When I was putting together my piece on bows, I asked several people their opinion. Alex Rybeck was so generous and insightful that I have to share it whole…
I agree with you that Thank You’s and Bows need to be figured out and practiced.
The order in which people are thanked should be thought out. In most cases, it should be The Venue (perhaps the owner by name) who booked you, followed by the technical crew (lights, sound), followed by the director (if there is one), and then the musicians who share the stage, ending with the Musical Director. The final thank you should ALWAYS be the audience. (The idea is that the Thank You’s are listed in an ascending order of importance).
One pet peeve I have is when artists speak over the applause as they are introducing their band. Let each musician receive their share of applause, THEN say the next name. It’s also nice when the artist gives FOCUS to the musician being introduced.
When I’m onstage, being introduced, I personally like to acknowledge the artist with a nod when my name is mentioned, then I bow to the audience, and then I return the focus to the artist with another nod. This is clean and feels gracious.
As you have observed, there are many possible ways of bowing, and each artist needs to find which one works best for him/her.
Many newcomers feel embarrassed by applause, and they either act phonily humble (with an expression that seems to say, “Oh, is this applause really for ME? You mean you LIKED me?”), or phonily moved to tears (“This is the most incredible moment of my entire life”) , OR they try to bypass the moment altogther, and barely acknowledge the applause, which reads as “I am really uncomfortable and can’t wait to get on with the next song, or to get offstage, but I can’t tolerate accepting your Thank You”). And that’s what a bow is: it is acknowledging the audience’s Thank You. It needn’t be anything more than a simple, heartfelt, honest reaction to those who are thanking you. But just as the audience is giving you its acknowledgement, you must return it. Your subtext while bowing is, “I’m so glad to have shared this time with you, and I accept your thanks”.
This carries through when you Meet And Greet after the show. This is an important part of the gig! You may be signing your CD’s, or simply meeting people. Either way, you will be facing people who will want to tell you how much they enjoyed your show. It’s important to give each person your full attention, and accept their feedback as graciously as possible (sometimes people will tell you what they DIDN’T like, and then it’s a real challenge to be gracious!). But, like your bow, it’s a chance to acknowledge their having come to see you, and to connect personally with your fans. (And remember that if someone DOES give you criticism, from THEIR standpoint, they are telling you — albeit at an inopportune time and in a possibly inappropriate fashion — that they care enough about you to offer what they feel is good and important advice to improve your presentation.)
One of the best pieces of advice I heard about criticism: if you hear 50 different opinions from 50 people, you can ignore it; but if you hear the same comment from everybody, then it’s valid and should be paid attention to. (For instance, one person may tell you they hated a particular song choice. That’s just one person’s feeling, and you can’t please everyone. But if a majority of your audience is telling you that this particular song doesn’t work, listen to them! This is true of comments about what you’re wearing, or the lighting, or sound, as well as repertoire).
Sometimes, you can’t rely on people to tell you what doesn’t work, because a lot of people will not feel comfortable being that honest. So you have to develop an inner “applause-o-meter” when you finish a song. Just like a comedian builds a set according to which jokes get the biggest laughs, a singer needs to get a feel for which numbers are the showstoppers, which get a polite hand, and which are met with uncomfortable coughs and/or silence! Some singers are defiant in their relationship with the audience, and feel like they should be able to sing whatever they want, damn the audience response. This is a dangerous attitude, and will eventually result in the lack of HAVING an audience!
This is not to say you can’t experiment, and occasionally throw in a number that’s “risky” — but you have to earn the right (ie, the trust of the audience) to do so. By programming something surefire right before and right after, you can sometimes “get away with” a song that may not always go over.
OK — I’ve rambled on way too long!
I’ve strayed way beyond your initial ponderings on bowing! So be it.