Live Performance: Using Story to Connect with Your Audience

Image: Dan Tappan

I’ve had several conversations recently about disappointing concerts. I’m not really sure why that is, but maybe I’m meant to learn something.

When you think back to concerts that really didn’t impress you, what comes to mind?

The people I’ve been talking to have been referencing a lack of storytelling and stage banter as the leading cause of concertgoer boredom.

What that should tell you is that people don’t just come to shows to hear music. They come to soak up the entire experience. They aren’t there just to hear a bunch of songs in a row; they can do that at home.

Story before Music

That seems a little backwards, doesn’t it?

After all, music and songwriting is where the bulk of your energies go into as a musician. You want people to notice that clever play on words, frantic guitar solo, or transition from the Lydian to the Mixolydian mode in the third verse.

In other words, when you perform, you want to share your blood, sweat and tears with your audience.

But if all you do is play one song after another, that’s all your fans see or hear. This is especially true if all of your songs look alike (but that’s a whole other subject).

So, if you really want to engage your audience, perhaps you should be thinking about how you can incorporate more stories into your live shows.

A Willingness to Share

It’s not enough to intro songs and tell a few jokes. It’s definitely better than saying nothing, but if you’re going to play a full night of music, you need to offer your fans something more.

I’ve definitely been guilty of under-delivering at times. I’ve played lots of shows where I didn’t really get into the meat of the story behind the music.

But there is something attractive about being vulnerable, isn’t there? We often think of it as being a weakness, but it usually comes across as a strength, because it takes guts to reveal what’s on your heart and your mind.

Moreover, your fans don’t really get the chance to experience your songs to their fullest unless you share relevant stories with them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to tell all of your stories, though certainly some artists do.

The Art of Story

Steve Bell is one of those musicians that emphasizes story just as much as – if not more than – his music. In fact, he has entire CDs that are just compilations of stories.

I am beginning to realize that telling stories actually requires some practice, much like playing a song does. If you haven’t practiced telling your stories, you can feel ill-equipped to share about them onstage.

There are also artists that are great at telling stories through their songs; Jonathan Ferguson and Sean Harley are a couple of examples that come to mind.

Last weekend, I had the chance to run sound for The Wardens. Virtually every song of theirs was preceded by an in-depth story, and they even had a projector screen with slides rotating in the background. This made for a very engaging experience. By the way, the show was sold out.

Is that a convincing enough case for the power of story?

Conclusion

What I’ve talked about in this post are some things I’m just beginning to realize for myself. I’ve had shows that have gone great and others that have gone not-so-great – and we all have those – but I’ve come to believe that story really can make your live shows more remarkable.

Are you in the habit of sharing stories at your live shows? What are you doing to make your performances memorable? Let us know in the comments section below.

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David Andrew Wiebe

David Andrew Wiebe

Founder & CEO at The Music Entrepreneur
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a performance schedule with Long Jon Lev and Adrenalize. If you'd like to be notified whenever the blog is updated, click here to subscribe.
David Andrew Wiebe
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