So you want to perform your music in public - terrific ! It really doesn’t matter whether it’s your first time at a local open mic, a pre-scheduled gig at the local coffee shop, at your Sunday church service, or at a major venue. It’s a ‘live performance’.
First and most importantly, be well-rehearsed. Know your material well enough that audience chatter or barista machine noise, and even blank faces staring at you, won’t keep you from remembering your songs. Distractions can quickly throw your memory banks into a chaotic mess if the material isn’t ingrained into your gray matter. At home, rehearse both sitting down and standing up. Rehearse in front a mirror. Video tape yourself, then watch the video and critique yourself so that you can make corrections if needed.
Memorize your material. Don’t rely on sheet music or cheat sheets. Both are distracting to the audience and keep you focused on the page in front of you, rather than the audience you’re supposed to be connecting with. Using a large music stand is like putting a fence in front of you that says ‘Keep Out’, so try not to use one. If you have to, keep it off to the side for occasional reference.
Look at your audience, not at the ceiling or your feet. Show some enthusiasm, even if you’re scared to death. If you look or sound bored, your audience will be also and they will tune you out.
Don’t let small mistakes interrupt the flow of your music. Try to continue through the mistake. If the mistake quickly turns into a train wreck, stop and try to make light of the situation, then begin again, or move on to another song. Audiences are forgiving and aren’t turned off by the occasional blunder. I’ve seen performers turn a major oops into a humorous situation, endearing themselves to the audience, and in many cases gaining the attention of people who, prior to the mistake, weren’t paying attention.
Dress appropriately. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t show up in shorts and a wrinkled t-shirt, looking like you’re on your way to mow the lawn. Guys, jeans or khaki pants, if pressed and clean, are acceptable in a casual setting, especially paired with a nice shirt. Girls, don’t wear a skirt, especially a short one, if you’re planning on sitting down to perform, especially if you use a stool. If you wear a skirt, perform standing up. If the gig is outside and it’s hot, wear comfortable cotton clothing (well-ironed). Take a second set of clothes if you think you might need them, especially at all-day festivals.
And here is the most important item of all. Perform using a quality instrument. A guitar that has poor intonation and doesn’t tune well will distract you and your audience. And please purchase a tuner if you’re playing a stringed instrument. Learn how to use it, and use it often, especially before your first song. If you like to perform at open mics, remember that the venue is trying to allow as many folks a chance at performing as time allows. Tune your instrument before you get on stage. Be ready to play.
Now go have some fun.