As industry experts—from bookers and promoters to journalists and publicists—repeatedly tell us: First and foremost, you better be good. This means being technically skilled and professional—be the best musician and performer you can possibly be. But while you’re practicing and preparing, start thinking about how you can leave a lasting impression on your audience. This is where your creativity should truly shine.
Have a Vision
“Everything that you put forward—your press photos, your music and your show—[should] all work together as a piece and [be] compelling,” says Portia Sabin, president of the record label Kill Rock Stars and host of the music industry podcast The Future of What. You should inspire intrigue. People should wonder, “What is going on? There’s a story and I want to know the story.”
Party pop act Con Bro Chill have a clear message: “Love Life.” Their energetic, neon-splattered electropop shows are filled with synchronized dance moves and legions of fans giddily participating. “The concept manifested from an attitude: Let’s be the most fun band ever,” says “party animal slash bass player” Steve Felts.
Simple but relatable, Con Bro Chill have masterfully branded themselves. “We decided who we are and got our messaging in line,” Felts says. Their goals: “Let’s make it over the top. Let’s make it bright and colorful and try to create a cartoon world of fun and excitement and happiness.”
Embrace Being an Entertainer
“Don’t be boring,” Sabin bluntly says. It’s easier said than done, but understand that people are paying to see you and what worked in the studio doesn’t always translate to the stage.
“You need to give audiences something,” adds Chanti Darling songwriter, dancer and frontman Chanticleer Trü. “You can’t just get on stage and expect someone to love you.”
Break the Formula
Con Bro Chill’s “attitude sprung from: ‘Let’s make the most fun video ever,’” Felts explains. In fact, the band’s genesis was via the music video. Taking into consideration their visual appearance hand in hand with their musical output, when fans genuinely took to the videos, the foursome asked themselves: “Can we take the vision we had for the videos and put that on to the stage?”
“The end product is fun, goofy, wacky and high energy,” Felts describes. “We’re trying to fit an arena show into a rock club.”
In order to “take the Con Bro Chill world and put it on stage,” the band had to get serious about how to actually make that happen—both logistically and financially. From what you can physically fit in a van to how many costume changes are realistically feasible, be flexible because not all stages are created equal.
“I have two to three different formats [featuring various combinations of dancers or live music elements] I can travel with to make it more adaptable while keeping the heightened, immersive experience,” Trü explains.
Even with a minimal budget, “You should try to bring those elements to life,” Trü expresses. “It’s very, very possible if you’re creative to be able to provide that full immersive show experience without money. You have to.”
Be a Lifelong Learner
“Artists need to take advantage of anything that they can to better themselves in terms of performance,” Sabin says. Explore other forms of performance—like theater or dance—because “it’s a learnable skill,” Trü says. “It just takes some time, effort and maybe some resources.” See what speaks to you by “immersing yourself in [new] experiences,” he adds. “That will help you on your path of trying to fully realize a vision. [Try] to see something from every angle and how the audience would experience it.”
Execute with Consistency
Once you’ve established yourself, take your vision and repeat. “If you have a clear idea of what you are, then you can more effectively communicate,” Felts explains. “You’re arming yourself with tools to reach people” because you’re sticking to your plan.
And if someone in your group has a vision, “maybe you should give them a chance,” Trü recommends. “I think where people fall short a lot of times is not being able to go full out with an idea and that kind of limits shows sometimes.”
Adapt to your audience—especially if you’re an act who wants to play festivals where you’re constantly playing to faces unfamiliar with your music. Read your crowd and “connect with people the best you can,” Trü says.
Never heckle—even if it’s your worst day ever. “You can be sick, you can be tired, you can be on day 20 [of your tour], but you have to find a way to connect and honesty is a huge way to connect with people onstage,” Trü describes. “If you are on stage, there’s not really much of an excuse to shut down or fall apart. You have to find a way to do it. The show must go on. It’s all you—if you want this as a job.”
“We said early on: Join in. We always tried to have as inclusive of an attitude as possible,” Felts explains. “Everybody’s invited. Bring your mom. Dress up wacky. And just join us. Be part of the party.”
Con Bro Chill’s “world building” has been extremely effective. Their fans are christened the Neon Army and there’s a manifesto, dubbed Party Pillars, on their website. “It’s not just a band, it’s an attitude,” Felts declares. “Everything we do is pointed at bringing people in.”
While your imagination is running wild, hone in on what you already have access to. Con Bro Chill wanted a choir at their TEDxPortland appearance so they invited their former high school to participate—watch below. “When we need help, we look to our fans and the people around us,” Felts says.
Engage Your Community
“There’s always stuff at our merch table that people can use during the show—like glow sticks, light-up stuff, headbands. If you show up to a Con Bro Chill show and you don’t necessarily have the gear, you can gear up at the merch table,” Felts explains.
Some Neon Army members even volunteer their time at large-scale events like the Party March, which is exactly what it sounds like: an annual parade through Portland that culminates in a Con Bro Chill concert and draws thousands. “When we’re doing something huge and there’s just four of us, then you need help,” Felts says. “We just go to where we have resources”—aka their fans. Many appear in videos or assist as Boom Troopers. “Everyone wants to help out, they just need a little direction.”
Fans are actively involved in the band’s dynamic creations and performances, enabling them to take ownership because “it is totally theirs”—without the Neon Army, there would be no Con Bro Chill.