For many music fans, a feeling of intimacy is what makes them feel most connected to the songs they love, whether they’re being played at home or live on stage. But from a musician’s perspective, creating music that feels a certain way when it’s recorded is often challenging to replicate in a live setting where the pressure of having one chance to get things right often dominates the performance. Intimacy in live performances can be a big challenge for musicians, it’s one of the characteristics that make playing on stage special, so it’s something you should care about.
Focus on connecting with and honoring your audience
Honoring your audience might sound like strange advice, but it’s something that can break down the wall between you and the crowd. No matter how many people you perform in front of, honoring those that watch you play builds genuine intimacy because it comes from a place of respect and gratefulness. The audience is there to listen to you create music live and in person when they could easily have stayed home that night or stepped outside during your set. Whether you’re playing in front of your family and friends or a crowd of 10,000, this is something you should be grateful for, and performing from a place of genuine gratitude will help you connect with the audience.
Engage the audience
Speaking directly to crowd members or telling stories about your songs are ways to meaningfully engage with the audience at live shows. Eye contact is another way to do this, but some musicians perform so intensely that it doesn’t feel natural to them. The key is to find which ways to engage the audience work for you and to do them the best you can. It’s also important to note that the genre of music you’re performing in impacts the way you’ll best engage and connect with the crowd. For example, strong storytelling skills are virtually mandatory for folk artists, but taking ten minutes to tell a funny story might not work for a death metal outfit. For some artists, unbridled passion on stage is the best way to communicate intimacy and connection to listeners.
Let the audience have a say in what you play
One of the benefits of making music in 2019 is that we have easy ways to connect with our audiences online. Another great way to build intimacy into live sets is by reaching out to fans before shows and asking what they want to hear live and why. You can then play the requested songs and share stories about what the music means to your fans on stage. Again, this won’t work for every artist, but giving audiences power to shape sets will be a big help to others.
Intimacy looks different for every musician, so you’ll have to discover what it means for you. But if you take the time to try, it’s something that will transform your live performances in a huge way.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.