New Series: Stage Presence

Search for the term “stage presence” on Google, and you’ll find endless results about why stage presence is important for musicians to have and how to improve yours. Read through the articles or watch the YouTube videos, and you’ll find unequal parts useful insight and laughable “how-to” advice (heavy on the latter).

So, what is stage presence?

Well, I’m not going to insert an Oxford Dictionary definition here for you. You know it when you see it. You feel it when you know it. 

I’ve been excessively focused on stage presence recently, ruminating on the difference between a good performance and a performance that leaves an impression on you. A performance that impresses you, let’s say. This idea is important to me as both a performer and a lover of live music.

Tartarus at Brillobox in Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Obviously musicianship and writing are huge parts of this. If you can’t play your instrument well and your songs are weak, powerful stage presence can’t truly save you. On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of bands whose music I didn’t like but whose performance was so good (paired with strong musicianship and writing) that I ended up having a positive impression overall. Something to think about…

And of course we’ve all witnessed bands that – no matter how strong their musicianship and writing – are just boring to watch. It appears that they aren’t feeling anything, and so you don’t feel anything. On rare(r) occasions, it may even be painful to watch because the performers seem so uncomfortable (being incredibly awkward, myself, I have a high sensitivity and low tolerance for awkwardness).

After all my ruminating, here’s how I attempt to explain the art of stage presence.

Stage presence is all about feeling – energy, vibe, mood. Take all of the elements of the performance – the music, the musicians, the stage, the stage set-up, the lighting, the gear, whatever else – and it creates an experience. Good stage presence engages the senses; it is a sensuous experience. It makes you feel something, even if that something is not pleasant. (Ha! In that case, maybe those boring performances demonstrated good stage presence, after all.)

It may be subtle or salient, but strong stage presence compels us to watch and listen because we perceive that if we don’t, we’re missing something. I think that performers with strong stage presence – above all else – believe in what they’re doing. They’re palpably moved by their music and actively experiencing it. What we’re picking up on as observers is their conviction.

White Hills at Cattivo in Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Trevor Richards.

Now let me tell you about our new video series on the art of stage presence.

In this new video series, we highlight bands and performers who embody the art of stage presence. We use live footage and on-location interviews to show you a glimpse of what – in our minds – makes their stage presence strong or unique. (Just a glimpse, though … we’re not interested in revealing all the magic.) Take from it what you will: inspiration for your own performance, insight into the art of stage presence, or impetus to see these bands live. What you won’t get is laughable “how-to” advice.

We want to know what you think about stage presence, too. Take our quick survey to let us know what you think and to be part of future discussions about stage presence and performance. Be well!