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Tips for Perfecting Your Onstage Banter

Tips for Perfecting Your Onstage Banter

My son is in a metal band. A few weeks ago, I went to one of his shows in a backyard in Riverside, California. When he spoke to the audience between songs, he said things like, “Thanks so much for being here. Without you, we’re nothing.”

According to my husband, someone in the audience was heckling my son’s band telling them they sounded too much like rock stars. Obviously, it’s never cool to heckle a band while they are onstage. This s++t isn’t easy.

But I kind of knew where he was coming from. My husband and I had been wanting my son to change up his banter for quite some time. This guy may have hit the nail on the head.

My son isn’t the only one that struggles with his stage banter. I’ve seen a lot of musicians stumble over their words, say the wrong things, mumble shyly between songs, go on too long or not communicate enough. Did I mention that this s**t is tough?

That’s why I decided to write an article about the subject. The following paragraphs will provide suggestions for what you should be saying onstage if you’re in a band.

How to Handle the Talking Onstage

Here are a few tips on how you should be handling the talking situation.

Think About Your Band Image: Every band has an image. Maybe you’re funny, maybe you’re political, maybe you’re ethereal. Whatever your image is, it should come through in the things that you say onstage.  

So if you’re trying to create a mystical image, you may want to use poetic language that leaves a bit to the imagination. If you’re funny, joke with the audience. By the way, no matter how serious you are, I think the audience will always enjoy a good joke.

Let the Person with the Best Personality Do the Talking: Let’s face it, the singer may not always be the most charismatic person in the band when it comes to stage banter. There are many singers who make up eloquent lyrics, but when it comes to talking to the audience, they got nothing.

If this is the case with your band, it’s perfectly okay to let someone else do the talking whether it’s the guitarist, bassist or even the drummer. On second thought, maybe not the drummer (just kidding, maybe). But the point is, if there is someone in your band with the gift of gab, let them talk to the audience between songs.

Splitting the Duties: Sometimes, more than one band member talks to the audience. This could be fun, except when two people start talking over each other. Or if one of them says something, then the other one decides to say something, and they end up going on for so long that you end up getting your set cut.

It’s nice to be spontaneous on stage, but if you find that two band members are stepping on each other’s feet when talking to the audience, you may want to decide who should say what when.

Don’t Go on Too Long: It’s good to talk to the audience, but you don’t want to talk so much that you end up not getting to play your full set. It’s best to keep things short and sweet. If you want to take some time to talk to the audience between, say, your second and third song, keep it short between your third and fourth 

Plan for Musical Interludes: If you’re talking to the audience between every song, it may start to feel redundant, and you may run out of things to say. Therefore, it’s a good idea to plan musical interludes where the band goes from one song into another. It sounds really cool too.

If your singer really hates to talk to the audience, you could do your entire set using musical interludes and no banter, but this really only works well for psychedelic bands and maybe some others that are very   intense. If you’re on the bar band level and you’re playing through your set without talking to the audience, it’s gonna seem pretentious.

Be Prepared: If you are the type of person who freezes up when it comes to talking to the audience, prepare in advance. Think of things you will say between songs beforehand. You can even write them down as you think of them, so you’re never caught without something to say.

What Should I Talk About?

Here are some things you should be including in your stage banter.

Talk About the Song: Every song tells a story. A reliable fall back is to talk about the song you are going to play next. You can talk about what the lyrics mean, why you wrote the song, where you were when you wrote the song and more 

Introduce the Band: Introducing the band is another oldie but a goodie. Tell the audience the name of each member and if you can say something cute about them, even better. This always gets a good audience reaction 

Tell a Joke: Got any good jokes? Now’s the time to tell the audience.

Talk About Topical Issues??: Okay, now this one’s a slippery slope. Topical issues are cool if you are paying tribute to someone who died recently or discussing a new, hot TV show or something funny that happened in the media. But when it comes to social and political issues, you may want to shut your mouth unless you’re a political band and you’re pretty sure the audience is on your side.

There have been several incidents where musicians ended up doing or saying something onstage that kicked them in the butt in the long run. One incident that comes to mind is when the singer of The Dixie Chicks (now just The Chicks) said she was embarrassed that then President George Bush came from her home state of Texas. That statement pretty much ruined the band’s career (until they made a comeback more recently).

Now you can say that what she did was worth it. And if you’re in a bar band, saying something controversial may just give you the kind of attention you need. Personally, I’d rather stay out of it and just play fun rock n’ roll. For me, David Lee Roth said it best when he said, “You got a message, use Western Union” 

Talk About Your Day: Did something funny happen to you earlier in the day? Earlier in the week? If you think it will make the audience smile, tell them about it.

Say What Needs to Be Said: While onstage, you always want to do your shout outs. Here’s what you should include:

  • Thank the venue and promoter for booking you
  • Thank the audience for coming
  • Mention any merch you have for sale
  • Mention where the audience can find you on social media, etc.
  • Give a shout out to the other bands (this is optional but always a good way to network)
  • Say the name of your band. You should say the name of your band several times throughout your set. People who did not come specifically to see you may not know who you are. If you feel like you’re being repetitive, make it funny by saying “we are STILL The Beatles” or mention that you are repeating your band name for those that just came in.

