Bad shows can be temporarily devastating even for musicians who’ve been performing professionally for years. Things like bad sound systems, unattentive crowds, and performance mistakes can turn something you love into a truly awful experience if you’re not careful. But while some shows are so bad they feel like black holes that you and your bandmates will get sucked into, that’s not the case. Most bad shows can be turned around. Here’s how:
Identify the real problem
The first thing you’ll need to do to turn a show around is to figure out what’s going wrong. For many musicians, identifying the problem will be all they need to do to finish out their sets strong because all that’s wrong is that they’re playing too self consciously. For others, like those performing on stages with bad sound, an emotional and playing adjustment has to occur in order to save the rest of the show.
Take an emotional step back
Emotions in music can be tricky. Playing with passion is mandatory if you want to be a musician worth your salt, but letting your emotions get out of hand can be disastrous in a live situation. Once you’ve figured out what’s going wrong, curb your negative emotions for now, and deal with them later. After the show, you’ll have plenty of time to process what went wrong during the show, but while on stage, it’s your job to play your music the very best you can.
Remember what you love about performing
In order to weather bad shows, you’ll need to come back to the heart of what you love about playing music over and over again. Having a real love for performing will give you the perspective and attitude you need to endure terrible experiences on stage and still want to make music. This sort of love can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t, but for those that have it, remembering your passion and honoring it when things go really wrong during shows isn’t always easy or natural.
Focus on your songs
Easier said than done, right? When things start going bad on stage, lots of musicians enter full panic mode, but panic is not your friend on stage because it distracts you from your purpose and the only reason you’re up there in the first place: to play your music. Whether it’s a crowd that’s not into your songs or a chorus you just forgot the words to, the only way to get a show back on track is to focus on your music.
Stop striving for perfection
Even without noticeable problems and performance errors, there is no such thing as a perfect show. So rather than dwelling on what’s going wrong on stage, striving to connect with your audience is the best way to move past mistakes and make your mark during shows. Most audiences will forgive mistakes, but they can’t get into something they don’t feel engaged with. Letting go of doubt, fear, and shame, and focusing on your songs is the best way to get an audience on your side.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.