We all have had gigs where things didn’t go so well. If you are new to the field, these may be agonizing and discouraging, and even if you are a veteran, they are still pretty bad. Let’s talk about how to handle this humiliation and learn from it, since nobody is immune…
Here are some of my bigger disasters:
- Playing with my “progressive” quartet opening for a good-time rock band; the audience hated us so much that they cut the power. (they would then turn it back on, wait for us to resume, then cut it again!)
- Pulling the wrong chart on a show gig and playing the intro to the wrong song.
- Screwing up the intro to one of my own songs on a showcase concert.
And the list goes on…
Suprisingly, many mistakes and problems are totally missed by the audience. You may be surprised at how good you actually sounded. Learning to “keep going” no matter what is a great skill to have.
- Mistakes and memory lapses cause your perceived time to slow to a crawl. Much like in a car accident when it all seems to be in slow motion, this is your personal reality. In fact, most of these things are over in a flash and are barely noticed by the audience. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought everything was awful and had listeners tell me “you sounded great!”
- Even obvious mistakes don’t bother the audience as much as you think; as long as it isn’t an endless series of “train wrecks” people don’t mind imperfections. Sometimes I wave to the crowd if it was bad enough.
- I often am disappointed with myself after a set not because I didn’t sound good, but because of what I could have played. All the ideas I used were my usual fallback material. In truth, the listeners don’t know this and take the music at face value.
- Coming off the stage to a resounding >nothing< doesn’t mean you failed. It may simply means people weren’t paying that much attention. I used to get all upset when people cheered at the game on the TV right after I played a solo. Not everybody is into the music…
- Likewise, fellow musicians in your group may not always compliment you; this could be for their own reasons. (perhaps they are stewing about what they played.)
My my my poker face
Here are some things not to do when things go wrong:
- Making a face every time things don’t go well. You may be telling the audience something they didn’t know.
- Be a nice person and don’t glare at others when they mess up… remember: you’re next.
- If ideas aren’t flowing in a solo, wrap it up and try again on another. Don’t keep searching and hoping you will find something… it usually doesn’t happen. This is OK; nobody nails it every time.
- If somebody compliments you after a gig, just say “thanks” even if you think you sucked. They may actually be right.
- If you think you sounded bad and the gig was recorded, try listening… it might sound better than you think. If you think you absolutely killed it, don’t listen… just enjoy the “glow.”
- Even the greatest musical giants could tell you about their humiliations and failures. You are in good company no matter how things go.
Have you messed up on the gig? How did you handle it? What kind of coping skills do you have?