10 Tips to Improve Your Stage Presence for ALL Musicians
Stage presence is an essential part of being a well-rounded musician. Unlike a recording where the audience will only hear you, in a live performance you will be judged by both their eyes and ears.
A natural and smooth stage act will supercharge your performance and ensure that your fans look forward to following up with your music after a concert.
A good stage act results in a show, a good show means good sales, and good sales mean more opportunities for good shows.
Its a loop of forward-moment that every artist hankers for and your ability to express yourself on the stage plays a big role in it.
We have also included two extra bonus tips at the end of the article!
- 1. Work on YOUR OWN Image
- 2. Record and Review Your Shows
- 3. Eliminate the Clutter and Awkwardness
- 4. Follow Your Genre
- 5. Crowd Involvement Goes a Long Way
- 6. Experiment!
- 7. Stop Being a Perfectionist. Be in the Moment!
- 8. Can’t improv? Script & rehearse your stage act
- 9. Prepare for When Things go Wrong on Stage
- 10. Most Importantly: Stay True to Yourself and Your Image
- Bonus Tip – Keep a Gig Journal
- Bonus Tip #2 – Be Patient!
We’ve put together some helpful pointers to develop and/or improve your stage presence to help you take your act to the next level.
1. Work on YOUR OWN Image
You may feel tempted to dress, talk, play, or act like your influences or favorite artists and you should.
However, don’t forget to inject who you are into that “persona” to ensure that you don’t end up being a cheap imitation.
Honestly, understanding yourself as an artist is not an overnight journey and it requires some self-examination. It may come to you long before your first performance or it may be an “ah-hah” moment halfway through your initial struggle.
In any case, it is important to discover who you are and how you wish to express it through your body language, attitude, and attire.
It is futile for us to say what is the “best way” to speak, sing, or sally on stage.
From the likes of prince to an avant-garde Sufyan Stevens to the in-your-face RATM to the girl-next-door Taylor Swift, music history has shown us that there is room for every shade of the human personality – as long as it is genuine.
2. Record and Review Your Shows
Ask your friends and/or family to record your performance and watch them with your band.
Get together like a sports team and openly discuss and review your performance. However, don’t forget the difference between criticism and constructive criticism! Offer support and solutions as you analyze the tapes.
- Is the drummer looking stiff?
- Is the bassist trying to hide behind the cabinet, shy of the spotlight?
- Is the guitarist too busy looking down at the frets and his pedalboard?
- Are there awkward moments of silence when the band is setting up or tuning the instruments when you lose the audience?
When you roll back the recording, you have the power of hindsight. Look at what was lacking in your previous performance and try to eliminate it from the next one.
Gradually, you will reach a point when the changes add up and you will reach a point where you’ll just watch the recorded tapes and enjoy it yourself.
3. Eliminate the Clutter and Awkwardness
Silence between songs or discussing what songs to play next reeks of “amateur” and puts off the audience.
In many cases, you are just giving a platform to a heckler to scream something that will imbalance you even further.
Even if you are too shy to follow any of the other tips, you can make a significant improvement in the audience’s experience by having a well-oiled machine.
How do you achieve this? Have a clear-cut setlist before your gig and make sure that all your band members are on board with the plan.
Prepare a list of the songs you will play in a fixed order and rehearse them to a T.
4. Follow Your Genre
Even if you plan to break the traditions of your genre, you should understand them thoroughly.
There are many subtle and obvious factors at play in the equation of a good stage presence. In one way or another, it is an amalgamation of the genre, your “creative voice”, band image, audience expectations, and the context of the genre.
It is important to understand that your stage presence isn’t just about you. It should factor in the context and the expectations to create something that works for everyone involved.
There are many genres, like metal or punk, where a certain attitude or attire has been established.
5. Crowd Involvement Goes a Long Way
You’ve probably seen the concerts where bands ask the audience to wave the flashlight on their mobile phones during a ballad or clap to the beat during an intro.
You may borrow some of these ideas, you could give them your own twist or you could come up with something completely new.
Either way, you cannot deprive the audience of an immersive experience because there ought to be something “personal and raw” to justify watching you in person.
Every fan is eager to tap into the “live-wire” vibe of a concert and take home a memory.
The music is all sound waves and physics, which fades rather quickly, but a bunch of friends who screamed out the chorus of your song as you held the mic up for them will linger in coffee-table stories for decades.
Early on in your career, you can try out different ideas and measure their impact.
Your stage presence, in some ways, is an extension of you and your music.
You have to be convinced of it yourself before you go out and try to convince others.
While there is, a “safe way” to go about things, if you feel compelled to be quirky or eclectic then you should lean into it and try things out.
There is no precedent to Hendrix, AC/DC, Slipknot, or Michael Jackson – if you are confident in your abilities, you can pull anything off.
