I suppose if this “opinion piece in response to another opinion piece” type of post is going to be recurring (such as our “Interview Dos And Don’ts” post from a few days ago), we could name it. So, “TPS Responds” it is. Yeah. This one is about an article I caught recently called “10 Things You Should Never Say On Stage”, written on Digital Music News by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Ari Herstand. Herstand also has a blog called Ari’s Take, which discusses DIY music industry advice. As it goes, there’s some I agree with and some I wanna refute, so let’s check it out – first with his thoughts, then with a good ol’ TPS weigh-in:
1) “We’re Having Technical Difficulties”
“Even if your guitar just caught fire. Well actually, that would be hilarious if you said it then. But when bands sheepishly admit it into the mic, it’s uncomfortable and kills the vibe. Technical difficulties are your fault. Even when they’re not. It’s your stage. It’s your show. You should know your gear inside and out. If something is cutting out or screeching or feeding back, you should either know immediately what it is and be able to remedy it in 13 seconds or know how to quickly figure out what it is. It’s your job, as the performer, to command the attention of everyone in the room from start to finish.”
If the difficulty is something small, like a slightly out-of-tune string or a bit of feedback, you can probably just carry on and your audience won’t notice. But, if it’s something major or persistent and it’s really interfering with the show, then there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. The audience isn’t stupid: they can tell something’s up by that point, and would probably appreciate you admitting what’s up rather than standing there wondering what you’re doing.
2) “I Forgot The Lyrics”
“The worst is when singer/songwriters sing a line like ‘I forgot this next line la la la.’ That is so annoying. Not funny. If you can’t memorize your lyrics then bring a lyrics sheet on stage as reference. Or make shit up on the spot. The only thing worse than shitty lyrics is forgotten lyrics.”
I agree with both tips Herstand has to combat this, but – especially if it’s your concert – the audience usually knows that you’ve messed up. When something’s that obvious, again, it’s okay to admit it.
3) “I Want To Thank My Girlfriend”
“It’s like having a one on one conversation with someone in the audience off the mic. Uncomfortable for everyone else in the house. Leave her out of it. It makes you look whipped. If she did something truly awesome, then you can say something like ‘we’d like to thank our friend Sarah for getting this song into the hands of the music supervisor at Parenthood.’ If your girlfriend needs to be publicly thanked for her support then you have bigger issues you have to work out.”
If your girlfriend is at the show there’s nothing wrong with it, but if she’s not it’s pretty odd, yeah. Also, how this would make you look “whipped” is beyond me: “Yeah I’m showing appreciation for the woman in my life, boy I really just took my balls off and put them on a plate in her kitchen didn’t I?” Yeah that’s exactly it, Ari.
4) “I’m Sorry”
“Don’t ever apologize on stage. It makes you look weak. I don’t care if you just dropped a baby. Don’t apologize. Making excuses for your shittyness (sic) makes everyone in the house uncomfortable and feel bad for you. I hear it all the time: ‘I forgot the rest of the song. Sorry.’ ‘I’m sorry if this song sucks, we just wrote it.’ ‘I’m sorry there aren’t more people here.” ‘We haven’t rehearsed this much, it might suck.’ Own the stage. Own the room. Own your set. Or don’t show up.”
Not really gonna argue this one, although it’s not something you should never do ever. Like anything, there’s a time and place. Overall he’s bang on though.
5) “Your City Sucks”
“Should be a no brainer, but I can’t tell you how many touring bands I’ve seen make fun of the city they are in – ON STAGE. It may be fun to joke about in the van, but your audience takes pride in their city. No matter if you think their city is cool or not. Never say anything negative about the town you are in while on stage unless you want a beer bottle thrown at you.”
D’uh. Another bang on point.
6) “This Song Is About My Grandma Who Died Of Cancer. Love You Nana”
“Don’t depress your audience. You can play a song about your dead grandma, but you don’t need to tell the audience that’s what it’s about. People don’t pay money to come to shows to be sad. They come to be happy. To have fun. To be enlightened. To be inspired. If you can’t communicate the power of your song by just playing it, then maybe the song isn’t really that good.”
Of course people attend concerts to have fun, and you don’t want to bum them out. But, the stories behind the songs are usually pretty cool and worth telling. Especially if it’s your concert, people enjoy hearing you expand on your music. Also, not every song’s subject matter is obvious, and you talking about the inspiration behind it can clear things up nicely. Some stories – song explaining or otherwise – are best left for a “soft seater” show (a venue with seating) rather than general admission stand up/rock out, but still, it’s fine.
7) “I’m Broke”
“Don’t make your audience feel bad for you. It removes the mystique and coolness factor. You can say ‘help us get to the next city and pick up a T-shirt.’ That offers an emotional appeal in a positive light. But saying ‘we’re broke, so buy a t-shirt,’ just turns your audience off. Guilting your fans into buying your merch never works.”
Agreed, in fact I wouldn’t even do Herstand’s suggestion of “help us get to the next city…” Tell people your merch is for sale and be done with it. They’ll check it out if they want no matter what your situation is.
8) “You Guys Suck”
“Even if 95 out of the 100 people are screaming above your acoustic set while smashing glasses and vomiting in the corner, 5 people are engulfed in your set. Never insult your audience. They always have one ear to you – even if you are just background music. You may think no one is listening, but you’ll be surprised at how many compliments you get and how much merch you sell once you hop off stage.”
Much like the city bashing point, there’s no need for this. It’s disheartening to see the audience so preoccupied with whatever else, but – especially if you’re just playing a random bar night – you have to accept the fact that not everyone is gonna care. Bar, festival and opening act shows will all have only certain audience members really enthralled with your set. Just enjoy playing, and you just might win over lots of new fans.
9) “Any Requests”
“You’re never going to get the songs that you actually have prepared and there will always be that one asshole who yells ‘Free Bird’ as if he just came up with the joke. Play your set as is. If someone drove 300 miles to hear one song, she’ll yell it out whether you ask for it or not.”
It’s true that you probably won’t get a request for something you’re ready to play, and if you’re playing your big tunes then you’ll be fine. I think the “Free Bird” thing is funny personally, although it’s cliche and annoying at the same time. I’ve never done it, but if someone else did I’d probably laugh. But yeah, there’s really no point in saying this one.
10) “How Does It Sound”
“This is a slap in the face to the sound guy. Never ask the crowd that. It should sound amazing. If it doesn’t, then it’s either your fault or the sound guy’s fault. Either way, you just pissed off the one person not in your band who can actually make you sound WORSE.”
Depending on the venue, the sound is either handled by you or someone who works there but isn’t really a sound tech. For times like that, if you think something’s off there’s nothing wrong with asking. If you do, toss a compliment in to the sound person (if it’s not you) and thank them for helping out. In most cases you shouldn’t have to ask: you can tell what’s up, and usually when you hear an artist refer to a sound issue it’s “can I get more mic in the monitor?” and stuff like that. Unless you think/know something is off, don’t bother asking for validation: you sound fine!
Ari Herstand is a musician, so he has first-hand experience with this kinda stuff. He makes some good points, and some points that really aren’t as big a deal as he makes them out to be. When people see you live, you should absolutely form an intimate connection with them. Give them something they can’t get on your albums, and most of all be real. If you’re yourself on stage – during good and bad shows – it’s equal parts funny, endearing and honest. People want to get to know you, and hear where your music comes from. Some of my favourite concert memories have come from those moments – as Martha Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing.”
Never thought a Martha Stewart reference would appear in this blog did you? Neither did I, haha.