Less than a week away from my next big gig, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t feeling some butterflies, just like I always do. Which is really weird for me when I think about it, because I’ve been playing live electronic music in front of people since just about when I started writing music in the first place. That was more than 20 year ago, and still… I get the butterflies.
You’d think that over time it would get easy. Well, maybe more realistically I should say easier. And I guess in some ways it has, despite the last minute nerves that make me feel otherwise. In the past I was always worried about how “I” would do, what mistakes “I” would make that might make people hate my music. And sure, over the course of 20 years there were definitely some mistakes here and there.
But for the most part I’ve learned that most people don’t care when you mess up. I mean, sure, it’s not like you can hide catastrophic errors where the music stops, or you REALLY mess up. But a lot of times when you’re performing, you tend to fixate on the the little things along the way that don’t go according to plan. And really, most people don’t even notice. Heck, even when I record my own live sets and listen back to them a week later, usually I can’t spot the stuff that bothered at the time either!
No, these days I tend to find myself worrying about technical issues more than performance ones (quiet in the back). Will the power be good? Will I be able to hear myself in the monitors? Will I have enough time to set up and REALLY be sure it’s all working right first? Will my equipment work the way it has for months leading up to this? Will there be anyone there? 🙂
You know, the kinds of things you have no control over, and won’t know the answers to until you get there anyway.
Still, I worry.
I realize now it’s a good thing, in small doses anyway. As the gigs get closer, I start getting that question popping into my head more often, “What if?”
What if it goes bad?
What if one of my machines just frreaks out on stage?
What if I forget a cable?
What if I leave my back up disc at home?
And of course, the bigger the gig, the more questions I pose to myself. But here’s the thing, despite being a little nervous having to worry about all this stuff, it also makes me think about and truly plan for all those potential problems. I remember to bring extra cables, double check my memory cards, plan to play for longer than I’m booked, etc.
The more worries I have, the more confident I am once it actually comes time to play. I’ve thought of as many possibilities as I can, and done my best to hopefully mitigate them as reasonably as possible (you can’t plan for everything). I know my material, and exactly what I need to do, and suddenly I’m free to just focus on that.
Sure the first few minutes are always a little shaky, but once I realize it’s all going according to plan (or close to it), I can leave that worry behind, and just let myself have fun playing with sound. I can just let myself enjoy hearing my music louder than I’d normally play it in the studio, and start looking at the audience, using their reactions to shape what it is I’m trying to do. I get lost in the fun moments along the way, instead of always worrying about the big picture.
It’s a great feeling, addictive to us all. It’s why immediately after the gig, we find ourselves thinking “should I approach the promoter now about possibly playing again in the future, or should I wait?” 🙂
So in the end the butterflies are still there, but I’ve learned to accept them as part of the normal process of playing live. It might not be the most fun part (not by a long shot), but without those nerves, we might not be as prepared as we should be.
One last tip:
Always keep a notebook of some sort handy in your study as you prep for a gig. It doesn’t have to be paper and pen, a text document on your computer or a reminder note on your tablet works just as well. But almost without fail, you will suddenly remember some critical thing you almost forgot as you plan for the event. WRITE IT DOWN. Even if you plan on doing it immediately, it’s amazing how quickly we can get distracted or forget!