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Phil’s Rules of Stage Banter for the Musician

Thinking both as a audience member and performer, I want to humbly offer a few suggestions on stage banter.  I know it’s not a musician’s focus and most take it with a grain of salt. But there is a subtle art here to come across in a way that doesn’t detract from the music.

Here’s what you must avoid at all costs:

Never refer to an audience by the name of their city.  This is my #1 pet peeve.  “LA, you’ve been great” “how you doing, Houston?” There is not a way to refer to a group of people as the city they live in that doesn’t make you sound like you’re disconnected to the people.  Think of it this way: would you like to be referred to as your geolocation?  There must be some other distinguishing character you can come up with for the mass of people standing in front of you, no? “You guys” and “folks” might be an acceptable starting point.

Never say “this is a new one” unless you are, like, the Stones.  I’ve seen bands play to venues filled with 10 people that the band before them brought in. They tell these people that “this is a new one”.  News flash: they’re all new ones.  Keep the nerves and anticipation of the debut in the song.  Let that energy do the talking.  This is your new magic trick.

Never tell your audience to dance.  Don’t even suggest it.  Strike the word ‘dance’ from your vocabulary. I heard this one recently, in New York City of all places, and literally saw 400 people take out their phones in unison.  Your audience is not cattle, do not tell them to move.  This is actual people’s leisure time. Don’t give them a job.

Second tier… but I also don’t like repetition (i.e. saying the name before every song), using the mic to ask the soundperson to tweak your wedge, or saying how many songs you have left.  Would Bob Dylan say “We’ve got two more”?  Remember, when you’re up on the stage, you’re a god.  Some gods are assholes, others can be mysterious, natural and genuine.

Here’s what you could say:

You don’t have to say anything.  It’s generally fine, unless you go out of your way to non-verbally convey that it’s your thing.

Say thank you, BUT NOT until the audience begins to applauds. Do not thank them for what you are assume they are going to do. Let your song breathe. Negative space has a function. Silence has many mysteries.

Convey how special it is to be playing for them in this beautiful venue.  Do it in like four words.

Be personal.  If you were in the back of the venue, mere steps away, on another night, with your buds, how would you talk?  HOW matters more than whatever it is you may say.

There are a few bands who banter phenomenally.  Sleater-Kinney comes to mind.  But I think the best is Johnathan Richman.  He’s funny, engaging, relatable and consistently humbled by the experience.  Even though he’s a legend, he comes off as approachable. He wants to form a connection with you, a singular person and not part of a crowd, even if for a fleeting few seconds.


Thank you Chicago, you’ve been great.  I’m going to get on my jet now.