7. Stop Being a Perfectionist. Be in the Moment!
Do you think about your theory lessons or technique when you play a solo, groove, or riff on stage?
No! You let the music pour through and live in the moment. The same things applies to being overtly conscious or concerned about how you come across when you are in the spotlight.
Presence literally means “being there” and when you are in the moment, you have to be prepared for anything that comes your way.
All this talk about what to do and how to do it is great while you are preparing or honing yourself. However, once you step out on that stage, you need to liberate your mind from the shackles of self-critical thoughts and “rehearsed” ideas.
Do your best to soak in the moment, the stage, and the music.
I know it sounds clichéd but you have to go with the flow. You can always review what you got right and wrong after the gig is over.
Nevertheless, when the audience is in front of you, you must remain present and vulnerable, transparent, and true – because there is no better way to relay a memorable performance.
8. Can’t improv? Script & rehearse your stage act
Not everyone is born ready and comfortable for a stage but all of us are capable of efficient planning and preparation.
If you feel you cannot say something charming or affable in the moment then prepare a few things you can fall back upon. Throw in some stunts, gimmicks, or premeditated synchronized moments for your performance.
There are thousands of live concerts you can watch for inspiration or you can consult your friends for fresh ideas. You can always weed out the ideas that don’t work and lean into the things that get a good response.
Over time, you will build a reliable and comprehensive repertoire of devices that work in favor of your stage presence and image.
You will also gain confidence as you rack up the concerts and eventually hit a point where you can just pull something out of your hat that suits the moment perfectly. Just like your instrument, improvising on the stage needs practice and perseverance.
9. Prepare for When Things go Wrong on Stage
There are moments when the band is tuning the guitars or changing patches and you need to keep the attention on you to avoid a dull moment.
There may even be dreadful lapses when a guitar cable is faulty or the drummer needs to fix his beater and you will need to step up and fill the void.
A live performance has so many things that can go wrong and you can’t prepare for everything.
These things can’t be rehearsed but all it takes is a witty quip or a maudlin story to diffuse the tension and keep the audience glued to the performer – aloof to the technical difficulties or minor adjustments.
10. Most Importantly: Stay True to Yourself and Your Image
Chris Cornell sang it, and it rings true – You have to be true to yourself. If you don’t resonate with who you “pretend to be” then it might be silly to expect someone else to find it convincing.
Have a realistic goal, be patient, and gradually build your presence. Don’t be afraid of trying things just because they are prone to missteps or criticism – you can’t please everyone.
If you have good music to back up your act, the audience won’t disregard you for a slip-up or two. We are all human and designed to err but that shouldn’t become a crippling fear that prevents us from making an earnest attempt.
As long as you are earnest, you will make a memorable impression.
Bonus Tip – Keep a Gig Journal
This might initially sound a bit silly, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your stage presence.
Get out a notebook or a note-taking app for your phone and try and just spend a few minutes to write down and document how your last gig went.
Get into the habit of doing this regularly. Even better, add a bit of structure to these of thse notes, and keep track of:
- What went well?
- What went badly?
- Any changes to your setlist?
- Any experiments or changes to your stage show?
- Your overall feelings about the show (what was your gut feeling? Confidence level. Did you enjoy it?)
As you start playing a bunch of different gigs, then you should continue to document these. Then you will be able to see patterns about what works and what does not work.
If something is important, then it’s worth tracking it on paper. It might sound a little bit ‘businessey’, but when you write plans and thoughts down on paper, it kind of makes you think and analyze them a bit more.
If you’re focused on improving your stage performance on your stage presence, then you should try and get out your pen and paper and be disciplined about consistently thinking about it and improving it over time.
Bonus Tip #2 – Be Patient!
Rome was not built in a day!
If you’re feeling like your stage presence is lacking a bit now, you just need to stay patient.
Make big efforts to improve your stage presence, but give yourself time (i.e. quite a few live shows) to allow yourself to improve.
You’re not going to be an expert at the very start, but over the space of a few months or years, you can really become a pro live performer!
So those are 10 of our top tips to improve your stage presence, which are suitable for almost any musicians.
Simply just trying out a few things can make quite a big difference to your stage act, trying to introduce a few little experiments and changes to your gig every time you play.
Consider making small consistent changes to your performances. For some, it’s best not to go for a ‘big bang’ approach and completely change your entire show from scratch. For many people, this can make things a little bit awkward when performing. However, only you can determine what level of changes you will be comfortable when trying to improve your stage presence.
If you are a very experienced musician, then you may be able to incorporate lots of changes to your stage show at once.
If you’re only starting out, then you might need to be a little bit more cautious with your improvements, but just keep the long game in mind and try to make improvements consistently over time.
Over the space of a few months, you will be shocked at how much you have improved. This is another reason why it’s worth recording your shows… you will be able to look back and say… “Wow, I’ve really improved my stage presence!”