You may not be David Bowie or Freddy Mercury just yet, but here’s how to capture your audience

By Thomas Jackson

21 May 2024

Having been on both sides of the stage since I was fifteen, I have cut my teeth playing to crowds big and small and watch countless bands. Not all the bands I saw were good, then again not all my gigs were good either. Writing and playing music becomes a different beast when you have an audience in front of you, and learning how to captivate and engage them has a steep learning curve. So, to make it a bit easier, here are some of the tips I would suggest you heed to help capture your audience, as I have seen many bands do the complete opposite with mixed results at best.


Your sound is not the only thing you need to think about. Even before you play your fist note your audience will have expectations of what you will be like by appearance alone. If you play a punk venue and show up on stage in an Adidas track suit you will stick out like a sore thumb.

Captivating visuals can be straightforward, complementing band outfits is an easy way to show that you have come to perform. Matching White-Ts and blue jeans are an affordable and clean option, but anything that shows you are a coherent unit.   

Another way is using props. A banner hanging behind you, a mannequin head with flowers coming out or an old television playing static in the background help to make use of empty space, and as your stage show grows, you can add more props to fit in with the bands theme.

In one of my old bands – Pablosaurus Rex – we had a T Rex head sitting on the drum kit which we would pass around for the audience to hold.   

Pablo the T-Rex in storage

The last point on visuals is are there any physical barriers between you and your audience? Your audience wants to feel as close as possible to the music they are listening to. Remove any barriers, which includes music stands directly in front of you and my biggest pet peeve is when the singer has their phone out reading the lyrics. It’s a huge barrier and shows your audience that you might not be as prepared for the gig as you should have been.

READ MORE: 5 iconic artists to inspire your on-stage fashion

The order of your set list

Everyone knowing what song comes next is great, but have you thought about how the songs work with one another.

A good set list keeps its audience’s attention by creating peaks and troughs of emotion. It would be a bit weird to play half a set with a fast tempo and heavily distorted guitars and then only play soft ballads for the second half.  

Build a set list like you would a sandwich. First piece of bread: An opener that is a blurb of the kind of energy and sound you will be bringing to the whole performance. Butter: Something that compliments the first song and metaphorically “butters” up the audience for… Filling: Ham, chicken, cheese, whatever is your favourite or in the musical sense the ‘hit single’. A bit of salad: perhaps a slower song or one that is more emotional. Condiment: A song that will get you back to the energy levels you were playing before the slower song. Finally: The last piece of bread. It wouldn’t be a sandwich otherwise. So having a great closer will help make the perfect set list that will keep you audience happy with every sonic bite.


This may sound like the obvious thing to do, but practicing does not mean simply practicing your songs when it comes to preparing for a live gig with an audience. Making sure you know your set list back-to-front is a great start which will grab you audience’s attention as they will be able to hear the time and effort you and your band mates have put in. But there is more to practice than honing your material.

When you are rehearsing, fashion your room so that you are all facing the same way, as if on the stage facing the crowd. Not only will your band members know where to be, a familiar layout will make you more relaxed, allowing you to play better.

Another thing to practice is what you will say during the event. Some lines of banter with the crowed, a small synopsis of the next song you will play and talking with your band mates are all ways of filling the dead silence between song that will retain your audience’s attention. If the next song your about to play requires someone to retune or set up another instrument, the easiest way to lose your audience is to be waiting around with nothing happening – an audience needs to be constantly engaged and entertained.

Make sure to time your performance during practice with all the embellishments and set ups. This way you will know your not running long and invading the time of the next band, who will not be best pleased if you do and may not want to play with your band again.


This might be the most important part of being able to capture your live audience. You may look the part; you may sound the part but being as rigid as a statue shows your audience one of two things: You are nervous to be on stage. This is understandable if it is your first time, but even faking your confidence is better.

The other thing that it might show is – and this is much worse – that you don’t care about being there and see this as another gig that you can shrug off afterwards. A gig anywhere needs to be played as if it was the last, so your audience feels like this is a special event to be a part of.   

This does not mean that you must go crazy and dance around the stage like a lunatic – unless that’s your thing – but try to make use of as much space on stage as possible. Jump up and down, have a little dance during the guitar solo. Moving with the pulse of the music won’t just engage your audience but it will also help you get into the ‘groove’ or ‘feel’ of the music which will greatly improve your sense of timing and overall cohesion from all players.

If you are playing a small, sit-down venue, it is even more important that you move your body, as in condensed venues you are a more intimate focal point and any body movements you make will be even easier for your audience to pick up on.

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