Prescription for Average Stage Presence: Critiques

Critiques are like medicine for your bands stage presence.
Critiques are like medicine for your band’s stage presence.

WARNING: This technique should not be applied by the faint of heart.

DISCLAIMER: Critiques should not be used if you are sensitive by nature or easily hurt and offended. Side affects from the use of critiques may include: watching way too many videos, lengthy brainstorming sessions, and gut splitting laughter at yourselves. There is also a risk of cheesy ideas and too much fun occurring on stage after the use of critiques. Notify your band’s manager if you experience fan engagement, greater merchandise sales, an increase in performance fees, and/or more shows booked.

Sorry… just had to get that out of my system. But, you get the idea.

Your band’s live stage show is absolutely critical to the success of your ministry. Average is NOT good enough. In fact, if your show is average your ministry is probably dying… you need some very strong medicine.

Why Average Does Not Work

• Average does not stand out

• Average does not attract attention from fans

• Average does not cause fans to crave more of your music (hence, no merchandise sales)

• Average is not remembered after the gig

• Average does not cause fans to want to come to your next show

• Promoters do not want to book bands that do not draw fans

• Average bands must beg for shows

• Promoters definitely do not pay for average

• Average bands have average ministries

If your band’s stage presence is just as good as every other bands that you play with, you will always get shows that are just as good as every other band. Is that what you want?

Critiques are a tool you can use to rise above average.

Critiques are NOT criticism. Criticism is mean spirited and meant to be hurtful. Critiques are honest assessments or evaluations that are meant to be used to identify what is good and what needs to be improved. Unfortunately the same words can be used for both critiques and criticism. The primary difference is the intent of the speaker and the way in which it is said (tone, delivery, timing). Criticism causes wounds, critiques are like medicine that can be used to heal and improve the overall health of a ministry.

There are two places critiques come from: within the band and from people outside the band.

Critiques from band members are extremely valuable – after all, who is a better expert on your band than you? But, they are also the most volatile. No one likes to feel that they are being criticized by their best friends. On the flip side, it is may be much easier to receive help from the people you trust the most. Critiques from inside the band must be done with a certain amount of sensitivity, depending on the personalities of the band members.

Critiques from outside the band are much less volatile. They range in value from the best thing that ever happened to the band to almost worthless, depending on who is providing the critique and how well your band can receive it. For example: a critique from an experienced professional can have the potential to revolutionize your bands stage presence (and thereby increase the bands ministry exponentially) but if the band members get offended by the person and do not apply the critique, it becomes useless.  Or, if a well intentioned friend who is not familiar with what makes a great stage show gives the band a critique, the information may be useless regardless of how much the band applies it. So, critiques from people outside the band must be from someone who really does know what they are doing AND from someone the entire band wants to hear from.

The Best Way to Hold a Critique

Prepare

• Make sure every member of the band understands what a critique is and why you are doing it before you start. This one step will cut down on hurt feelings more than anything else you can do.

• Have a friend make a video of the bands next performance.

This video should include the entire show, from the emcees introduction (if there is one) to the emcee walking back onstage or the band completely leaving the stage.

The video is not a music video. Sound quality is not critical. Fancy shots panning in to highlight solos etc. or special effects are actually a hindrance.

The video should show the entire stage from the audiences’ perspective. So, position the camera towards the back of the audience, just above their heads.  Do not move it around except to get fan reaction shots.

Ideally, you need to see the audiences’ reaction from time to time. The camera should get shots of fans at the end of the first song, at the end of the last song (just before any encores), at the end of the encores, and several times during the show. These times should be when the audience reacts the most and the least to what is happening on stage.

• Whether your band is critiquing itself or getting input from someone else, it is best to set aside a specific time for the critique.  Let every band member know when and where the meeting will be held.

