Acoustic Performances: Do’s

In the career of any artist, acoustic performances offer incredible opportunities. They allow artists to expose their music to a wide range of people with different demographics, establish intimate relationships with fans, and their promote shows, music and overall brand. Acoustic performances play a huge role especially in the early stages of an artists’ career; whether it’s at open mics, busking, getting booked in a bar, coffee shop, etc, they’re easy gigs to get and offer huge potential and opportunities at creating impactful impressions to a wide range of potential fans. However, when it comes to acoustic performances, there’s a very fine line between one that is incredible, resonating, and unique, and one that is mediocre and that will be drowned out by the sound of baristas yelling to customers who just want to get their grande low fat vanilla latte and leave. When doing an acoustic performance, an artist instantly has to create the tone of uniqueness, and of being worth watching. Time is the most valuable thing for any individual, so an artist HAS to determine why they’re worth taking the time to watch, and how they’re going to convince individuals passing by of that. So how do you create an incredible acoustic performance?

Things to do:

1. Chose the right location
Before an artist begins to determine how to make an acoustic performance memorable, it’s vital for them to find a location or event that suits their overall image and music. Doing research on different locations and events in local areas can allow an artist to determine which opportunities are best suited for them depending on atmosphere, the genre music that the event/ location is known for, and artists who have previously played there. An artist should ensure that they are performing at prime and appropriate locations that suit their genre, image, and style in order to guarantee that they will be attracting and performing to an audience who’s musical preference is similar to their music and who are more likely to become potential fans.
2.Sing covers
Singing well known covers has the ability catch people’s attention, draw in crowd, maintain the presence of an audience, and increase the engagement of the crowd. However, covers are only affective if they are carefully chosen to suit the setting and audience to which an artist is playing. Before an artist chooses the covers which they want to perform, it’s important for them to have a good understanding of the demographics of the audience that the location or event will attract; what is the general age, gender, probable interests? Once those questions are answered, an artist can determine which songs their audience will relate to most. There’s no point singing classics to teenagers, or top 40 pop songs to an older audience; even if they know the songs, the audience may not be able to relate to them and they will feel disconnected. If cover songs don’t resonate and captivate an audience, the level of engagement will be affected and lost before the artist even has the opportunity to perform their originals. AKA they’ve already screwed themselves over.
Another vital thing to do when performing covers is to stay away from renditions which have been overdone. It is extremely important for any artist to change up songs to suit their style so that their performance does not come off as “karaoke”, and easily forgettable. Performing a unique rendition of a well-known song allows an artist to differentiate themselves and increase the memorability of their performance. Performing mash- ups of different songs is also a really effective way of making an impression.

Covers to check out:
Melanie Martinez- Sweet Escape (Gwen Stefani cover)
Adele- Make You Fell My Love (Bob Dylan cover)
Sam Smith- Latch (it is him featured in the original Disclosure song however I think the acoustic rendition is incredible)
Ed Sheeran – Don’t/Loyal/No Diggity/The Next Episode/Nina (Live at the Ruby Sessions) (Notice how engaged the audience is in this video when he begins to sing covers; he chose those specific songs based on the fact that he knew that they would work with both his rendition and his audience)
Louisa Wendorff- Kiss Me/XO (Beyoncé + Ed Sheeran Mash-Up)

