How Do Rock Stars Cultivate Their Onstage Persona?

The word persona is defined as the aspect of someone’s character that is presented or perceived to others. When we think of rock stars, many of them have what can be best described as an alter ego that serves as an extension of their personalities.

It is this larger than life rendering of what they represent that makes us buy into their image and hence their music.

A rock star can emphasize their personas in many ways, but they will mainly want to do this while they are performing live.

How do rock stars cultivate their onstage persona? Rock stars cultivate their onstage persona with the things they wear, the way they act, and the things they say. Everything they do onstage is thought out to project their image and convey it to the audience, so they stand out from other musicians.

This article will look at how rock stars cultivate their onstage persona and give you valuable tips on how you can make your own persona stand out.

What’s The Difference Between A Gimmick and A Stage Persona?

Gimmick and stage persona are two terms that are very much related, but they have their differences. Think of a gimmick as a stage persona taken the next level.

For instance, an artist like say, Iggy Pop, is known for having a wild stage persona. He jumps up and down on stage and has been known to engage in acts of self-mutilation.

Now, a band like Kiss, they have a gimmick. They are almost synonymous with their costumes, face masks and exciting stage antics.

A gimmick is more outrageous than a stage persona, and it’s also a little harder to change up. For instance, once Kiss came out with their costumes and makeup, it became a part of their ‘thing’. Fans expected it every time they saw the band. When they finally decided to get rid of these elements, it was a major event.

Iggy Pop, on the other hand,  may have to act wild onstage so he will not disappoint fans. But he can work around that image to do different things and reinvent himself without having to make any big announcements.

Why is An Artist’s Persona Important?

Let’s start by taking a look at why persona is so important.

There are so many musicians in this world, it can be difficult for one to stand out. Having a strong identity can help.

While some musicians work on making a strong image, others go a bit further making their onstage performances into a gimmick. They may wear a costume and makeup to completely hide who they are to enhance the mystique.

No matter how far a rock star chooses to go, any steps they take to boost their image works to cultivate persona.

Artists With A Memorable Persona

Now let’s take a look at the rock stars who stand out when it comes to cultivating a persona that gets them noticed.

Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop is a punk rock icon who may not be as over the top as some musicians when it comes to elaborate outfits and a stage show, but he has been known to pull some pretty outrageous stunts on stage.

Pop typically comes on stage shirtless wearing only tight jeans. And when we say only tight jeans, we mean only tight jeans. The singer has been known to expose himself assuring us that he does not wear underwear.

He has an aggressive stage image jumping up and down and crawling across the stage. He has also been known to cut himself with glass and bleed all over the audience.

Ozzy Osbourne

There are many outrageous metal artists, but Ozzy Osbourne is known for being one that’s really out there.

Osbourne is known as a madman and cultivates this persona with heavy drug use that makes audiences wonder if he’s as out of it as he makes himself out to be.

The singer is known for pacing around the stage appearing to be lost. He claps wildly with his hands above his head and often pours water over himself. (Note, his wife Sharon has revealed to the press that the pouring of water is done to hide a bladder control problem).

Osbourne is always over the top onstage but his most well-known incident may be when he bit the head off a bat while performing with Black Sabbath in 1980. The singer claims he thought the animal was rubber. It wasn’t.

Lady Gaga

When it comes to the world of pop, no one does persona quite like Lady Gaga.

Gaga is known for wearing outrageous outfits both on and off stage. When it comes to onstage performance, she once floated down for a Grammy performance in an egg. She also performed with her head in a box at the MTV VMA’s and had an artist ‘vomit’ green paint on her during a concert.

As far as Gaga’s appearances, you never know what to expect. Audiences love the way she keeps them guessing.

Jimi Hendrix

Rock n’ roll is a competitive industry and it’s getting more competitive all the time, but even when it was new, there were still rock n’ rollers who performed like their life depended on it.

One performer that paved the way was rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix stood out for his guitar playing virtuosity alone. He revolutionized music with a sound few could imitate…though many have tried.

When it came to onstage performance, Hendrix complemented his playing with a persona that was sure to get him noticed. Besides gyrating wildly while playing and being one of the first to play the guitar behind his head, he set his guitar on fire while playing at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Despite being a waste of a perfectly good guitar, I’m sure this was not a moment he lived to regret.


Devo has transformed the world of new wave with their science fiction like image. They are known for their deadpan humor, their dissonant songwriting, and their synthesized instrumentation. While performing, they wore matching outfits, often boiler suits, and plastic caps on their heads that made them look more like Lego pieces than musicians.

Although Devo never did anything overly outrageous onstage, they coupled robotic stances with a punk rock energy that took their performances over the top. Their understated image, use of multimedia, narrative music videos and custom merchandise gave them a cult status with a following that brought them to the mainstream.