What Should You Never Say Onstage

Now you know what you should say on stage. Here are some things you should not say on stage.

Don’t Point Out Mistakes: Never tell the audience that you forgot the lyrics or apologize for messing up a song or anything else bad that may have happened onstage. It’s likely the audience didn’t notice. Pointing it out will only make you look unprofessional.

Don’t Talk About Depressing Things: Everyone writes sad songs but it’s not advisable to talk about how sad they are or even to mention the topic the song is written about onstage. When people are at a concert, they want to have fun. Don’t let your stage banter bring them down 

Don’t Insult Your Audience: Your audience may not be reacting the way you want them to and they may even be heckling you. No matter what happens, don’t put them down. Get through your set, thank them and leave the stage. Ignore hecklers the best you can.

Don’t Thank Your Significant Other: Do you know how it feels to be the third wheel when you’re out with your couple friends? That’s how your audience will feel if you thank your significant other onstage. To be on the safe side, thank everyone who is there and tell your gf or bf how you feel later.

Don’t Beg Them to Buy Your Merchandise: It’s a good idea to let the audience know you have merchandise for sale, but don’t beg them to buy it or tell them that you’re broke and really need the money.  If the profits off the merch are helping you finance a tour or a recording, you can mention that to them. But don’t tell them about your problems. They won’t want to hear it.

Celebrities Who Have Put Their Foot in Their Mouths Onstage

If you have ever said the wrong thing on stage, be thankful that you’re not as famous as some of these people.

Da Baby: People have been distancing themselves from Da Baby ever since he made homophobic remarks onstage. During his performance for Rolling Loud Miami, he was quoted as saying, “If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS or any of them other deadly sexually transmitted diseases that make you die in two to three weeks put your cellphone lighters up.”

He then said, “Ladies, if your p---y smells like water, put your cellphone lighters up. Fellas, if you ain’t sucking d—k in the parking lot, put your cellphone lighters up.

Have we mentioned that making homophobic and other hateful remarks onstage is a bad idea?

Axl Rose: Axl Rose has been known to be strongly opinionated and he has had several onstage rants that are better off forgotten. One involved  Metallica, fellow musicians whom he toured with in the past.

Though once good buddies, Rose decided he was no longer a fan of the band in any way, shape or form. He accused Metallica front man, James Hetfield of being a racist. He also called the entire band overpaid egomaniacs and said they treated their crew terribly.

Putting down other bands is also a bad idea. It makes you look trite and petty. 

Morrissey: Morrissey is another musician who is known for his outrageous stage banter. The singer is an activist with extreme opinions and has blamed other celebrities for everything that is wrong with the world.

He was performing at a show in Los Angeles where he is quoted as saying, “The rhinoceros is now more or less extinct and it’s not because of global warming or shrinking habitats. It’s because of Beyonce’s handbags.”

He also put down Jimmy Kimmel and his late-night show because they were planning to interview members of the animal hunting Duck Dynasty cast. He said Kimmel, “found time to jokingly promote gun ownership, hugely amusing for the families at Sandy Hook no doubt,” and claimed that, “Jimmy Kimmel himself has finally revealed his show to have an overwhelming loss of meaning.”

Phil Anselmo: This former Pantera front man has been known for dropping racist remarks. He performed at a tribute concert for the late Pantera guitarist Darrel Dimebag and was said to have returned a Nazi salute to audience members and chanted white power for their benefit.

This is not the only time he promoted white supremacy onstage. He has also written racist lyrics including “no more of the coward Mohammed” and “taking no pity on the Jewish elitists” which are featured in the song “Stealing a Page or Two from the Armed and Radical Pagans”.

Anselmo has since backpedaled on those rants and has made generous donations to human rights organizations. However, many of his fellow musicians adopted a zero-tolerance policy and don’t want anything to do with him.

Leonard Graves Philips of The Dickies: Leonard Graves Phillips is known for engaging in humorous onstage banter, but when the band played the Warped Tour in 2016, he may have taken things too far.

The punk rock veteran singer was making jokes about how he liked teen girls and how he would love to snort Viagra off (the fans) asses and fuck their daughters.

One woman got offended and held up a sign saying, “Teen girls deserve respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men. Punk shouldn’t be predatory!”

Graves responded saying, “Kiss it bitch. I have fucked farm animals that were prettier than you, you f**king hog.” He then led the audience in a “Blow me” chant and followed up saying, “How does it feel to get shouted away c**t? Can you spell that? You’re a fat f**king c**t.”

Phillips since apologized for his rant saying he let his anger get the better of him. The Warped Tour also released an apologetic statement, but since the performance was the last day of the Dickies’ Warped Tour appearances, (an arrangement worked out before the unfortunate event occurred) the organization did not take any action.

How Important is Stage Banter?

Stage banter is more important for some bands than others. Musicians like who were big on the glam metal scene like David Lee Roth and Paul Stanley are practically known for their banter.

Today, music is a little more low-key and there’s an attitude of ‘less talk, let’s concentrate on the music”. However, it’s always fun to connect and who knows when something you say will make you stand out, whether for better or for worse.

Now that you know more about stage banter, how will you be communicating with the audience the next time you perform live?

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