• Communicate clearly that this is a closed meeting, no family or friends, to minimize embarrassment. The only exception should be the one person from outside the band who has been asked to help with the critique. Remember that just because you are comfortable being critiqued in front of your spouse or friend does not mean every other member of the band feels the same way.

The Meeting

• Be comfortable. The band does not need to meet around a conference table. Instead, meet in someone’s living room, eat sushi, drink lattes… do whatever means friendship and fun for your people.

• At the start of the critique, go over the ground rules one more time… no criticizing, no meanness. State the goal of improving stage presence through helpful insights and brainstorming.

• Watch the video all the way through. Go ahead… laugh, make fun of yourselves, and throw popcorn at the screen. Enjoy. Then, start the video over again and get to work. Pause, restart, go back, start again – analyze every little bit of it.

• After the critique, check with every single band member to verify that there are no hurt feelings before anyone leaves the room. Make sure that everyone agrees that relationships within the band are more important than anything that was said during the critique. Leave as friends, leave happy, leave with vision and the start of a plan.

Things to Watch Out For

• The number one problem bands have with critiquing themselves is using the critique time to rewrite songs. This is not about the music, it is about stage presence. Most often the videos do not have good sound quality, so the music is distorted. If you use this as a basis for song rewrites, you will probably lose some really good stuff.

• Pay attention to the time in between songs. A professional band is performing from the time they walk on stage to the time they leave. That means the “show” is happening even when the music is not being played. Are you discussing which song to play next? Create a set list. Is someone talking while someone else is tuning… good job! Do you have a plan to cover while someone is changing a broken guitar string? Better talk about it.

• Try to come up with a more effective song order. Your first song should set the tone and grab the audiences’ attention without hitting them in the face. The end of the first song should be obviously easy for the audience to know that it’s time to clap. Engage them right away and it’s easier to keep them involved later. The last song should be your show stopper – the one that everyone will remember most.  The rest of the songs should be like waves, ebbing and flowing in intensity with intermittent spots of talking and band antics.

• Gauge song order by audience reaction. This is where the fan shots come in… watch their reactions after your first and last songs. Are they doing what you need them to do? If not, try something new… you may need to rewrite the end or intro to a song at your next practice or choose a different song for that spot.

• Watch for spots where your audience starts to look bored. If they are not engaging with you, the band needs to change something.  The easiest thing to change is the song order. But of you consistently do not get good engagement form a particular song, you need to rewrite or cut the song altogether.

• Remember that critiques are not just about fixing the bad. It is important to remark on the good to make sure you keep doing it. For example: Does a drum stick toss work really well in a certain spot? Make sure to tell the drummer so he will do it again.  Do not assume your band mate remembers what he did or knows that it worked well.

• Look at what the band is wearing. Does it work well on stage? Is your clothing adding to your bands image and brand?

• What are you saying from the stage? Is this the message you hope to communicate? How could you say the same thing more succinctly? If you can shave 30 seconds off of talking in between each song, you may be able to add one more song to your set.

• Look at the stage itself, the “set design” so to speak. Is the lighting enhancing the music? Is your bands name prominent? Are you standing too close or too far apart for the size of the stage? Are you using the whole stage? Do you need props such as blocks to stand on?

• Lastly, critique your introduction from the emcee. Keep track of what works so you can tell the next emcee how you would like to be introduced. Try to come up with an attention grabbing way to transition from the emcee to the start of your first song… those first seconds mean audience interest or not. Remember, once you lose them you have to work harder to get them back.

Critiques are not easy. But, they are well worth doing. In fact, I have not come across a better tool for improving a bands stage presence. The good news… they are almost FREE!

When the band is just starting out, you should critique every other show (since you will not have many shows and will want to improve fast). After that, you should critique yourselves 3-4 times a year, more if you have the time. Call in an advisor whenever the opportunity arises or when you seem to be stuck.

What is the prescription to grow a large fan base, sell more merchandise, get more shows, be paid for playing shows, and growing your ministry? Create an unforgettable stage show  using critiques. 

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