It’s not cool to your dude friends to fret over your image but it is almost as important as your sound. If you look like an idiot on stage half of your audience will think that you sound like one (and the other half may not care, but you just lost half your audience before your first note).
They say that 80% of what the audience remembers is visual. So even if you sounded like Led Zeppelin, if you looked like Weird Al that’s what they’re going to remember.
Image is extremely important in music. You won’t hear most musicians talk about this because it’s not cool to talk about how much time went into their outfit or hair. Fans love thinking that your outfit is just what you normally wear and an artistic expression of who you are.
+Your Music Doesn’t Matter
Your image is a representation of your sound and should represent your sound accurately. When was the last time you saw a folk artist get up on stage looking like Kiss? If you want to be taken seriously then look, act and sound serious.
Now, I’m not saying go out and buy an expensive button down, business slacks with polished dress shoes – that’s boring and shows you have no personality and will represent that your music has none either.
I can’t tell you what your image should be, but I can say it is extremely important. STAND OUT! You should have a look that separates you from everyone else. If you look like everyone else then you’re admitting that your sound has no originality and you should get written off as just another pop/jam/acoustic/blues/college/rock/whatever act.
You know how when you’re at a concert the band stands out from everyone else? They didn’t always have “the look.” They grew into their look. Clothes are an expression of who you are and so is your art. This should be taken into consideration. However, sometimes a group of artists who all have a similar external way of expressing themselves get together and form a band and they never discuss or need to think about their image because it all just clicks. This is ideal. Eventually when you mature into yourself, your onstage and off stage look will be the artistic expression of who you are and it will feel comfortable.
This is quite rare for young artists, though. It’s uncomfortable to stand out and even very talented artists succumb to peer pressures and conform. Be an outcast! Some of the best artists of all time were outcasts and weren’t really comfortable with themselves or anyone around them and they expressed this through their art.
Also, many music reviewers will (believe it or not) start by reviewing your image and the culture surrounding your music before (if ever) they review your sound. I’ve had multiple reviewers talk about my outfit or general look without even mentioning the kind of music I play or what their opinion on it is. It’s so unbelievably frustrating to get smashed for my image and not my sound. Many aspiring music reviewers these days aren’t musicians and don’t really “know” music. So the fact that you wrote a song with only diminished chords that seamlessly transition from 7/8 to 12/8 to 4/4 probably won’t get noticed by music reviewers. What will get noticed is that your button down had two too many buttons unbuttoned to their liking and they’ll spend half the article writing about how you’re trying to be something you’re not because of your exposed chest.
After I just finished explaining how I can’t tell you what to wear and that this decision needs to be an expression of your art, here are a few concrete guidelines for the novices who need some initial direction and aren’t in a jam band (because it’s expected for jam bands to look like schlubs on stage – but I still wouldn’t, jammers):
1) Dudes, don’t wear shorts on stage.
Girls get a pass here because their clothing options tend to be much more versatile and fashionable. When you’re on stage you must always think “fashion over function.” I don’t care if it’s 90 degrees out and you’re performing at 1PM in the afternoon in the sun, shorts, especial cargo shorts, aren’t cool. Very few can pull this off. And those that can pull this off aren’t reading this and are comfortable enough with themselves and their look that the way they wear their shorts isn’t the way you do (enter Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell circa 1994). I can’t tell you how many times I see young bands wear cargo shorts and Birkenstocks on stage. That isn’t cool. It’s unoriginal and makes you look like the bro from down the hall versus the band that is about to conquer the world.
2) Your shirt says what?!
I would refrain from wearing jerseys on stage unless you’re a hip hop or reggae/roots act or the drummer. Be careful about wearing shirts, buttons or stickers that endorse a political candidate. People just paid money to get into your show. You don’t want to alienate them at the concert by shoving in their face that you support a candidate they don’t. Whether you get political on Twitter or in interviews is up to you – people don’t pay to read your tweets and if your political affiliation is enough for them to not support you then that’s the risk you take. Unless the event is a benefit for that candidate or something like that I’d think long and hard about wearing a political shirt. Specific issues are different. I’m very vocal (even in my concerts) about supporting specific issues I care about. I’m not saying don’t have a voice, I’m just saying if you want to get political on stage with your banter or your attire then be prepared for a serious backlash and decreased ticket sales. A “Legalize Gay” shirt is very different than “Barack Obama 2012.”
3) Fashion over Function over Fashion
I just said that it’s always fashion over function, however, make sure whatever you wear doesn’t interfere with your performance. If the kick ass sport coat you just got has buttons that rattle every time you strum you either need to chop these buttons off or wear something else. If you can’t execute your signature jump/spin move in your new boots without falling on your ass, then either find other shoes to wear or practice the move in the boots.
+Don’t forget your lyrics (Performing)