How Do I Create on Onstage Persona?

If you are starting out in the music world, it is important to cultivate an image and persona that helps you stand out. However, a strong personality does not come easily for everyone. Here are some tips for creating an image that will get you noticed.

  • Think of Yourself: Your persona should not be completely made up. Rather it should be an extension of who you are. Think of your personality and how you can supersize it to make it into a brand image.
  • Learn from the Best: With so many musicians that have come before you, it’s hard to create a persona that’s completely original. It can be helpful to look at what other artists have done in the past paying close attention to the ones that inspired you the most. Work with what you lean and make it your own.
  • Put Your Persona into Everything You Do: To make your image strong, you should incorporate it into everything you do. This includes the way you act and the things that you wear on stage, marketing material such as websites and social media and any sort of press coverage you get.

Persona plays an essential role in a musician’s success. Think of what you can do to stand out in the sea of many. Good luck developing an image that’s right for you.

How do you become a good stage performer?

Becoming a good stage performer requires a combination of elements including the following:

  • Know how you want to be perceived onstage: Develop a persona before even stepping onstage
  • Practice, practice, practice: No matter how strong your image may be, no one will take you seriously if you don’t practice. Know your parts and play them with confidence in order to be successful.
  • Be open to criticism: As a musician, you may have people tell you things about your performance as a way to offer encouragement. The things they say may not always be positive but if you are honest with yourself and take what they say to heart, your performances will get better as a result.
  • Believe in yourself: The music business is very competitive, and you must be prepared to deal with rejection. But if you believe in yourself, you will have the confidence to overcome setbacks and achieve your goals.

How do guitarists have stage presence?

The stage presence in a band usually comes through in the lead singer. This is because the singer is the one who communicates with the audience most.

Singers may or may not play guitar. If they don’t play guitar, it may be easier for them to boost their stage presence because they can use their entire bodies to express themselves. However, it is possible to develop stage presence whether you play guitar or not.

And more than that, it is possible for the entire band to develop stage presence and this includes the guitarist, bassist and even the drummer.

Guitarists and bassists can develop stage presence in the way they stand and move while playing guitar. Like Hendrix, they can play the guitar behind their back, get on their knees for a solo, dress to stand out and more.

Drummers can twirl their sticks and point at the audience while playing to boost their persona. If drummers take a tip from Tommy Lee, they can even turn their sets into roller coasters and play above the audience. Drummers have also been known to play surrounded by glass, partially to control their sound, but also because it looks cool.

Do Musicians Rely on Gimmicks to Stand Out?

Music fans have seen it all. We have seen musicians who are over the top in the way they act and dress, in the things they do on stage and in the lyrics they sing. On the other side of the fence, there are plenty of musicians who prefer to tone it down and let the music do the talking.

That leads us to the question, do musicians rely on gimmicks to stand out? Well, some do and some don’t. Some musicians use gimmicks to draw attention to themselves while others shy away from gimmicks preferring a less flashy image. But ultimately, no matter how outrageous a musician’s gimmick may be, they must have the talent to back it up.

This article will look at artists that have used gimmicks to get them ahead…as well as some that have not, to give a more concise answer to the question, do musicians rely on gimmicks to stand out?

Musicians That Rely on Gimmicks

First, lets’ start by looking at musicians that use gimmicks to help themselves stand out from other artists. Despite the mockery and haters, these artists have proven they can stand the test of time.


Kiss’s look was born out of the glam rock era that came to a head in the early 70’s. Though glam rock bands had a distinct style, Kiss really took it to the next level wearing face paint, spacey looking suits and platform heels. Each member had their own look with Paul Stanley as Star Man, Gene Simmons as the Demon, Space Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss as the cat.

They followed up with an elaborate stage set that included smoke coming from Ace’s guitar while Gene Simmons spit blood.

Kiss’s gimmicky image made them hard to ignore, but they also managed to capitalize on a poppy rock n’ roll sound that was appealing to teenagers. And although they were not super technical, they had the chops to pull off the style of music they were playing.

Why does kiss wear makeup? In an interview with OK Magazine Gene Simons said the band started wearing makeup to become the type of band they didn’t see on stage.

KISS was true to their image and would not allow themselves to be seen without their masks until a major unveiling in 1983. It was at that time that they managed to reinvent themselves as more of a metal band, breaking away from their glam roots. Today, when the band performs, they usually wear their makeup even though some of the mystique is gone.


Gwar is a band that has become synonymous with the term ‘shock rock’. They are known for wearing grotesque costumes and their musical content and performances revolve around a sci-fi mythology theme that portrays the members as barbaric interplanetary warriors. They are known for incorporating themes of sex, violence, and social and political satire into their songs.

