You’re third in line to perform a popular writer’s night. The first act on stage takes command of the room by whipping out a rocker. And once he has the audience’s attention, he plays a touching tender ballad about his daughter and her having to grow up with a father who spends most of his time on the road. He owns the stage, and the audience eats it up. Clearly this guy’s a pro.

Next up is a singer/songwriter who just witnessed the audience getting sucked into the first guy’s ballad, and figures that is what the crowd wants. So, two more ballads of varying quality spill forth from the sound system while you’re waiting on deck.

Now, it’s your turn to take the stage. Your plan was to kill the audience and impress the other performers with two of your best songs that are filled with the best crafted/divinely inspired lyrics that ever flowed from your pen. Not surprisingly, they’re both ballads.

Part 3: What to play
So now that you have decided to play a show or perhaps an open mic night, you know what you need to bring and you decided on a venue, it’s time to determine which of your songs you’ll play.

A big deciding factor on a setlist is how much time you’ll have on stage. If you only have the opportunity to play two songs, you may think your two best songs are the way to go: and you may be right. Obviously, your strongest material could be your strongest choice.

But, as illustrated above, it also may not be the strongest choice.
The ability to read a crowd is a trait that takes a little time for an artist to develop. But anyone in the audience can easily overhear the grumbling from the next table when the evening seems to be dragging along instead of happening.

So, when you take the stage, ask yourself that if you were in the audience would you want to hear another ballad, or is it time to switch it up?

Therefore, it might be time to play your best upbeat song rather than what you consider your best song. Or, if things had gotten a little heavy with all the thought-provoking or emotionally wrenching lyrics that ballads tend to sprout, it might be time for a little comic relief. A good novelty song is often the one that people remember at the end of the night.

If you do play a novelty song, it might be good to stay away from the “blue material” (foul language, or adult themes) unless you have a bead on whether it’s acceptable in the room with the audience (children in the room?), or more importantly, the management of the joint. However, double entrandas seem to be perfectly alright.

For the most part people like having a good time and up tempo numbers much more conducive to a party atmosphere than slower songs, especially those of unrequited love, missing someone, tragic events, love of Jesus, and other similar themes.

This is not to say you can’t play these songs, but it is good to give the people what they want.
And, if you’re lucky enough to have a hit song that been played on the radio or someone popular with name recognition has covered one of your compositions; by all means make sure that that is on your setlist. People love hearing a song from the source. It gives them something to brag about when they’re telling friends about what they did last night.

They also like hearing stories about the song, if it is an interesting story. So, obviously, if some big name recorded your song…that’s interesting. If something unusual inspired the song…that’s interesting, too (“I was in a car wreck, waiting for the firemen to use the jaws of life, and I wrote this song. It’s called “Dad’s Gonna Be Mad””).

If it’s an open mic night, time is of the essence, so it’s best to keep the story short: It’s most likely the audience is other writers waiting their turn to play. But still, you should try your hand at it. Remember this is your opportunity to hone your skills at all aspects of being on stage.

It also wouldn’t hurt to have a joke or two up your sleeve. Sometimes there are audio problems or some other situation where your mic will be hot, but your guitar won’t be. Or, the sound guy wants you to hold off playing as he corrects some issue. A good joke would work well as a time killer in these situations, and can take some of the stress out of being on stage and stared at in silence.

For the most part the audience will be respectful, but there’s always that one guy that had one too many or a big mouth, or both. It’s good to have a comeback ready. One of my personal favorites is “Weren’t you in here last night? I never forget
a shirt.”

Each time you take the stage you should be growing more and more comfortable. Little things will happen that will seem like big things at first. But the more time you perform, the less important these things will be. And in no time you’ll be carrying yourself like a pro.

Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and

Originally posted 2010-10-13 19:01:24.