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7 Tips To Keeping Your ‘Live’ Show Live

Published on August 31, 2012

I grew up on Hip Hop…Plain and simple. I was immersed into the culture at a young age. Now that I have hit the tender age of forty, I can say that I have seen numerous changes over the years, some good and some bad. The one thing that perplexes me the most is the gradual change in professionalism in the one thing that I treasured the most about the culture – the Hip Hop Concert.

Over the years, I have been involved in both secular and Christian Hip Hop (CHH) groups, but the lackadaisical attitude in regards to performing is present on both sides. Back in the day, artists truly entertained you with a couple of microphones and a turntable. Nowadays, some artists are sleepwalking through shows using backing tracks. How did this happen? Here are seven things that I think the average artist needs to be aware of before they hit the stage.

1. Practice, Practice…And Know Your Lyrics – I could be wrong, but it seems like a lot of artists do not feel the need to practice their set before they hit the stage. Practice truly does make perfect and if you don’t take the time to perfect your craft, how do you expect to get better? Run through your set a few times with the same energy you would use onstage. Not only does it help you remember your lyrics, but it helps you with your breathing so you don’t run out of breath onstage. There is nothing worse than an artist sounding like he/she is having an asthma attack after the first couple of songs of the set. By the way, rapping alongside your vocal track is not a good look. You wrote the song…You should remember your lyrics.

2. Don’t Put Your Set in The Sound Man’s Hands – I know how frustrating it can be dealing with sound men. They mean well, but sometimes the people that some venues and churches designate as the “sound man” has absolutely no training or, if they do, they do not know how to do sound for Hip Hop. When I was a member of a CHH group, I can recall plenty of times when we had to do our own sound because the sound man had absolutely no clue.

With that being said, it puzzles me when I see artists onstage, in the middle of their set, literally yell instructions to the sound man on which tracks to go to. I can’t even begin to tell you how unprofessional this looks, plus it totally throws off the vibe of your set if the sound man is surfing through your tracks and you keep saying, “That’s not it…No, that’s not it…” What does the sound man have to gain by making sure your set goes as planned? Not a thing. So why put your set in his hands?

Unless you have a DJ onstage who can control the order of tracks that are played, the best thing for you to do is to create a CD, use a laptop, iPod, or whatever device you may have and place your whole set on it, planned out exactly as you are going to perform it. You want it set up so that all the sound man has to do is either hit PLAY or PAUSE.

3. Engage the Audience – There is nothing worse than going to a concert and the artist is just walking around the stage rattling off his lyrics for thirty or so minutes and that’s it. If the audience wants to hear your songs, they can download it. When they pay money to see you in concert, they want more than that. There is a synergy between artist and audience that has to occur to truly make a concert experience memorable.

Hip Hop concerts, in particular, have been driven by audience participation since the golden days of the block parties in New York. Each artist has to figure out ways to keep the audience involved in what is happening onstage, whether that is through the traditional call-and-response method, the use of dancers, mimes, pyrotechnics…Whatever it takes. Your job is to take your audience on a ride that will impact them well after the concert is done.

4. Mob Mentality – I’m not sure where this phenomenon came from and I see it more in secular Hip Hop than CHH, but it does happen occasionally at CHH concerts. Look, I know you got love for your boys in your clique, but if they are not rapping in the song and not integral to your stage show, they should not be on the stage yelling into a microphone. There are just way too many people onstage at your average Hip Hop concert. Sometimes it’s like playing Where’s Waldo as you attempt to find the actual artist among the throng of people onstage. It’s not entertaining and it does not look good.

5. Balance between Ministry and Performance – I have been to enough Christian Hip Hop concerts to know that striking a balance between performing and ministry can be difficult, especially for the up-and-coming artist. I have seen artists perform a full set and not once impart God’s Word. On the other hand, I’ve seen artists do a one-hour set and only perform two or three songs because they spent most of their stage time “ministering”.

Look, I get it…Every CHH artist believes they are ministers and the music is merely a vehicle for their ministry. To a degree, they are correct; however, as an artist, you should ask yourself, “What draws my fan base to me and not someone else?” Could it be your delivery, your swagger, your beats, how you perform onstage, etc.? Whatever it is, don’t rob your fan base of the very thing that draws them to you in the first place when they come see you in concert.

At the same time, if you are not giving your audience any spiritual impartation, then you are still robbing them. Ultimately, you should take time to build your set in an orderly fashion, designating a specific portion of time to minister. Make sure you make room for flexibility as well because you never know how God will move.

6. Respect The Designated Time – I often wondered why CHH concerts seem to go on forever and ever into the night. Well, there’s a reason for that. When you have multiple artists on one show, the promoter or the venue owner usually designates how much time each artist has. Depending on how many artists are on the bill, each artist will get anywhere from fifteen to possibly thirty minutes to perform with the exception of the “headlining act” who is usually the last artist to perform and will get more time than the rest of the artists. However, there are always one or two artists who think they are the next LeCrae and believe they should have more stage time than all the other artists, including the headlining act. They go way over their time, which totally knocks the show off schedule.

By the time the headlining act gets onstage, it’s really late and half the audience is gone. If this is in a venue that the promoter is renting for the evening, he or she might have to pay extra money to the venue owner because the entire show went way past the designated time. If they have to come out of pocket just because you wanted more time, guess what? You won’t be on the next show. It’s like a domino effect.

If the promoter or venue owner gives you a designated time, craft your show around that time. If it’s just ten minutes, then do the best ten minutes you have ever done. Respecting the designated time shows respect to the folks who have invested money into the show, the other artists sharing the bill with you, and the audience as well.

7. Should I Get Paid? – I have run into a lot of CHH artists who struggle with this concept. When I was in a group, I was the one that handled most of our financial negotiations since we did not have a manager at the time. When we first started doing CHH, we did a ton of free shows. To us, it was a marketing tool to get our name out there. We eventually earned a reputation around town as being one of the few CHH groups that were actually entertaining and churches began requesting our services. At that point, we decided that we needed to charge a fee for our time and effort.

I’ve heard more than a few stories of artists who were invited to perform by a well-meaning church multiple times and never offered anything more than a chicken dinner or a “Oh, that’s so sweet…Y’all rappin’ for the Lawd…” pat on the back. Yes, what you are doing is ministry and you should not being doing it strictly for monetary gain; however, you should be compensated for your time if the church went out of their way to invite you to perform. You better believe that if that same church invites a well-known pastor to speak, he’s going to be compensated monetarily either through a love offering or some other type of arrangement.

CHH artists have to be careful not to devalue what they do. When you have built up a reputation as an anointed professional both onstage and off and you give 100% every time you step on that stage or pulpit, if you don’t place a value on all of that, why should you expect anyone else to do the same?

Ultimately, I still have love for Hip Hop, specifically CHH, and there are some rappers out there that really “get it” and successfully execute all seven of the concepts I mentioned above. If any of these concepts describe you, it does not mean you’re a bad person. It just means you got a few more things to learn to get to that next level. Consider this article as constructive criticism. If we’re going to build this culture and let the world hear the message we bring, then we must be vigilant in getting stronger, smarter…and professional.

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