Imagine you're in the middle of an engaging conversation and the person you're speaking with simply stops talking or puts you on hold. Sure, it happens — we've all experienced awkward silences at some point — but that doesn't make them any less annoying.
For fans, that's essentially sums up what it's like when dead air strikes at a live show. And while audiences are willing to forgive minor inconveniences, we all know they can turn on you if you let dead air become the star of the show.
Onstage, silence isn't golden. If it does happen to befall you mid-show, don't beat yourself up for too long (it's likely a lot more common than you think). Instead, shift your focus to the following tips and tricks for avoiding dead air onstage.
1. Don't lead with silence.
Have you ever been to a show where there is no music playing as the stage is being set up? It can be painfully awkward for everyone to stand around in the venue making small talk while waiting for the talent to appear — not to mention the collective letdown every time a PA enters the stage from peripheral view and the audience realizes the show isn't about to start. Since a show can't happen without the setting up process, you can't avoid it. However, you can set the mood with pre-show music that'll take the audiences mind off of the fact they're waiting.
2. Keep the audience informed.
If you need an extra minute between songs, give the audience a heads up. If there's a miscommunication about your set list between band members and you need a second to sort it out, just be honest. The more authentic a musician or band is, the more relatable they are to their audience. Plus, it's far better than the alternative of letting fans sit in silence wondering what's going on.
3. Come prepared.
And not just to play . . . that much should be a given. Come prepared for as many contingencies as possible. Plan for the worst case scenarios. What if someone forgets the lyrics mid-song? What if the mic stops working? What if someone breaks a guitar string? Knowing what you'd do in the event these things happen will keep you level-headed when they actually do, and being level-headed will help you avoid the dreaded dead air that often accompanies stage disasters.
4. Don't underestimate the power of small talk.
Granted, you don't want to talk through half your set. However, strategic small talk can act as social camouflage when something goes wrong. If you hit a glitch and need a few minutes to get it squared away, engage the audience. For the most part, fans only get to see the performance version of musicians. When they feel like they're getting to see a more personal side of you onstage, it makes you more memorable. The more memorable you are, the more likely they'll look you up again.
5. Be on the same page before you start.
Chatter between band members should be minimal once you hit the stage. Why? Because you've already had the big discussions beforehand: exactly what songs are on your set list, what order you plan to play them, how you'll handle transitions, etc. When a lead singer covers the mic and turns away from the audience to discuss something at length with a band mate, it's a segue straight into dead air. Plus, it comes off as amateur, which is never a good message to send to your audience.