When I was in high school, I interned with a composer who often performed for
young children. Shortly after he finished his show one day, I approached him to ask about loading out his gear — but before I could open my mouth, he leaned in and whispered, “Come back in fifteen minutes. I’m still working.” And indeed he was.
While I watched from the back of the auditorium, my mentor enthusiastically shook hands with the dozens of kids who approached him, even letting some of them touch the instruments. Only after the room had thoroughly cleared out, and after he had greeted and thanked all of the adult organizers as well, did I see him take a deep breath and shift out of performer mode. “Okay, now we can load out,” he told me.
Working the crowd offstage — connecting with an audience, interacting, and relating to fans before and after your show — can be just as important to your long-term career as what you actually do on stage, regardless of whether you’re performing in elementary school auditoriums, music festivals, or underground clubs.
Take care of business ahead of time
While it’s always good practice to have all your show preparations (set lists written, warm ups done, etc.) completed before you arrive at the venue, getting your proverbial ducks in a row up can also help you practice effective audience management.
“I’ve gotten to clubs thinking I’d have time before the show to get the set list together, talk to band mates, and organize chord charts, but the unexpected is always going to happen,” says jazz pop singer and songwriter Avi Wisnia. “Maybe the club isn’t open on time or there are problems with gear. Whatever is going on, the more you can do ahead of time to frontload logistics and business, the more energy you can focus on interacting with your audience — and getting ready to play great music.”
Choose your post-show spot
“If I’m playing at a new venue, I try to do some reconnaissance and check the place out ahead of time,” says Wisnia. “Where is the stage, where am I going to put my merch table, and where would be good for me to hang out and talk with people after my show?”
For Wisnia, the ideal spot to set up merch and designate for a post-show hang is often not in the main performance area — or if it is, off to the side or in the back of the room.
“Part of being in the music industry and going on tour is being respectful of other bands who go on before and after you, so you don’t want to do anything that’s going to take away from other peoples’ performances, or alienate bookers or club owners,” he says.
The more forethought you put into a post-show hang, the better, says Wisnia. “If you pre-plan it, it can seem more like a meet ’n’ greet, rather than a bunch of people standing around haphazardly,” he describes. “It leaves people feeling like they’ve been part of something special.”
Set your audience’s expectations
Part of planning ahead, creating an ideal post-show hang, and generally keeping your audience satisfied is cluing your fans in to your plans ahead of time.
“Send emails and Facebook posts to let people know what to expect from you at the venue,” says Wisnia. “If you’re having a special giveaway that night, let them know, and let them know ahead of time where to find you after you play. The more information you can give, the better.”
Setting expectations early can be even more helpful if you have to make an early exit after your show and won’t have time to connect with your fans. Similarly, if you’re looking to organize a post-show hang at a nearby bar or diner, an early heads up can preempt a large amount of on-the-spot confusion.
“Before he goes on to play, Tony Bennett walks out and greets audience members in the foyer and thanks people profusely for coming to see his show,” says singer and songwriter Eoin Harrington. “Outreach like that is really admirable. It shows appreciation and really creates a bond with audience members. I’m in favor of that approach with more of a human touch, not having the star being tucked away and untouchable.”
Harrington tries to emulate the legendary crooner in his approach to fans at his own shows. “If someone got out of his or her house and drove to come see me play, the least I can do is say hello,” he says. “You don’t have to have a big discussion and get everyone’s life story, but at the same time, you never know what cool conversations could be sparked by introducing yourself to a new fan before you play.”
For many performers, schmoozing post-show can be less stressful than reaching out pre-show. “Once you’re done playing, it’s a musician’s job to get off stage and meet people,” says Wisnia. “You want to keep that connection with fans that you made during the show. The people that come to your show and like the music are also the people that will sign up for your mailing list and buy your albums, so it’s both nice and beneficial to say hello.”
Wisnia further encourages indie musicians to ask their fans questions about their favorite songs and moments of the show. “Pay attention to the demographic of your audience and what they liked and didn’t like,” he says. “It behooves you to socialize after a show, and you can learn a lot about who your music resonates with.”
Continues at Working the Crowd… Offstage.