Between pleasure, work, and the combination of the two, I find myself out at a good deal of live shows. Inevitably, sometimes the artists rocking I actually know and am fans of, and other times I’m unfamiliar with them (whether it’s ‘cause they’re opening and I’ve never heard of them or I know their name but have never had a chance to fully check out their music).
I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work—for me, at least—when it comes to performing in front of a crowd who may be unfamiliar with your music. So here, in no particular order, are some dos and don’ts.
1) Don’t bring twelve of your mans and them on stage with you. We’re already trying to figure out who you are and if we fuck with you, so don’t bring a bunch of random dudes up with you. I know they’re not random to you, but they’re random to us. Shit, you’re random to us. So use this little moment that you have on stage as yours and only yours to shine.
2) There’s one exception to the above statement. If there’s one particular song that you have that, for whatever reason, you feel like you need to perform, and it features one (tops, two, but that’s really pushing it) other artists, you can do that. But be careful is all I’m saying. And make sure your man isn’t yelling out some long list of the sets he reps after the record cuts off and it’s time for him to exit stage left. We don’t really care. Let’s cap it at “Shouts to [insert hometown], and [wildcard].” The wildcard could be his crew, mom, girlfriend, or latest mixtape available for free Internet download.
3) If you can actually rap—and we all know that not everyone can—show us. This sounds obvious but I’m completely serious. One of the best things for dudes who can really spit to do is astound us with your bars. The best way to do that is with an a capella. Take a quick break and turn the music off. Okay, good, now we can actually hear you. Alright, now drop some lines that will truly grab us. Punchlines, similes, crazy flow—I don’t care how you do it—just stay in your comfort zone and flex your lyrical muscles, if you have them. I’ve found this the most effective way to win over a crowd (and me) that doesn’t know your music. There are benefits to doing it early in your set and benefits to doing it at the end, but, honestly, just do it. If you can rap.
4) If you have one, show us your personality. Crack some jokes. Interact with the crowd beyond just saying, “Throw your hands up.” Which reminds me, don’t say that. If no one’s fucking with you, they’re not gonna do it, and then things just get uncomfortable for everyone. The most you can ask of a group of people that doesn’t know your stuff is some call and response for the chorus of one of your songs or something, and even that’s a little risky. I’m not saying that there’s harm in telling the crowd to throw their hands up, I’m just saying that if you do it and get thrown off your game when they don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
5) Interact with the crowd. That last bullet turned unexpectedly negative, so I’m gonna take this one where that was supposed to go: Make eye contact. If someone out there is indeed rocking with you, acknowledge them somehow. Point at ‘em. Give a head nod. Something. Everyone wants to be a star and feel like they’re a part of what’s going on, so showing love to some people that are messing with you can cause a domino effect.
There are plenty more dos and don’t, but that’s where we can leave it for now. It’s a good jumping off point, and it touches on some of the most common stuff that I see.
What do you guys like/dislike to see from artists whose music you don’t really know? What works and what doesn’t? —Adam Fleischer