MIMO - When Music is Your Fix

Improving Your Stage Presence (part 1)

The following article was adapted from an early piece I wrote on The Developing Artist. Given the increasing importance of live performance in DIY music today, developing good stage presence is a critical element to establishing a successful music career. In days past, live shows and tours were considered a promotional measure to sell records (and for certain studio musicians, it was an optional measure, at that). These days, however, there is a reversal happening, to where more and more the recorded music is a measure to promote the live show. This should tell you how important it is to develop good stage presence. Hopefully the following piece will offer some helpful information–and in a soon-t0-come followup  piece, I’ll provide some practical tips for improving stage presence. Enjoy!

Stage presence is one of those concepts that is difficult to describe or measure.  Take the wind, for example.  You can’t see or touch the wind, but you can certainly see what effect it has on the stuff it blows on.  In fact, we tend to describe wind more by what it does than by what it is. The Fujita Scale measures tornado winds after the fact, by the damage left behind.

Stage presence is kind of like that.  It’s this nearly intangible thing that can only be measured by how much effect a person has on an audience.  You could have two different qualified performers sing the exact same song, in the exact same way, to the exact same audience, in the exact same bar, in two parallel universes; in one case, the audience is completely alert and responsive, and in the other, they don’t even look up from their margaritas.  The difference? Stage presence.

Now, for some people, stage presence is sort of a gift, like perfect pitch. You know the type–they can walk into a room and stand there, and instantly they are the center of attention.  But for those of us who don’t have that kind of magnetism, there is still hope.  Just like people without perfect pitch can train their ears with practice, people without the superpower of irresistablity can improve their stage presence with some practice.  It starts with a little self-awareness, and we’ll share some tips about that momentarily.

First of all–at its root, stage presence has a lot to do with making a connection with your audience, and then keeping them engaged once you have their attention.  It’s not a one-time deal; it’s an ongoing process of reading your audience throughout the performance, knowing when you have their attention, perceiving when you’re losing them, and knowing how to draw them back in–all while singing great songs.

Here are some tips to start the ball rolling:

  1. Study performers you like, performers with good stage presence.  Watch them on video, and analyze their every move.  Watch how they interact with their audience. Try to note what you like about what they do, down to the details–those little things you might miss consciously, but that send you a favorable message nonetheless.  If you like something about them, chances are someone else will, too.  You don’t want to copy, but you can learn a lot about how to adapt your own live performance.
  2. Practice in front of a mirror.  Put on a soundtrack and sing, or lip-sync, and watch your own performance. in the mirror.  Observe what you like when you perform, what you don’t like, and what you might change.
  3. Watch yourself on video. (Wince.)  This can be excruciating, especially the first time.  The camera doesn’t lie, and it will show you your blind spots–without a lot of tact, I might add.  But it’s definitely worth it.  I have yet to observe myself on video where my own stage performance didn’t drastically improve afterward.

We’ll offer some more practical advice for improving your stage presence in a subsequent post. For now, understand that in our day, stage presence isn’t something that can be sluffed off. If you want to be successful as a DIY artist, you need to develop the skill of captivating a live audience. More to come…

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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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