (sometimes it can be, but not always.) A lot of the time, it’s just you sharing from the stage while the room listens.
So keep it short and sweet. Tell a longer story once or maybe twice in the set if you feel compelled to, or have a great story to tell. But there is never anything wrong with quick banter!
5. Introduce yourself to the room
If you’re playing to a new room or see some new faces, introduce yourself at the top of your set. If you see more people coming into the room after the show has started, you can welcome them and intro yourself again for the new folks. “I see a few folks just popped in, welcome guys, my name is [name], it’s good to see you, thanks for coming out tonight.”
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 as though you’re at a job interview. (Though you certainly can let the audience know some of the cool things you’ve had the pleasure of doing/being part of/winning!)
The more you can be yourself, the more natural you’ll feel—and the audience will feel that, too!
6. Intro your songs
This is fabulous low hanging fruit. Simply 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 about someone in particular? (you can pull a T-Swift and keep them anonymous if you like)
- Did it win an award? (You can slide that in here, too)
- Perhaps it’s a slow song and a good time for people to grab partners for a slow dance? Tell them that!
Non-songwriters aren’t used to hearing where songs come from. We talk about it all the time, but other folks aren’t going around always talking song like we are! So It can feel magical and so inclusive when you let them in on the song creation process. It’s always interesting to hear about where a song comes from.
7. You don’t have to intro every song
Don’t feel obligated to introduce every single song.
My rule of thumb is if I have a 3 song set, I’ll say a little something between each song.
But if I have a set of 5+ songs, I likely won’t introduce each one, depending on time and the type of show I’m playing.
If you have a longer set, pick the songs that are opportunities for interesting introductions and intro those. Cool story behind the song? Intro that song and tell us the story!
The rest of your songs can lead into one another.
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.
Plus, you know as well as I do that some crazy stories come out of co-writes and shows!
9. Dedicate a song to someone
If you know someone personally who you’d like to dedicate a song to and they’re in the room, go for it! Shout them out!
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!”
You can dedicate songs to your parents, your souses, boyfriends, girlfriends, people who inspired you, or even the guy at the bar who has been bobbing his head to your last three songs.
Want to make a memorable moment for someone? If you have an encouraging song about making it through hard times, dedicate it to anyone in the room who is struggling. You can even share your own story of hardship. Vulnerability brings people together, and music helps is heal. You can bring a lot of light to someone this way.
If you want to lighten the mood, you can dedicate a song “To all of the jerks that ever broke our hearts.” 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.”
Spread the love! If your co-writers are in the room that night, it will make them feel really special. And the people sitting next to them!
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.
Know the room and tell a joke that you feel will land with that particular audience. (have 2 in your back pocket!)
12. Ask your audience questions
I love doing this. And usually the audience loves it, too! It’s so much fun to get to know the room, and you can often get some really funny wildcard responses.
🚨 Disclaimer, this works best with a listening audience. If the room is a rowdy bar full of people talking to each other, they likely aren’t going to respond when you ask a question.
If you have a listening room audience, or even a few people near the stage who are paying attention, talk to them.
Here are 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 no’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.
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.
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 or the show!
14. Always say thank you
Thank you’s go a long way.
Thank the venue or the host for having you. Thank the sound guy for mixing. Thank the crowd for coming. 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 and email list
The end of your set is a great time to point the room to your social media and email list so they can keep up with you.
You can do this before you play your last song, or right after your very last song. “Thank you! If you want to hear new music and keep in touch, follow me on instagram 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 instagram, leave me a comment that you were here tonight so I can follow you back!”
[Looking for new inspiring song prompts? I got you! Check out all of SongFancy’s song prompts.]
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.]”
17. Bonus tip! Go see more shows.
Watching other artists work a room is a great way to learn some new tricks! Go attend some shows and see how those artists structure their banter. You’ll learn a ton! In fact, just about all of these tips here I’ve picked up from watching others.