Mastering the Live Performance- for Rappers & Guitarists

how to perform music live better

First of all I am by no means a master of the live performance. Hence the title, mastering, as in a constant dynamic state of succeeding, and failing.

My intention is to share with you my experience and observations performing at 35+ open mics/rap showcases in my current music career, what I’ve learned and what I’ve gained.

Live performing has its advantages- greater exposure and more opportunities, a fast way to get more die-hard fans, a venue to sell merchandise, and a chance to have immediate feedback about your music and music act- good or bad.

As a solo performer for the most part doing hip hop without an instrument, it’s not always easy performing on a stage in front of a bunch of people who don’t know you. Plenty of times the crowd may be hostile towards you (especially if it’s rap), or some crowds may not care to pay much attention either way.

I wish I could say don’t take it personally but I’m still working on that part 🙂

The best thing to do is to start out somewhere, and keep doing it and who knows where it might take you.

In 2013 I performed at the Dragonfly Night Club in Hollywood at a rap showcase (that’s the picture of me from that event in the upper left hand of this website) with some former major label and producers at the judge’s panel of the event.

I was later contacted by a guy codename Flossy, the President of Mack 10’s record label and former publisher for Universal Music.

featuring yo gotti
Memphis TN rapper Yo Gotti

Through Flossy I was given access to secure the opportunity and rights to produce the Snoop Dogg and Ne-Yo material, and an upcoming song featuring material from Memphis rapper Yo Gotti this Fall.

So it didn’t even matter that I bombed my next 2 live performances in the following year. I had already hit my target, in one area at least and that’s to keep the ball moving down the field to score, one way or another.

To perform live, I started with open mics like most people do.

How to Find the Best Open Mics

Doing a simple Google or Yelp search for open mics in your city name will bring back interesting results. You may be astounded to find so few open mics, or unreliable information. You may arrive to the open mic and their equipment is too basic or too complex for what you have going.

For the most part it’s best to find 1 or 2 open mics to go to once or twice a month to get your stage chops up in front of others who are probably artists too and other people with nothing to do but drink on a weekday. For the most part people are supportive, then of course sometimes they’re hostile (especially if it’s rap).

Don’t be surprised by strange things like the DJ scratching your name off the list, or the Master/Mistress of Ceremonies skipping you in the order or not getting your sound levels right, on purpose. There are a world of sociopaths and psychopaths out there, and chances are if you’re a dedicated musician you’ll encounter your fair share too.

This video offers some really concrete advice to succeeding at live performing.

Stage Presence

As a doorman at the club known as Fitzgerald’s in Houston one summer I saw my fair share of rock acts. It was a good supplemental study to my own music endeavors.

The best performances and the best vibes all involved the band and the crowd being synchronized with the music and everything the band did was in natural anticipation of both the song progression and the current emotion of the crowd.

In other words, a group effort or the proper synchronization with the crowd that built emotion and excitement made for the best overall product.

Of course, not a single act that succeeded in making the house shake had bad sounding music, and it’s important when any genre of music doesn’t sound bad to your ear.

Another thing. The stage is the natural extension of the floor of the night club. It is not an island unto itself. Do not just stand in one place all the time or if you’re a band, don’t just pay attention to yourselves or each other, but mix it up. Vary what you’re showing the audience at any given moment. Don’t get stuck in a loop yourself!

macklemore performing live

Connecting with the Crowd

I think the best way to do this is to start of by saying something fun or funny (or you can just start out by walking on them like in the pic there), but it can’t be a joke you make trying to get a reaction (which indicates approval-seeking behavior), but rather an observation that’s witty, or fun, or edgy, or something that you think a bunch of potential drunks would want to hear to make their night more entertaining.

Then maybe you get into your songs. Feel free to introduce the song if you want, but don’t make it “official” or pretentious. You’re sharing your music, and the music experience, with the audience. Remember, the audience is both a separate animal collectively, made up of individuals with whom you’ll want to connect.

Another alternate way to do your set is just to start playing, like the music is an airplane taking off so why wait on the runway? You’re the pilot and you’re taking yourself for a ride, and the crowd is lucky to be on board.

fighter plane lifting off

All people have different needs, but not surprisingly our needs are largely all about the same, just with major or minor details, but we just want to feel free and happy, in love and in control. We want excitement when we go out drinking with our friends or love interests. We crave the party and the adventures of the night to let off steam from our jobs and our troubles.

The live performer understands this and uses this to their advantage to set the crowd free and unleash their emotional power to further drive your performance to new heights, to become more than just music, but an actual <your band/act name here> experience.

I remember going to a Green Day concert on someone else’s tickets. I wasn’t expecting a lot because I never was big on attending concerts. But I have to say it was pretty amazing, and this was in 2009 when those guys were 37 years old and still performing hard core straight through no breaks for 2 or 3 hours at full energy level.

Your Act is the Sum of your Music and You, and the Night Too

bass guitar player liveJust remember when starting out, with open mics then to showcases and nights where you sell tickets to your fans and they watch you perform at clubs, that you’re one part of the night.

It both is all about you and your music and not about your music or you at all.

Having confidence, and cultivating compassion through meditation can help you understand and read the crowd.

Practicing your act in your garage, or in your car, or using visualization, are only going to make your performance come easy, and help the crowd trust in your abilities as a musician/performer/public speaker.

Return to | Read: How to Find Backup Singers and Instrumentalists for Your Track

tags: how to perform music live, how to perform live, how to perform live for rappers, how to perform live for guitarists, how to perform rock music live, stage presence, live music performance tips

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