The band has incorporated fake blood, urine, and semen into their live shows and has been a center of controversy due to their outrageous antics. They reached their height of fame in the 90’s and have since had their share of ups and downs. Singer and founding member Dave Brocke died in 2014 but Gwar continues to play without any of its original members.

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson is constantly reinventing himself in various versions of weird. Over the years, he has urinated on audience members, donned a female’s alien-like nude body for an album cover and had band members have sex onstage. He also pushes buttons with imagery that glorifies Nazism and has even simulated abortions on stage.

Although Manson leaves us on the edge of our seats wondering what he will do next, there is no denying that it is his music that has kept him in the public eye for so long. His dark and hypnotic yet catchy tunes may be what truly makes him a favorite.


Slipknot is a heavy metal band known for their aggressive and even frightening stage image. All nine members wear masks often accompanied by industrial-looking jumpsuits. They put on a lively ‘in your face’ performance and cultivate a unique sound with various percussion instruments including garbage cans.

Originally, the band became so synonymous with their masks that fans wondered if they had faces underneath. However, they were not as true to their masked images as Kiss and eventually let pictures slip of them without masks. All the same, the masks make for dramatic onstage performance.

Why does Slipknot wear masks? The BBC sat down with Slipknot for an unmasked interview where the band discuss their reasons for the now iconic face coverings. If you guessed a stand out image, you’re right on the money.

Musicians That Don’t Rely on Gimmicks

Glam rock and heavy metal are big on gimmicks, but some genres are not. Let’s take grunge for instance, a music style that came almost in defiance to the glam rock that was so big the decade before. Musicians of the grunge genre shied away from the big hair and wild outfit looks that were once popular choosing instead to wear ripped jeans, flannel shirts and ski hats.

Thrash metal also stood out as being defiant to other types of metal and the over-the-top looks associated with it. Thrash musicians were no-nonsense focusing more on the music than the style.

But what’s interesting here, is that the bands and musicians that chose to dress down made dressing down a part of their image. And while an image may not be the same as a gimmick, it is interesting to explore when an image becomes a gimmick and vice versa.

So looking at it this way, are there any bands that would be considered not to have an image or gimmick?


Moby has been known for wearing clothing that is neither here nor there. It is just rather bland. While he has made some controversial statements in his life, you would never know it to look at him. In fact, if you passed him in the street, you probably wouldn’t even realize it.


Deftones is a band that sits on a fence between metal, grunge and alternative. Although their music works, they’re lack of a defining genre may be part of why they are all over the map fashion wise. In photos they wear a wide range of looks that include grunge, preppy and rocker styles.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is another multi-genre band with no defining image. Over the years, they have appeared in everything from suits and ties to flannels and t-shirts. There are pictures of all members where one may be wearing a preppy look while another wears a rock shirt. It makes us wonder whether everyone got the memo…or if one was even sent out.

In review, we’ve seen some bands and artists that are big on gimmicks, as well as those that have noticeable stage personas. We have also talked about some that don’t have much of an image at all.

While an image helps a band or musician stand out, they need good music to back it up to make it in the music world. Otherwise, the image may work against them seeming more like a joke.

What bands do you know of that have made their gimmicks and stage personas work for them?

What do musicians need to be successful?

We have determined that musicians don’t need a genre to stand out. But what do they need? Well here are some traits that help a musician move forward.

  • Willingness to work hard: The music industry can be tough. Musicians must have the tenacity to move forward and not get discouraged.
  • A do or die attitude: Many musicians make it because they have no other choice. With no fallback plan, they are focused on their music career because it’s all they’ve got.
  • Creative at generating income: A 9-5 job can take away from a musician’s ability to do late night gigs and it can kill the creative process. Musicians that are able to freelance and think of other ways of making money are more likely to succeed.

How do musicians stand out?

While a strong gimmick will make you stand out, there are other things that will work in your favor. These include the following.

  • New music: Musicians must keep coming out with new music to stay relevant. And the more they write, the more likely they are to churn out a hit. Accompanying new music with a video will make you even more engaging as an artist.
  • Utilize social media: Social media is a great way to connect with fans. Posting often with original and unique content will boost your online visibility making you stand out from others in your genre.
  • Take a stand: Being controversial can help or hurt a musician. It may cause some of your followers to be more supportive while some may fall off if they don’t agree with what you’re saying. Either way, it may help you get attention, but it can be hurtful if you don’t have that many followers to begin with.

How can I get my own gimmick?

Nowadays, it’s difficult to do something that no one has done before. However, if you are committed to developing your own gimmick, think of your image and how you can supersize it. For instance, if you’re into fantasy, see how you can work it into your outfit and stage show. If you want to be outrageous, cross-dressing and using makeup and props have been effective tactics in the past.

You can also look at the musicians that inspired you and draw on the gimmicks they used to make them your own.

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