3. Sing Originals
As an upcoming artist attempting to build a fan base, singing originals is vital in order to avoid being recognized simply as a cover artist. Performing original songs will allow the audience to understand the artists’ purpose and style of music, and relate to their story and beliefs.
The ratio of originals to covers during acoustic performances is dependant on many different factors; how many originals the artist currently has released, how many songs the artist will be performing, what type of audience they are performing to (already established fans or random individuals). I strongly believe that an artist should base their performance mostly on originals, while using covers to attract the attention of an audience. Remember that an artist won’t build a dedicated fan base from the beliefs, lyrics, and music of other artists. Dedicated fans need to feel connected to an artists’ story and thoughts, which can only be developed with originals. Covers will get the audience’s attention, but original songs will create fans.
4. Interact with Crowd
Interacting with the crowd allows an artist to develop a friendly and more personal relationship with their audience while promoting their overall image and personality in a more organic way. When an audience feels more closely connected to an artist, they’ll be more inclined pay attention to the acoustic performance being delivered, and to follow the future activities of the artist such as future shows, new releases, and announcements.
Connecting with the audience can be done through simple gestures such as making eye contact, smiling at people, acknowledging when individuals begin to sing along or show interest in the performance, and by engaging in short joking between songs. Interacting with the crowd can also be done by asking for requests, however, only if the artist feels confident that they will know/ be able to perform the song requested.
Depending on the setting, atmosphere, and vibe of the crowd, an artist can also encourage the audience to clap, sing along, stand up, etc. However, this should only be the audience is engaged enough to follow requests, or else it could end up to be pretty embarrassing. It’s also probably not the best idea to do while busking, chasing people down the street while telling them to clap isn’t the best rep to have.
Interacting with the crowd shouldn’t be limited to the duration of the performance; it is vital to make use of the time before, after and in between sets (if any) to develop relationships with individuals who were actively engaged or interested in the performance. An artist should make the effort to always be easily found and approachable while they are not performing in order to encourage potential fans or interested people to talk to them. It gets said a lot, but you never know who is watching.
Artists should also make the effort to converse with individuals instead of waiting for them to approach. They can develop friendly relationships by making conversation and offering opportunities to people with incentives such as free CDs, adding them to an upcoming shows’ guest list, or offering to buy them a coffee, beer (depending on the setting) to further the conversation and to develop a relationship with them. Gestures such as this are organic and go a long way since the artist seems genuinely interested in getting to know people instead of shoving their music and promotion into peoples’ faces. In Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, (which, if you haven’t read, bookmark this page, close your laptop, drive to the nearest Chapters, buy it, and read it as fast as possible) he talks about how to optimize customer engagement in order to successfully sell and develop a brand. Despite the fact that he focuses solely on social media, the core message can be applied to any situation when dealing with customers, or in this case, potential fans. Vaynerchuk refers to “Jabs” as benefits for your customer, such as feeling appreciated or in this case, feeling genuinely cared about by an artist. These “Jabs” come into play when an artist takes the time to have genuine conversation with their potential fans, and developing a friendly relationship with them. Then, after the “Jabs”, come the “Hooks”, or as Vaynerchuk refers to them, actions that benefit a business, or in this case, the artist. This can be done by an artist by asking for a follow on A (ONE) ((SINGULAR)) platform social media OR signing up for your mailing list, OR whatever the artist feels is most important to their brand. It’s important for the artist to remember that “OR” and NOT bombard potential fans with requests, or else you can be sure that that once potential fan will be getting their grande low fat vanilla latte and leaving as soon as possible.

5. Develop the overall image
There’s a very typical way of stereotyping acoustic performances, and that’s right, you guessed it: a singer sitting on a stool singing sad songs with a guitar while rain falls softly outside. Ok, maybe not the rain part. But the point is that in order for an artist to really differentiate themselves from other artists, they have to crush the idea of what an acoustic performance “should” be, and do what they believe it could be. Acoustic performances are INCREDIBLE opportunities for artistry to be recognized and created because their general requirements and expectations are quite basic (sad songs, guitar, rain falling), but the ways in which an artist gets creative, and what they make of their performance is what will allow them to stand out. This is how performers such as Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendez have gotten successful; they took the simplicity of singing alone with a guitar, and turned it into something incredible and unique.
I have said this many times before, and I will keep saying, everything that an artist does has to be moulded and shaped to fit their overall image and story so that they can showcase what makes them unique and different. Getting creative with acoustic performances is simply another way in an artists’ career to do that. Getting creative with acoustic performances can mean different things, however, I want to be clear that this shouldn’t be an attempt to fill a performance with gimmicks and distractions that take away from the beauty and purpose of acoustic performances, which is to focus solely on the genuine talent of the artist. Instead, getting creative means the ways in which an artist is able to differentiate themselves to leave a lasting impact among their audience.
Some strategies that artists have previously done include things such as performing interesting renditions of covers like I mentioned earlier, mash- ups (scroll back to 2. Sing Covers for good links), loop pedals, putting a tambourine between their feet (its hard to see the tambourine in the video of Melanie Martinez, but it’s visible in some clips), using a harmonica, etc.
It’s also important for an artist to include fast paced songs in their acoustic performance set instead of singing ten slow, sad, and stereotypical acoustic songs in a row. Faster songs will always get audiences excited, and a catchy tune will stay with people and get them more pumped for the movement that the artist is trying to create. An artist should perform a balance of both, and always do whatever best represents their sound and image.

