This week I had the great fortune to see The Lone Bellow in concert at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They are far and above my favorite musicians to see in concert because they never fail to put on a spectacular show. Last night was my sixth time seeing them live, my second time at the intimate Music Hall, and my first time in the second row.
It was also the first time I brought my 3.5 year-old daughter, Emma. She may have been an even bigger fan than me; dancing captivated in the aisle, singing along at full volume (when the crowd joined in and also when they didn’t) and actually pouting all the way home because the show had ended. Watching her and seeing the band perform it’s magic yet again got me thinking about why they have us so spellbound and what they can teach us about engagement.
Whether you’re winning over fans on Instagram or fans in an audience - selling records or selling food - The Lone Bellow gives a master class in connecting. (And while they are great on social media themselves, it’s on the stage where the lessons are learned.)
Here are my favorite takeaways:
1. Make a killer first impression.
People come to a concert - or a Facebook Page, Instagram Feed, Blog - because they are either already fans, curious to know more, or sent there by someone else. Either way, you have one shot to make a good impression and hook people in.
Every concert, every post, every tweet, you have to show up and deliver. No one does that like The Lone Below. Whether you take your seat during the opening band or walk in somewhere in the middle, they are delivering. Every show is different but every show is exactly what you came for (familiar with the band or not).
2. Leave it all on the stage.
I imagine that if you were to measure the success of the show by the amount of sweat on the stage, particularly from lead singer Zach Williams, each performance would be a raving success. After the Lone Bellow trio shows up, they really go for it. Williams stomps feverishly around the stage. Kanene Donehey sings as if it will be her last (gorgeous!) song ever. Guitarist Brian Elmquist flips his hair into a crazed 80’s do as he rocks and moves. Their energy is contagious and it never ends. You don’t want to miss a moment because you never know what will happen next.
You should treat your social platforms like they treat the stage and go all-in. Spend it all as Annie Dillard says. Put all the passion into what you create so you will earn all the passionate fans you crave.
3. 'You can be all kinds of emotional.'
Live performances are the best when they are raw. When a singer gets choked up or laughs uncontrollably or forgets a line and stops playing to utter, ‘shit’, things get real in a good way. We come for the music but the musicians are imperfect and seeing that human side makes us love the show - and the band - even more. I’ve seen The Lone Bellow team do all of the above and more and it keeps me coming back for more. If we wanted music perfection, we’d stay home and listen to iTunes. If we wanted perfection from a brand, we’d stay away from their social accounts and watch their advertising.
4. Go a little crazy.
Sometimes that same emotion bubbles over and Williams gets so lost in his song and in his pain and in his hymn that he seems as if he will fall over the edge. Often he’s literally standing perched on the edge of the stage, tempting that well of feeling to push him there. It’s terrifying and electrifying all at the same time. That bit of uncertainty about what will happen, that suspense and risk, the feeing that it could all go off the rails in a moment, keeps us hooked. We hold our breath and lean in.
Similarly, social is not about control (in fact what makes social media so compelling is that you aren’t in control), it’s about gaining attention and nothing will do that like a little instability.
5. Keep talking when the conversation is good.
During chatter between songs Donehey teased Williams about his love of Matthew McConaughey after he sang a few lines of a song from “How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days”. He then started naming off all his best roles (the Lincoln Commercials topping the list) and doing his "alright, alright, alright" impression. The crowd shouted out a few titles and then he went to play the next song but stopped again when the crowd kept the conversation going. It was spontaneous and funny and spot-on in terms of what the audience wanted.
He didn’t rush to his next tune when people started to interact and neither should you. If people are talking, spur them on rather than switching to a new tweet. Linger when the conversations gets going.
6. Make participation irresistible.
One of the best things about a Lone Bellow performance is that you’re part of it. Williams makes sure you stand up and clap and stomp. He conducts the sides of the room in singing along (and acts authentically moved by your performance). All three performers manage to ooze internal emotion while playing openly to the crowd. Remember that when you write your content. People may come to see what you are up to but they will stick around if you invite them to join in.
7. Give the people want they want.
No one knows as well as these guys the reason that everyone comes to the show. People come to see what they love and that’s you. The real you. Also their favorites. I come to the show for all of it but I really just want to hear The Lone Bellow sing Teach Me to Know. I follow The New Yorker on Instagram for the journalist but I really just want to see the cartoons.
People want what they love. They also want you to mix it up. Step away from the mic. Read the room. Come with your set list of uptempo jams and a cappella croons (my favorite) and then throw in a happy birthday or a shouted out fan request. Try something new. The more you cater to the crowd before you, the more love you will see.
8. Remain humble.
When you’re as talented and beloved as The Lone Bellow is, you could show up and sing and move on and you’d still succeed. But if instead, like these lovely people, you show up and genuinely act (and seem) deeply fortunate, as though no show or audience has ever been so amazing, you will win fans for life.
9. Write great content.
Seriously. Above all us, write killer content - be it songs or social media posts - that people want to experience. Write inspiring lyrics, throw in a catchy melody, deliver it with talent and beauty and stunning, perfect harmony and people will stick around for the encore. (And likely, if you’re as good as these guys, the next six shows.)
Thanks to The Lone Bellow for another amazing show. Thanks for giving Emma a first concert experience she will never forget. And thanks for making us all get so carried away.