Every serious musician’s nightmare is blowing it on stage, but it’s an inevitability whether you’re relatively inexperienced or have been in the game for decades. Everything from nerves to lack of practice can contribute to a bad show, but no matter the reason, playing badly at a show can be devastating to a musician or band not only when expectations and emotions are sky high but also because putting yourself on stage typically requires a great deal of vulnerability.
Play shows long enough, and you’ll have a bad one eventually, even if you’ve practiced and aren’t particularly nervous. Doing everything you can to avoid blowing a show is important, but you might want to shift some of your focus on what to do when you step off the stage after a show that didn’t go your way.
Determine what went wrong
Musicians are notoriously uber-critical when it comes to just about everything they do. If this sounds like you, there’s a chance that your negative feelings about a show might not be completely valid. But if that’s not the case, try to figure out what went wrong for you and why. The answer might inspire you to get back to your rehearsal space and put more practice in. Another could be one that leads you to promote better for the next show because you didn’t play your best after seeing how few people came out to see you. Take some time to assess what happened and how you could improve.
Ask for honest feedback
If you’ve had a bad show, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint why. To get a better idea of what went wrong, ask someone in the audience for their honest opinion. You might not like what they have to say, but if you get the sense that the show went poorly, it’s important to know why so you can do better next time.
Let it go
This is probably hard advice to swallow, but if you let yourself get too down about a bad show, you’ll probably have a difficult time getting back on stage. Remember, bad shows happen to every musician, no matter how talented and successful they are. If you’re already doing everything you can to perform solidly on stage, at some point you need to stand up, brush yourself off, and move on after a bad performance.
And depending on how you look at it, having a bad show every once in awhile might actually do some good as far as putting things into perspective and making you grateful for all the times you have great shows. Anytime you get on stage, you’re taking a risk, and that can easily be forgotten if you’ve gotten really solid in your performances. Bombed shows can serve as powerful reminders of how far you’ve come as a musician and how far you are from where you really want to be.
But no matter how you look at it, you shouldn’t dwell too much on why a show went poorly. Getting back up there and trying again is the most important thing.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.