Here’s a little secret we need to tell more live bands about: Your last gig probably went better than you think.
[NOTE: This is an archived post from Almost Famous, a music blog for unsigned musicians which I ran from 2012-2013]
At least you did if you’re one of the many bands we’ve seen recently who played some fantastic shows that, for some reason, they were completely unhappy with.
The Golden Rule
It goes without saying that the one thing that the golden rule of playing live is to make sure your audience has a good time.
Without this, none of the other peripheral stuff like selling merch and building a fanbase can happen.
Your job as a band
As a performing artist, it is your job to entertain or otherwise stir some sort of emotion in your audience. It is your job to send them home glad they decided to spend their time (time which they could have spent doing countless other things), at your show.
To that end, all the bands we saw at the recent Millstone Rocks festival did their jobs better than most.
With each song they played, they inspired singing, dancing and merriment galore.
Afterwards, we approached them with massive grins, hearty handshakes and eager words of praise.
Almost universally, such enthusiasm was met with countless tales of how each band made a bunch of mistakes, could have played better and sundry other reasons why our praise was so unwarranted.
It wasn’t the first time this has happened and it probably won’t be the last, but at no time has this kind of self-criticism helped anybody.
Alienating your fans
It certainly doesn’t help the person approaching you with positive post-show feedback. If somebody tells you they enjoyed the show and you tell them in response that said performance wasn’t very good, that’s almost akin to telling them that:
A) They have no idea what they’re talking about
B) They either have poor taste, low standards or both when it comes to live music
And who wants to alienate a potential record-buying fan, or a promoter with a string of dates for you, by telling them that?
Not you, that’s who.
Nor does it help you as an artist.
Though humility is welcomed any day of the week over misplaced ego and delusions of grandeur, being harsh on yourself for playing a less-than-perfect set doesn’t help you to remember The Golden Rule and the reason you played the show in the first place:
To entertain your audience.
Nobody notices…let alone cares
People don’t go to concerts to hear note-perfect renditions played out in a flawless performance. If they did, it would be easier to stay home and get such a thing on their iPods or stereos.
Nor do they even notice when your lead guitarist’s big solo goes awry or our drummer screws up a random fill.
Most of your audience won’t be professional musicians. They won’t notice such things, and even if they do, they won’t care.
They care more about going to a show and having a good time.They care about the energy and enthusiasm, about hearing some passionate piece of music which moves them both physically and emotionally, and they care about the exciting sense that anything could happen which lies at the rumbling heart of rock ‘n’ roll.
Give them that, and you’ve given them a great show which was far better than if you played flawlessly.
So the next time you play live, relax; you’re probably doing a better job than you realise.
Chris Skoyles is a former music journalist and gig promoter who sometimes helps out at small music festivals like Millstone Rocks. Visit him online at chrisskoyles.com