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5 Onstage Distractions You Should Dump NOW!

When we’re helping artists with their shows, we’re teaching them what to do to make their shows come alive.

But at the same time there are things they need to STOP doing as well. 

Some performers have developed bad habits over time and don’t even realize they are doing them!



Here are five…check your live playback and see if you’re guilty;

    •    Finger Flicking.  This is when you keep moving your fingers up and down while holding the mic. The problem seems to more common with female performers…perhaps they’ve watched [insert artist name here] do it and thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. This is a distraction, because your hand/mic is right in front of your face, and if you do it often, we’ll be caught up watching THAT instead of listening to you sing.

    •    Leg Tapping.  We see this among amateur performers quite often. It’s when you tap the beat of the song on your thigh with your hand. It’s most annoying and just sends the signal that you don’t know what else to do with yourself. It’s better to use that hand to express what you’re singing, or let it just rest.

    •    Toe Tapping.  Very common, and I get confused looks when I walk up to someone during rehearsal and hold their feet down to get them to realize what they’re doing. Many artists have assumed this is what you’re supposed to do to ‘keep the beat’.  If you’re constantly tapping your toe, my eye is drawn to that movement, thus taking away from what I’m SUPPOSED to be paying attention to – your music.  Many stages are high enough to make your feet eye level to the audience as well, drawing even more attention to that constant beat. We understand you want to stay in tempo, but let the drummer or your instrument do that!

    •    Scrunchy Face/Mad Face.  Yes, your audience can be distracted by your facial expression. If you look mad or pained the whole show, especially on the ‘happy’ songs, they’ll wonder what’s wrong with you.  After all, you’re the one onstage, playing music for people, livin’ the dream…what can have you so troubled?  In all seriousness, if you don’t pay attention to your expression onstage, if it doesn’t match what the audience HEARS, it will take away from your performance.  Woodshed in front of a mirror so you can see how you look to us.

    •    Hyper/Hypo Movement.  This would be moving too much, or moving too little. Both are a no-no. I watched a recent live show where the lead singer was in CONSTANT motion – running around, going in FRONT of the lead guitar solo, jumping on the drum riser, blocking the drummer as he was singing, etc…it was all I saw! If anyone else in the band was doing something profound, I missed it. Lots of mis-direction going on.  On the other end of this is NO movement, which is equally attention getting, only it makes us wonder if you have no feelings.  Cuz if you’re FEELING the song, one would expect you to express that with your arms, your body, your head…something! A statue is no fun to watch.  You’ve got to strike a balance in knowing WHEN to move…why and where as well, and we help you figure this out, in line with what each song calls for.

So, are you nailed in one or more of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions, or maybe how you overcame a bad habit.  If you’re doing more than one, start by focusing on eliminating ONE at your next gig….your audience will thank you!

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. I am fairly sure I am not guilty of one through four. I will have to put a camera on me to determine number five 🙂

  2. Leigh Stoner says:

    Hi Amy. I’m curious, most of the suggestions for stage performance are for vocalists and musicians other than drummers. I have read Tom’s book “Live Music Method” and I don’t remember any sections pertaining to the drummer (maybe I missed that). Most drummer’s facial expressions are pretty intense, unless you are playing a slow song. What suggestions would you have for a drummer’s onstage distractions?

    • This is a good example of a distracting drummer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9kPfelTEds
      …to say the LEAST! Ha. The drummer needs to tune in mentally to what the song is about as well – his/her expression to reflect the feel and mood of the song. Too showy for a contemplative song is bad – too stoic for an up, hype song is bad. Tom has a chapter on roles of the band in the book…don’t have it in front of me right now as I’m on a vacation, but that will give you some insight on what role each person in the band plays

  3. Hi Amy, I am guilty of tapping my thigh. Sometimes I do it because I want the audience to clap their hands but I don’t want to actually clap my hands all the time. I just want to keep it going. I am generally aware of what I am doing but now I will be more critical of doing it. Thanks!

  4. So annoying – truly – once you become aware of all the little habits people have and how it affect audiences, without them even realizing it.

    Kudos to the rare birds who are interested in improving! It will make such a difference.

  5. Great article! I used to be guilty of keeping my eyes closed A LOT until I watched a video of me shot in a dark club and thought, gee, I look like the GHOST of a singer with my eyes closed so much LOL. It felt unnatural to consciously keep my eyes open after that but looked much better! Less like one of the undead…

    • Yes, that’s a no-no! It shuts us out and I’m always getting on artists for this.I realize that it’s a defense mechanism or a security issue lots of times. Tough to break the habit but crucial! Thanks Ruth.

  6. Amy, very well said, as always. Here’s a confession related to the “Mad Face” note: I started doing “Jesus music” in the 1970s when Jesus movement churches considered “Christian musicians” to be “evangelists with guitars.” We talked about important stuff, just like the preachers without guitars, but we also took ourselves way too seriously. I recently rewatched two videos of my concerts in the 1980s and I realized that I almost never smiled. But the irony was that was NORMAL for the genre at the time. Now that I’ve given up on that sort of self-importance, and I’m reaching a more diverse audience, I try to smile a lot more. After all, I’m generally having fun; why not let the audience in on that little secret? But a 45-year habit can be hard to break.

    • Yes, so many take themselves too seriously onstage. You can have a serious message, but dial back the intensity in your face 🙂 Glad you’re letting your ‘happy’ show now Paul!

  7. John Williamson says:

    Back in another lifetime, before readily available handheld video cameras, our band was slated to do a TV appearance. Our manager booked a dance studio for us to rehearse in. He had us stand opposite the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that ran the length of one wall of the studio. Objective: Watch ourselves in the mirrors to pick up on any performance distractions. It was a very helpful exercise. Lessons learned were applied both for TV and for live stage appearances.

    • Great exercise John! I’m sure you saw things YOU thought you were overdoing, but they looked good when you watched yourself. Or things you thought looked great, but….not so much. Mirror or video playback is a MUST if you want to progress.

  8. thanks Amy, always helpful info!

    how about when the singer walks over to talk to a bandmate during the guitar solo. i want to know what they are saying!!!

    • William, I’m guilty of this, but only during “gigs.” There is a difference. During a show that has been meticulously planned out with a setlist, this behavior would be rare; however, during a gig that’s four hours, there’s no way to plan the whole setlist and remember it. In that case, I will tell the bassist (or whomever) what I want to play for the next song (depending on: the audience, changing the pressure, maybe a request was made by the audience, etc.), before the current song is over to keep things moving. Hope that helps.

    • If it looks like they’re having a good time together William, I’m fine with that. But if it’s often and for too long, the audience WILL wonder what they’re talking about and feel left out.

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