Welcome to part three of my Perform with Passion series. Today we will be touching upon those performers who use their hands: Instrumentalists.
I have found that being a good instrumental performer is one of the hardest tasks of my musical career. Other than guitarists and bassists, many musicians are stuck behind their setup, so movement is normally out of the question. This means the only performance options left to musicians, are facial and en-tropic performance. (More on this later.)
Here's a brutal truth: many of the musicians I know are NOT performers. They are nervous, sometimes insecure, and they hide behind their instrument when they play. What this looks like is an individual whose face and body do not move except for playing their instrument as they wear a blank, vacant stare. While they are concentrating on creating the best possible sound, they seem disinterested, and it makes the audience want to change their focus.
Some of you may argue this point: "A background musician is not meant to be seen, they are to be heard!" Obviously, I would not want you as a musician to upstage the lead. However, complete lack of performance personality can do more damage than an over-active player. If you are performing a high-energy piece and your band is not hype, the result will be a dry show. Nobody wants that, so here are some tips:
1. Make a character
Is your keyboard player an eccentric funk-master? Or are they a cool, relaxed r&b god? Whatever you choose, make sure the character is close to your personality; it will be that much easier to portray a character you don't need to be mindful of as you are on stage.
2. Sell it with face
Many players (due to their instrument) are confined to stand/sit behind their setup. The best you can do in this situation is sell the performance with your facials. You can either engage with the audience by making eye contact, closing your eyes as you hit a sweet riff, grooving, or interacting with other band members. (Crowds LOVE that last one) Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are not just standing there devoid of life. Oh and remember I mentioned using en-tropic performance? If you cannot go to an audience member, you will have to bring them to you. Use your face to captivate someone and bring them into your world for a quick moment. I promise you, they will never forget that.
3. Avoid Upstaging
So you got the facials, the interaction, the chops, the character and you are a musical performer extraordinaire... except for the fact that you just stole the show from the lead. When you have mastered the art of being a performer, you must learn how to find your place on stage. My golden rule is to identify the energy level of the lead and be 20% less than them. If a lead performer is giving 80%, I should be at a 60% level. This ensures the energy is sustained on stage and the lead is still the lead.
I assure you, if you start making these small changes, those return gigs and calls will be heading your way! Tune in next time for part four, where I will tackle performing as a singer.