6. Make sure the audience has a way of remembering the artist
Let’s say the audience really likes an artists’ music, and they want to keep track of them in the future. But… where’s the artist’s social media handle? Their website? And… wait a second… what’s their name??? THE MOST important thing to do when it comes to ANYTHING that an artist does in their career is to remember to market themselves, because it doesn’t matter if an artist sings like Beyonce, if people can’t find them, those potential fans will simply find someone else equally as talented. An artist has to ensure that they have some sort of sign in front of them while they are performing that includes their name, social media handle, and website on it. A good strategy is placing a poster next to the artist while they are performing so that it will appear in any videos and pictures that people may take and post online.
It’s also extremely important to have business cards available, CDs (either free or at a small cost depending on the artist and event), incentives to encourage people to follow the artist on social media sites or sign up for the mailing list, and to mention any future releases or shows in the area that the audience might be interested in.

7. Make sure that everything is accessible
If an artist knows that they’ll need a capo, pick, loop pedal, or any other aid for their set, they should be sure to keep them near so that the songs can transition from one to another smoothly without constantly stopping. An audience can easily lose interest in the acoustic performance if the artist is unorganized and the transition between songs takes too long.

As I final note, I just want to add that at the end of the day, an acoustic performance all comes down to the voice and genuine talent of an artist. Some of the best acoustic performances that I’ve seen live or in videos have been nothing but the artist singing, and if an artist is really THAT good, their memorability will be created naturally. However, the purpose of this article is to help artists optimize their opportunities by ensuring that they are properly showcasing themselves, reaching the full potential of both their performance and creating opportunities of making connections and developing a dedicated fan base.

Things to do as an artist:
– Research local areas and places in your area that are known for music of your genre/ style, and find every possible opportunity to play in those areas in order to gain exposure to individuals who are more likely to be potential fans
– Depending on the setting and your set time, chose your best originals to perform, and at least one or two renditions of well-known songs that will allow you to distinguish yourself as an artist. Remember to include both fast and slow paced songs as well.
– Make sure that before you go out to perform, there is something easily visible and readable with your name/ twitter handle/ website on it.
– Have things such as business cards, promotional posters, EPs, or some sort of give away on display for people to take so that they are able to remember you and keep track of you in the future
– Research acoustic performances that you’re favourite artists and artists similar to your style have done in the past, and go out to see local acoustic performances. Take notes of the ratio of covers to originals that they perform, how the crowd reacts to different things that they do, what makes people more keen to stay versus leaving or passing by without showing recognition to the artist, what kind of promotional posters/ giveaways they may or may not have, and anything unique that they may do while performing, etc. Keep a list of everything that you do like, what you don’t like, hat your competition is doing, and how to be better.
– Research the ways in which artists have successively done different renditions of well- known songs, and get inspiration from those. There’s nothing wrong with doing the same rendition that another artist has previously done, just be sure to give them credit for it.
– I strongly recommend spending time watching different Ed Sheeran performances of both his original songs and covers. His entire success and career is literally based on his ability to deliver incredible acoustic performances, so he’s obviously a source of inspiration.