How To Read The Room During Live Performances

Often during live performances, we tend to feel unsure about how the audience is enjoying our music and if we are addressing everyone.

Reading the room is a skill that musicians develop to keep the audience engaged and interactive. It is also useful when we experiment with new songs, strategies, and banter on stage. The goal is to make everybody present feel included, cared for, and to create an unforgettable experience.

But how should you read the room and feel confident that the audience is actually enjoying the show?

How Can I Read The Room to Know What to Play?

This can be done by paying close attention to the audience, making eye contact with band members and checking in with the sound engineer.

A musician reads the performance room by observing their environment in order for them to know what songs to perform next. Understanding what the audience wants to hear is key to the success of the show. This skill is developed with experience.

Read the Audience

Check if there are any parties going on like birthday celebrations, bachelor/ette gatherings or fans celebrating a win for their sports team.

Ask your audience questions like:

  • “Who’s got something to celebrate tonight?”
  • “Any birthdays to celebrate tonight?”

It also helps to have a skilled frontman who can make a decision on the spot. This comes with practice and experience.

But lucky for you I wrote a very helpful article about Keeping Your Audience Engaged with Stage Banter that will provide you with tips and advice that you will profit from instantly.

Find Individuals in the Audience

I normally have a couple of random people within the audience that I try to keep eye contact with:

  • An excited energetic fan
  • An interested music enthusiast (you’ll see that they like music and instruments, but not the lyrics of your songs yet)
  • A party dude who’s mainly there for the girls
  • A not-so-interested individual that seems like they are being dragged along

I set myself the challenge to entertain all 4 of these individuals, and to get them to dance and sing at least one of your songs’ lyrics.

I guarantee that you will make a massive impact and connect intensively with your audience when you can accomplish this task.

There are also other types of body language one could observe:

  • The active listening position
  • Energy levels of the audience
  • How loud and active people are behaving
  • Are the seated guests leaning towards their sides: people are analysing your performance

Eye Contact With Your Band Members

More sets of eyes and emotions are more accurate than just one set. Performing live regularly helps your charisma and stage chemistry in such a manner that you will immediately feel the direction of the show as a unit.

I don’t often start my performances with a ballade, but that one concert we walked onto the stage, and the crowd was already warmed up singing our ballade hit single. That made us realise that we would need to change things around a bit.

We immediately as a unit knew that we are going to perform the ballade, and perhaps also play it as an encore at the end.

The audience appreciated the flexibility and sang our song back louder than we could even hear ourselves. Goosebumps moment!

I recommend that you scan through my article about Ways To Build Chemistry With Your Bandmates as this could help you on your journey to spend time together also outside of the band room.

Look At The Sound Engineer

The sound engineer (if you perform with one), has the most central position in the house. Be open to checking where his head is turning and what he is observing. This could guide you to how you sound musically and fit into the venue genre.

This post was written and published by De Wet from on 17.06.2023. The content was stolen from me if this blog post is seen anywhere else.

Seeing people video recording you is a compliment and means that you are creating a live moment for them. Make sure to share many stories on social media to publicize for your next gigs. (photo credit: Canva)

Find the Regulars

Every venue has some regular customers. They’ve seen many artists perform at this venue and they also know what works well and not.

It is always a good idea to have a chat with a regular guest to figure out what is the approximate expectation for a live performer at this venue.

Market Your Show Well

If you could manage to have a small group of your own fans attending, it’s almost a guarantee that your performance will be a success.

This also goes for the handful of people that enjoyed your previous performance and the newly joined members on your social media pages.

For this, I would recommend that you read my article How to Build a Following and Finally Fill Your Venues to follow a few easy steps to keep interested fans and make them attend more gigs.

Be Sensible About Your Song Choice

A few things to keep in mind when you prepare your banter and setlist:

  • Don’t perform a song with another cities name in
  • Stay away from political or religious comments
  • Start with a neutral song to pull the audience into engagement

The Moses Effect

As soon as you see that the people are losing interest, it’s time for a change or for an experiment.

The Moses effect is when the audience splits like the Redsea. One half goes to the bar and the other to the bathroom or elsewhere. We can avoid this by performing a variety of music that suits the venue and the audience present.

We must avoid this from happening and make sure that our audience stays engaged and entertained.

Spot the Energy

Create momentum during your performance. Let the show flow into the next songs and vary the pace of the set. Somewhere people will need to bring their energy down since they won’t be able to keep up at full pace all the time.

What to do If You Read the Room Wrong and Your Live Experiment Fails

A part of reading the room also means that you use the opportunity on stage to experiment and try a few new things out.

Experimenting during live performances is extremely important for the growth of a band. It keeps the artist out of their comfort zone and it shows the audience that they are evolving. The surprising factor keeps audiences coming back to your shows.

This is such a valuable experience to gain as a band and individual musician.

Reflect with your band members afterwards about the experiment and discuss what they thought about it in order to improve for the next performance.

I would call an experiment a risk if you are not at least 60% sure that it would be successful. Anything less could open the door for a moment of embarrassment.

But what should you do when your experiment fails?

Have a Joke Ready

Of course, you will need to address the audience again after the failed experiment. You will definitely have more confidence in trying out new things on stage when you always have a backup plan for failed experiments.

It’s a good idea to have a few jokes in your back pocket that always works when an experiment failed.

This will relax the room and everyone will have a chuckle.

We once tried out a new break in a song which I completely forgot about. So when the break came, I switched into chorus mode. I immediately realised that I forgot and that it was embarrassing, but I knew that stopping would make it even worse.

So I played the whole chorus with my bass and the audience, realising I made a mistake, were already laughing and appreciating me finishing the chorus for them.

My frontman just commented saying: “We can now see who slipped band school this week”, which made the whole situation nice and relaxing.

Have Flexibility Within Your Setlist

Being able to adapt as a team is a skill that not all bands have. Try to be able to move songs around a little and practice being spontaneous in the band practice room.

If you are currently looking for some info regarding your setlist, I wrote an article that would guide you through some of the structural points to help you craft your setlist to perfection. You can find Craft Your Setlist Like This here.

Prepare enough songs

So when an experiment failed, let’s say you played the wrong song at the wrong moment, then you need to adjust your set and have the capacity to do so.

This is only possible when you have a song repertoire big enough to adjust and make it right.

Playing the wrong song is usually a temporary mistake. The people are able to return to the stage once they hear that you are cooking something up along their line of music taste.

Move On and Don’t Make It Awkward

We mostly have control over a situation becoming awkward or not when we make a mistake in front of an audience. If something goes a little wrong, stop, fix it, and move on.

Don’t hassle about a mistake or a situation. Start with the next song and party on!

At the end of the day, experience is your best friend. Make sure you get your bookings filled and keep networking with your favourite venues.

To achieve that, don’t miss my article What to Do to Get Booked Regularly as an Artist.

Until next time!

De Wet

The dream started during a school tour at the age of 15 years old. One that might take a long time to reach. De Wet was 16 years old when he got his first bass guitar as a gift from his dad. The guitar was found, hidden under boxes. As if it was waiting for its owner to come by and pick him up. He practiced every day to improve and to teach his fingers to dance to the music. After finishing high school, he played in various bands where he collected valuable experience, before being signed by a record label as an upcoming band. He reached success at age 22 when he released two albums with his band, which also included televised music videos for publicity. By age 24, he co-started management, artist promotion, and booking agency for successful and upcoming musical acts.

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