Do’s & Don’ts When Performing Your Own Songs
A Guest Post by Songwriting Scene
Whether you are a touring singer-songwriter, play out fairly regularly or primarily write songs for your own enjoyment, chances are you’ve found yourself in front of an audience to perform your own original tunes.
But while you’ve taken so much care to craft your songs, how much thought have you given in terms of how your present them on stage? I asked folks on the Songwriting Scene Facebook Page about their biggest pet peeves when watching other songwriters perform. There was some disagreement and back and forth, but a few clear thoughts came through:
1. Don’t apologize.
It’s easy to feel insecure when you’re performing a song that you wrote, that came right from your core. Obviously it’s a vulnerable place. Still, your song will come across far better if you act confident. For example, folks who “preface” before singing their song, such as “This is brand-new, I don’t know how to play this yet,” is a big pet peeve of mine. Or, northern California-based Erin Friedman says her pet peeve is when people say “I hope you like it.” This screams insecurity!
And Christine Stay, of the Greenville, SC-duo Friction Farm, says “ If you play covers and originals and do not intro the covers then please don’t say ‘this is an original’ as if it is an apology.” Keep in mind, your audience may be thrilled to hear something besides cover songs they’ve heard a million times. “Original” doesn’t mean “Less-than.”
2. Don’t explain what every song is about.
If you’ve got a great background story about one of your tunes, terrific. If you tell that story well, even better. But there’s no need to start every one of your original songs with “This song is about…”
According to Brooklyn-based Scene-ster Mark Allen Berube: “Unless it’s a really really interesting story I do not care when/where/how/why you wrote the song. I just want to hear the song. I’ll judge it based on that alone.”
3. On the other hand, don’t just be completely silent between every song.
“Silence between songs is also not great,” says Berube. “You do need to communicate with the audience.” If you’re not a great ad libber? If you’re shy and introverted and just want to stare at the guitar strings? Practice your banter. Come on, anyone can come up with a line or two and look directly at the audience once in a while. They’ll appreciate it, I promise.
4. Do commit to performing the song full-on.
The emotion you put into performing can draw the audience in, says Jersey City-based singer-songwriter Scott Wolfson. “So really perform the song — even if people don’t know the song, your emotion can be infectious,” he explains. “If you enjoy what you’re doing, chances are others will as well.”
5. Do make sure your instrument is in order for the song you’re playing.
“Make sure your capo is on the correct fret!” says Songwriting Scene reader Olivia Schwartz. That’s a great tip — and don’t forget to make sure your guitar is tuned; that you have a lyric sheet if your song isn’t completely memorized; and that your guitar is plugged in if it’s an amplified venue.
6. Do enjoy yourself!
There’s no doubt that performing your own original songs is challenging, maybe more so than singing your favorite Beatles tune. But do it for the joy of it…that’s 99.9% the whole point, right? Songwriting Scene reader Debra Elliott agrees: “Just do it, and enjoy yourself, it should bring you joy, ..if it doesn’t, why are you doing it ?”
Songwriting Scene is a blog founded by New Jersey-based singer-songwriter Sharon Goldman, written for songwriters about songwriting -- including tips, interviews, inspiration and thoughts about the creative process.