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Applause Cycles: Build the Momentum, Don’t Kill It

If you knew there was something you could do from the stage to help build momentum in the room, would you do it? I’m guessing you would.

And if I told you there was something you might be doing from stage that was killing the momentum every time, would you stop doing it? Of course!

There is something that can build or kill momentum, depending on how you handle it. And most artists handle it the wrong way.

It’s one of the most common mistake artists make – and I’m talking about major artists, indies, every genre, every kind of venue, and in front of both huge crowds or small audiences. And to be honest, it’s not that hard to fix! You just need to learn & understand the principle, then practice it over and over until you get it right.

It’s how you accept applause. There’s a right way and a wrong way. And especially with your first few songs, as you are listening to your audience and their response to you, it’s crucial to learn to do it the right way. But let’s start with some of the biggest mistakes I see most artists make when they finish a song:

1) They start to talk almost immediately after the song is over. It doesn’t have to be more than the words “thank you” and, when they’re said too early, they’ll turn what might have been thunderous applause into a much smaller response. Your audience sees you saying something and they immediately think they need to listen to you. So they stop clapping so they can hear what you’re saying. This mistake is common across the board, majors to indies.

2) They start to move almost immediately after the song is over. Again, it doesn’t need to be much movement… stepping back, moving to the pedal board, taking a drink, talking to the drummer, turning their back to the audience… whatever it is, the movement tells your audience, “don’t bother applauding – we weren’t that good.” And the audience listens to this nonverbal communication and stops applauding.

3) They deflect the applause to someone else. This is particularly unique to the Christian genre. A singer finishes their song and then points to the sky as if to say “it wasn’t me.” Now I’m all for being humble. But to me, this feels like false humility and comes off a little like manipulation. Whatever it is, it usually has the effect of getting the audience to stop applauding at all. In my opinion, true humility means accepting the gift of applause from your audience with graciousness and thanks.

So how do you accept applause the right way? First of all, you need to understand what I call the Applause Cycle. You’ve all heard it before: the song ends, the applause begins, rises to a peak, and then slowly fades away. Make your move a little too soon and you cut the applause off. Wait too long and you have dead air — silence in the room. Knowing how to handle this applause cycle can be critical to your show when you’re trying to develop a relationship with your audience.

Here are some things you should do to help develop that relationship:

1) When the applause starts, drop your hands down, palms up. If you were holding the mic at the end of the song, keep the mic in your hand. By holding your palms up, you tell your audience you are happy to receive their applause. (You are, aren’t you?)

2) Hold your ground! Don’t back up. Don’t move around. In fact, if you want to be even more bold, take a step forward! Again, this nonverbal communication tells your audience you’d like to know what they thought of that song. You’re asking them to participate in a 2-way communication with you. By the way, if you are in a band, everyone should not do the same thing – that would look a little goofy. Maybe one person will nod at the audience in acknowledgment, and another person might point at someone who is applauding. But don’t move around or step backward.

3) Listen to the applause cycle. You’ll hear it build to a peak, then begin to come down. After it begins to come down in intensity, that’s when you say “thank you” into the microphone and make your next move.

Here’s the concept of this fundamental: you want to develop communication and a relationship with your audience. By putting pressure on them to respond to you, you will begin to lead them with confidence and authority. They’ll sense you are in control, and they’ll feel like they can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Not only that, but you will be showing your audience that you are open and grateful for their applause.

Don’t forget, you need to understand this fundamental AND practice it over and over until you get it right. Videotape yourself at performances and check to make sure you’re building the momentum in the room with your response to the applause you receive.

excerpt from Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method: All Roads Lead to the Stage book. Copyright 2012

Tom Jackson

Tom is uniquely talented and skilled at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience; helping artists at every level create a live show that is engaging and memorable, teaching them to exceed their audiences' expectations and to create fans for life. Tom has taught indie and major artists of every genre. He has worked with Taylor Swift, Le Crae, Home Free, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, The Band Perry, Francesca Battistelli, Jars of Clay, & many more. Tom also teaches at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. This is AWESOME! Thanks!

  2. Thank you for this article. I’ve heard you talk about it a few times, but it’s great to have it in an article like this (I’m yet to read the book, by the way)

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