5 ideas for great audience engagement

Published by nedmortimer on

Putting on a great live experience for your fans usually involves more than just turning up and playing your songs. Many of the most memorable gigs I’ve been to in my life involved that bit extra – some element of audience interaction going beyond the mere playing, whether on a large scale or in a smaller, more intimate venue.

The Darkness set the bar pretty high with the first non-classical concert I went to as a young, impressionable teenager – Justin Hawkins arrived on stage on a large model tiger (and it was about the most normal thing he did all gig).

British Sea Power have their giant bear mascot; Muse have their flying saucers and gymnasts; other bands rely on a killer light show, or on the power of good, honest humour. Some do a combination of all the above (I’m thinking Tenacious D…).

But even on a small budget, you can create something really special that will live long in your audience’s memory. I’ve written out a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing plus some blurb at the end for how you can translate this into your own killer ideas!

Idea #1 – let the audience into your creative life and process

This is the technique most commonly used, especially among indie artists. What could be more natural than talking about yourself between songs? 

This works particularly well if you are a very lyrical songwriter and your songs have interesting meanings behind them – your songs might make a lot of sense to you but your fans might love to hear from where the inspiration came for a particular phrase or the story that prompted the song.

How you balance two approaches – on the one hand, giving the audience an insight into your song meanings and, on the other, leaving room for interpretation – is up to you. But remember, your fans aren’t just there to hear the songs – they’re there to see YOU, as a human being.

Also, this technique for audience interaction isn’t limited to lyricists and really words songwriters. If you don’t have deep song meanings to talk about, even just letting your audience in on what goes on in your life can really enhance a show. Especially when there’s an amusing band dynamic (how the different members act towards each other on stage), this can be hilarious or touching for the audience.

Idea #2 – get something FROM your audience to use in the show

As an example, whenever we went on tour, my band (August and After) did a really cool thing where we sailed a model boat around our audience and got them to fill it with handwritten notes. We’d ask them all to write around a specific theme, e.g.

  • “What’s your favourite song of all time?” (we’d then turn it into a Spotify playlist)
  • “Ask us a question” (we then used it to write our online blog)
  • “How are you feeling at the moment?” (a WIDE range of answers)

Not only would this keep our audience more engaged, it also gave us a window into what they were like AND for an extra bonus point it was an easy way of picking up email addresses.

It’s much more fulfilling to have a two way dialogue with your crowd – if you take an interest in them, they’re more likely to keep interested in you…

One other idea on a similar vein – I’ve always wanted to ask our audience members to submit (in advance) photographs around a specific theme for us to then use in some kind of projector slide show as part of the show… people are more invested in the concert because they are a part of it.

Idea #3 – give your audience something unique to the show to remember it by

We tried this idea once where everyone who came to one of our London shows was given a little postcard – they also each had a special ‘gift’ on it, with three possible options (a free download, a discount to our next concert, or a free piece of merch). 

In the same way that selling merch is a no brainer (if a fan keeps wearing your t-shirt even years after a show, you stay in that fan’s memory for much much longer, AND you made money from it AND you get free advertising into the bargain), a free giveaway can leave your fan with something special to remember the show, e.g. something they can stick onto their wall.

[We also have a separate article on how to choose the right merch options! Check it out here]

Idea #4 – get guest musicians on stage with you

You see this a lot with bigger bands (I saw Jimmy Page come on stage with the Foo Fighters once and play a couple of Zeppelin tunes… Ahhh memories…Also Herman Li from Dragonforce playing with TOOL was pretty special.)

Obviously you’re unlikely to secure such high profile guests (unless you have a really famous uncle or something). But changing up your line-up for a couple of songs here and there can give your audience a different perspective on your music. 

The additional advantage here is that you also get to experiment with new sounds – jamming in a live environment. 

Idea #5 – turn your venue into an experience

I am NOT going to use the word ‘immersive’ to describe this idea because I think it’s overused, but something where the venue itself really takes your audience members away from the rest of their daily lives could work wonders.

This idea works far better for a smaller band, especially if you don’t have the budget for an extravagant production or a really wacky venue.

[That said, read this article with five alternative venue suggestions] 

Assuming you have control over the whole night, you could create an interesting vibe from the moment your fans enter the venue. Imagine how you would approach it if you were throwing a themed birthday party but for more people (probably)…

Now that you have these ideas to get the juices flowing, try to think of ways you could programme a kick-ass show. What makes your music special? The interesting rhythms, the rich soundscapes, the intricate song meanings, or something else? Try to explore this idea in a more tangible way, something that gets your audience involved.

Try to think of things that would BLOW YOUR MIND if they happened to you whilst you were at a concert. Or even think back to the most memorable things that happened at a concert you were at and use them for inspiration…

As always, thanks for reading and please leave a comment if you have any ideas or experiences you want to share!


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