The Importance of "Outward-Looking" Focus for the Emerging Artist

I suppose there are whole books dedicated to the title of this blog posting. But I had an insight about this issue when I performed at an open mike that I had never previously attended. So, I felt it was good fodder for a blog posting today. The open mike in question was Cafe Arpeggio located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This is an open mike that apparently has been around a good, long time and the host was very good at his job. I went to this particular open mike because I'll be doing a gig in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts tomorrow night and wanted to "promote" the gig. And the host, when  he annouced me, did me the courtesy of annoucing my upcoming gig.

I always start my set by loudly saying "Hi there! My name is Rick Gottlieb and I'm from Hopkinton, Massachusetts." I then immediately launch into one of my most "uptempo" tunes. I do this because I want to immediately grab my audience's attention and have them associate it with my name and place. The idea, I think, is to be memorable to your audience. 

The performer before me was a young man of 12 who had been on the local cable access channel and played classical guitar beautifully. But he did not "engage" his audience, but rather focused his attention on his sheet music on his guitar stand and on his hands. He was very, very good, and played fluidly. But it was really more like a "recital" than a "performance" because his focus was inward-looking towards himself rather than outward-looking towards his audience. I think this is the most critical part of the "inner game" of performance: to have your focus firmly outward-looking with your audience. By "outward-looking", I mean things like the following:

1. Not using a music stand to read your music while performing. There should be as little as possible between you and the audience. To me, a song is ready to be "performed" when you can play it without written materials. Forgetting some words is better than putting an obstacle between you and the people. 'nuf said.

2. Set the microphone below you and point it upwards towards your mouth so that the audience can see your face fully. If possible, set the mike stand to one side so the boom is coming in from beside you. Same reason as number 1 above.

3. Look audience members in the eye! Make eye contact! You're there to "connect" with folks afterall.

4. Resist the temptation to close your eyes or look at your hands while you perform. Fixate your gaze outward towards the back of the room.

5. Performing music is a little like theatre. If the song lyrics talk about the sky, look up as if you were looking at the sky. Be the song!

6. Make the finish of the song definite so the audience instinctively knows that it's time to applaud; Don't be wishy-washy about it or the audience will be tentative.

7. Wait until they actually applaud to acknowledge and thank the audience for listening to you. It looks silly otherwise. 

8. Smile. This is supposed to be fun! Looking like you are enjoying yourself makes the audience feel that they are enjoying themselves too!

9. Always end with your most "memorable" song, preferably an uptempo one. Leave 'em with a bang!

10. Stick around after your performance to mingle with the audience! One of life's great pleasures for me is having someone come up to me after a performance to meet me one on one to tell me what a great time they had listening to me. Don't pass up the opportunity for the small indulgence of a "post-performance" ego boost.

I think that in a world that is increasingly becoming "virtual" with people spending inordinate amounts of time on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the live acoustic performer serves a great societal need to interact with people on a personal level. Now more than ever, the emerging artist performing live serves a real, genuine need for people to connect at a more human level. Being focused outwardly when you perform helps fulfill this need.

Food for thought.

Yours in DADGAD.

Rick Gottlieb