As a fan and music industry member for the last decade-plus, I’ve been to my fair share of shows. And I have to tell you…most of them have sucked.
I’m talking about bland stage presence, low energy, subpar music, and next to no interaction with the crowd… just an all around snooze fest. And at the same time, that band on stage is putting on a show that was not worth me coming out at 9 pm on a Tuesday for; they’re complaining that no one comes to their shows and live music is dead.
You can see how this is a full circle, right?
No matter what kind of artist you are—the kind that loves to perform live or is a total introvert, you’ve got to contend at least that when it comes to live shows. If you’re asking people to come out (or tune in virtually) and potentially even drop some money on tickets/merch/drinks and transport for the evening, it’s not fair to then get on stage and be half-hearted about it, is it?
It doesn’t matter if there are five people or 500; you have to show up with the same vigor every time. And if you’re looking for inspiration (as we always should), here are a few artists that I’ve personally found to be captivating on stage, with a look at just what it is they do that makes their performance so special—and how you can emulate it too.
We even included a video for those of you who love a good visual! (plus, honestly, it was just fun to re-watch these performances)
Let’s start with the artist that I’d consider the best of the best in live show performance. Bar none, I would say Frank Turner puts on THE best show you could ask for. Honestly, I think you could hate his music and still have the most fantastic time because he puts so much energy into everything he does, and he, like all the others on this list—truely love being up there on stage, and it shows.
And that’s really where it starts—the energy. He comes on stage with SO much life and force, and he brings that to every performance in the way he dances around the stage, runs through the crowds, talks to the audience, and gets them involved in singing or clapping to different parts throughout.
He is continuously engaging with them, making them a full-on part of the experience, and letting them know how much they, and their participation, mean to him.
And you don’t have to pack a venue of hundreds to do this. YOu can start by asking the audience questions between sets or having them clap or sing a simple verse. It’s just about keeping the energy high and showing up with your best every single time.
The Front Bottoms
One of my all-time favorite bands, TFB, has been bringing incredible energy to their shows from day one. While they mimic others on this list in terms of the energy level, the storytelling on stage, and the movement around the stage, as well as the audience inclusion, I wanted to include them for one important reason:
I know they’ve been doing this since the early days.
While I didn’t have the opportunity to see most of these other bands when they were playing clubs to 5 people, I did have that chance with TFB. I can tell you I was mesmerized by them just as much in that performance to a handful of people in a bar in Boston as I am when I see them pull up in their tour bus and play to 500 people at the House of Blues.
They have been bringing that energy and that gratitude for those that come out to see them (thanking and shaking the hand of every single person in that bar that night, getting to know them and showing their appreciation) since day one, and it paid off.
2020 quarantine show:
Brian Fallon (of The Gaslight Anthem fame) is on this list as a solo artist example. Many of the bands on here are precisely that—full-on bands, and some might argue it’s easier for them to pump up the energy that way. However, even if you’re a solo artist or with a mellower take on your music, there’s no reason you can’t make this a show to remember.
One of my absolute favorite concert experiences was seeing Fallon in his home state of NJ in 2018 for a solo performance, where it was just him, his guitar, and a piano. The evening was magic for a few reasons—the first was the setting. It was in an old theater, and the lighting was subtle but poignant. It was the perfect mood for a night of acoustics and piano. Pay attention to what venues you’re choosing and how you can make them unique to you—there are often more options than you think.
Second, he has a keen ability for storytelling and a way about him that makes every story he shares feel intimate, and as if it’s a secret between just him and the audience. And so, that’s what he did in this performance. He shared with us stories of the songs, the meanings behind them, behind what he was going through at the time, and then he delivered them in a new way. Many of the songs he played were initially filled with guitar, drums, etc., but in this case, it was all stripped back and performed more intimately.
And it was honestly one of the best shows I’ve been to because of that.
Arkells learned SO much from Frank Turner when they toured with him in 2017. While I saw them perform both before and after this, and there’s no doubt their performance was exceptional before their tour with Turner, it’s obvious his influence and energy rubbed off on these guys because now their shows are just next level.
Like Turner, they are continually moving around the stage and mingling with the crowd. They’re known for bringing fans on stage to sing or play instruments alongside them (another example of audience inclusion) and even getting into the crowd to hand out free merch to lucky fans.
They took an already energetic performance and did exactly what we’re teaching here—they learned from their mentors.
Bonus: Frank Turner + Arkells performing on stage together in a fantastic audience filled collaboration
Which of these will you try at your next show?
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more. You can learn more about how to get more fans + make more money with your music in her workshop.