The wide-eyed bobble-head, the sweaty John Mayer, painful-urination face, the demented otter, the meekstress, Satan’s glare; these are all facial expressions you’ve probably seen musicians make at some point, though you may’ve called them by different names.

When you’re performing on stage, reaching deep inside and pouring out your soul, your facial gestures are probably the last thing on your mind—and that’s a good thing. But it’s also wise to remember that how you look can be just as important as how you sound in terms of drawing your audience into the moment or losing their attention.

No one wants to see you mimic Elton John’s O-face

I went to a club recently to check out a new band. Musically speaking, they were great. The songs were interesting and the performances were solid. But the 30 or so people in the crowd, rather than being wowed by the music, were distracted instead by an awkward and affected face the singer kept making (to say nothing of the unfortunate way he melodramatically shimmied on the piano stool).

Rather than getting lost in the music, the audience spent the whole set whispering and laughing at the band.

What kind of faces do you make on stage?

We all make the occasional weird face on stage. That’s to be expected. Performance can be an ugly, sweaty business. It’s the habitual contortions that’ll start to distract your audience, though.

I remember stepping off stage once after a show I thought went particularly well when my girlfriend said, “every time you play a guitar solo your eyes get really beady and your mouth squinches up so it looks you have buckteeth!”

It wasn’t a compliment. Over the next couple months I watched videos of my concerts and realized she was right. It wasn’t flattering. And I was doing it by habit. Now that I’m aware of it, I try to reserve “the demented otter” for once or twice a show—when I really can’t help myself.

What faces do you make on stage? Has anyone in the audience ever pointed out something in your performance they found distracting (and of course this discussion could be broadened to include movement, clothing, nervous banter, etc.)? How can you tell the difference between a gesture that shows you’re really “feeling it” and one that kills the moment for the crowd? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Click here to view a picture gallery of famous people whose pained faces didn’t seem to hurt their careers.]

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