Let's face it. Many DJs and DJ/Producers starting out could work on their charisma on stage. Based on my experience, this makes a lot of sense. Many fledgling artists are using music to get past social anxieties and share their personalities through music. As such, MCing or "getting on the mic" can feel like a huge personal risk.
This is actually a big problem. If you don't communicate with your audience, there's no real connection, no personality. You are, despite having a unique music style, indistinguishable from the next DJ. You're missing a huge opportunity to rev up a crowd's energy, market yourself and create a unique experience.
Luckily, whether you love the spotlight or hate it, whether your extroverted or introverted to a fault, there are a number of steps you can take to smoothly build up towards having great stage presence. In this article, I'll propose a structure for doing just that.
What I actually know about this subject: I have built my own unique MCing style over the last five years. I've done this in tandem with building my repertoire as a rapper and singer on my own records. I've also taken multiple public speaking classes and toured as a professional singer. I'll be leveraging that experience to offer a way forward for other struggling MCs.
Take More Song Requests.
What do song requests have to do with charisma, vocalizing your presence on stage and building vocal confidence? Everything, actually.
When I perform, there are only two times when I really get nervous, when I speak and when I play my own music. These two things share the commonality that they are especially personal to and representative of myself.
But four years ago, getting a song request made me just as nervous. At the time, I took song requests very personally because I was so proud and defensive about my musical tastes. As I built myself up musically and learned to appreciate various forms of music, I also learned to not take song requests personally and handle them with more grace.
Interestingly, this came hand in hand with a new mindset around performing. The mindset of experimentation. Practice looking at your set like a social experiment of sorts. You should be committed to the process more than the result. "If I try this song, what happens?... If I do that, what changes?" Instead of taking song requests personally, use them as an opportunity to grow and try different things. (credit to Nick Kho of RSD for teaching me a version of this idea)
Bottom Line: Over time, your comfort level and confidence as a musical chauffeur will increase. You will build a habit around taking risks and experimenting as an entertainer. Above all, your stress baseline will go down, leaving you with more headroom to start thinking about speaking up.
Trust me, after 5 years of professional DJing, I can tell you that EVERY TIME that one annoying girl or her boyfriend overdid it on the song requests, doing everything to try and get me to play that ONE SONG, it has left me feeling noticeably less animated, extroverted and talkative. My only saving grace is that I have spent time improving my relationship with my music to take these moments less personally.
So, do everything in your power to handle song requests and other regular DJ concerns regularly. PRACTICE your core skills. GET TO KNOW your library and you'll be in a better place to speak, more.
Listen to a wider variety of music
This is connected to my previous recommendation. All western music is connected, historical and stylistically. Without fail, I've found that listening to one genre of music makes me a better DJ, record producer and artist when it comes to another genre.
Also, it can be extremely helpful to listen to famous MCs like Fatman Scoop, DJ Khaled, and DJ Kool, especially if you can find live videos of them performing.
On that note...
Study Hip Hop Lyrics
MCing, shares a lot of history, symbolism and methodology with Rapping. If Rap is about vocal quality, poetry/wordplay and rhythm, you can bet that MCing shares all those issues, but in a largely live setting.
Set a goal: Learn the lyrics to two or three hip-hop or hip-hop influenced tracks a week. Recent records that have helped me up my own game include: DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat," Bruno Mars' "24K Magic" and "Uptown Funk," Fifth Harmony's "Bo$$," The Isley Brothers' "Shout," Earth Wind & Fire's"September," and Usher's "Yeah." These records all are high potential crowd pleaser songs; they give me an easy excuse to connect with the crowd, if only by way of energetically reciting the lyrics to the song back to my audience.
Sometimes that's all you need. Other times, it can be a matter of knowing the lyrics and adding a couple well timed commands like "put your hands up," "yeah, yeah, yeah" and "everybody jump."
Note: 90's rap a la "Let Me Clear My Throat" is great practice for the rhythmic crowd commands that can create energy in your set. Pay special notice.
Never go to a gig without a microphone.
I'll keep it short: Your microphone should be a required part of your set up like your mixer and speakers. If you bring it automatically, it removes an unnecessary excuse not to speak up.
Start by introducing yourself
Start and end shows by telling the crowd who you are. Starting, especially, sets a great mental precedent and lowers the pressure around additional speaking opportunities mid-set.
Practice speaking to the lyrics of your favorite tracks
I mentioned this in an earlier section. learn the tracks of your favorite tracks in depth. Even if they are tracks with lots of singing. I regularly connect with the crowd over the chorus of Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind." I won't sing "New York," I'll just MC it. (On that note, I also build anticipation by commanding the crowd to "sing it" together, and so on)
Start with music. Later, speak between songs
The coup de grace of MCing is speaking without music. This is because there's nothing to take attention away, squarely, from you. As you get more comfortable, look for opportunities to speak without music. Birthdays, Midnight ("It's saturdaaaaay!"), Intros to songs, party VIPs walking in, are all opportunities to rev up the crowd and practice your vocal chops.
Speak half as fast as you think you should
Nearly everybody speaks too fast in public speaking settings, at first. When you speak over the mic, speak half as fast as feels natural. In the midst of your set, it will actually be quite difficult to speak too slowly, so don't worry too much about taking things too far.
Your goal is to speak clearly and deliberately. If you don't nobody will understand you, especially in a loud club or party environment.
Instruct the audience
Here's a list of commands that I've used in my sets:
Put your hands up
I need y'all to scream!
4, 3, 2, Jump
4, 3, 2, 1
4... 3... 4, 3, 2 ,1
Clap, clap, clap, clap
Let's get ready to take it to the next level
Give yourselves a round of applause
When I say X, you say Y
Connect with the audience; Customize your words
Your goal is to connect with the audience. In the service of that goal, you wanna do a little impromptu research at your parties.
Who is organizing the party? What is the theme of the party or the demographic in attendance? What inside jokes might the organizers and attendees share in common?
As an example, I DJed a private party for a community that consisted of multiple choral organizations at Harvard, so I came up with the phrase "When I say 'choir,' you say 'life.' Choir. (Life) Choir. (Life)."
In a separate instance, I recently DJed a party that was the culmination of a professional event. Everyone was between 22 and 30 years old. To loosen things up, I joked, "Now listen up, now isn't the time to be a professional. Now is the time to go CRAZYYYYY." Suddenly the party's energy amped up to 11.
MCing is fundamentally about vocally connecting with the audience. Don't rush it if you're starting from 0. Pick some basic phrases, practice them and build from there, taking more and more risks. The progress will sneak up on you and you'll be on your way in no time.