The perfect set: Intros, stories & other tips for musicians on stage

We’ve all seen that performer in concert who has a great voice and musical chops but runs off at the mouth between songs. Or doesn’t talk to the audience at all. If you’re Miles Davis you can get away with that. For anyone else, read on. I’ll help you avoid the mistakes I made in my early years of touring. 

im sorry

Don’t apologize

I don’t care if you wrote the song that afternoon and it’s shakier than a frat boy on his sixth beer. Perform it like your mama is in the audience. Make her proud. If you screw up, plow through.

Have an engaging story but don’t tell us the whole story

If I hear one more singer-songwriter tell a 20-minute story, then sing a song that tells the same story, I will blow chunks. If you feel like your song doesn’t work without that War and Peace-length intro, then rewrite the song and tell us more in the song. You’re a musician, not Tolstoy.

Don’t tell an audience how to feel

If it’s a funny song you’re about to do don’t introduce the song by saying it’s really funny. You want to reveal that within the song. Likewise, for anything that evokes other strong emotions. It’s okay to say it’s a break-up song you wrote last week. Some context is cool. Draw the audience in with the artistry of your song. They aren’t going to feel sad just because you tell them it’s a sad song.

expression singer

Your facial expressions should match the song

Don’t sing a depressing song with a smile on your face. Listen to the words. (An exception can be made for funny songs – sometimes a straight face can make a funny line funnier.) Someone who’s great at conveying emotion with her expressions is Kelly Clarkson. Not only can she sing her face off but look at how she performs this song:

Vary your songs

Don’t do two songs back to back in the same key, with the same strum, in the same tempo or about the same topic. If you have a lot of break-up songs, let ‘er rip but don’t do a dozen of them them back to back. Show your versatility.

Introduce the band

I once heard a singer-songwriter who never introduced his band. When they took a solo he didn’t even look at them. Dude, they’re working too.

bonnie raitt

Vary the structure of each song

I don’t care if Bonnie Raitt is your guitar player, don’t put a slide guitar solo in every damn song, especially if they’re back-to-back. Give the sax player a place to shine. Put in a drum solo. Solo players, don’t scat sing in the middle of every damn song. Don’t play several songs in a row that are built around a similar riff.

Announce the songwriter and who made it popular

Especially if you wrote it. If it’s a cover, it’s nice to know who made it famous. “This is an Etta James song I’ve always liked.” Something like that, ya know?

Start and end strong

Begin with a song you know well. Put the ones you’re not as sure of in the middle of the set. End with something you know will kill. If it doesn’t, act like it does and leave with confidence.

Vary your style

If you only play blues, think about learning or writing a rock tune, just to change it up. Audiences like to know you can play more than one genre. You don’t have to live there, just visit it. Here’s a great bluegrass band covering “Sweet Child of Mine.” You’re welcome.



Practice your intros and stories

You practice your songs, why not what you’ll say before and after each one? Even better, play your set all the way through and include the intros and stories.

Got it? Now go knock ’em dead.


Want guitar, ukulele, mandolin or songwriting lessons? I teach via Skype. Contact me here.




About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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2 Responses to The perfect set: Intros, stories & other tips for musicians on stage

  1. jono51 says:

    Always good advice.

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