Knowing you’re not totally ready for a show is maybe the worst feeling a musician can have. Whether it’s a sold-out room or just you and the venue staff during your set, musicians are still expected to take their performances seriously if they want to be taken seriously in return. Luckily, it’s completely within your power to decide whether or not to be prepared for your concerts. This is what showing up unprepared for your shows looks and sounds like:
The band shows up late and rushes to get started
Music isn’t a “real” job, so who cares if you don’t get to the venue when you’ve been asked to, right? Big no. Showing up late wastes the time of the venue, the artists you perform with, and the audience in some cases. Lateness makes you look and sound unprofessional, and also has the potential to disrupt the entire show.
There are major sound issues and delays
This usually isn’t a problem for solo acoustic artists or bands with minimal setups, but if your set includes a backing track, lots of musicians, and/or is heavily reliant on effects, not knowing the sound situation beforehand can make for a disastrous performance. The average listener at a show will have no idea whether technical sound issues come from the venue or the band and will probably walk away with a negative experience. Scoping out the sound system beforehand usually entails sending a quick email asking for the details, and sometimes venues send this information out as part of their pre-show communication process, but it’s up to you to read what they send you. There shouldn’t be any surprises at your shows like having to drastically change or cut songs out of your set last minute due to technical restraints. These changes are hugely stressful and can negatively impact your entire set.
It’s obvious that the musicians aren’t musically ready
If you and the musicians you perform with can’t play your songs with confidence, then you absolutely should not be playing live. Performance mistakes are unavoidable: fumbled lyrics, mismatched tempos, wrong chords, etc. But if you don’t know the songs, like really, really know them, the kind of problems you’ll have on stage will be hugely embarrassing and almost impossible to recover from, such as having to stop in the middle of a song. A good rule to follow here is to always be more prepared than you think you need to be. If something can go wrong on stage, it probably will, so you’ll need to be prepared to the point that unexpected issues won’t make you lose musical focus. Also, keep in mind that you shouldn’t just try to avoid major mistakes on stage. A confident, tight performance is what you’ll need to win over new fans, and that can’t happen without lots and lots of practice.
Nerves stand between the performers and a confident performance
Some musicians struggle with performance anxiety on stage and are unable to play freely and confidently. Nerves get so bad for some that they can’t even play in front of other people at all. Preparing for butterflies isn’t like practicing for a show. Instead, it requires acknowledging that you have an issue with show-related performance anxiety long before you take the stage and taking action. If you’re totally new to playing live, for example, you could start with a house show in front of your family and friends before playing at a real venue. Exposure and experience typically help most musicians overcome their nerves. But if you get on stage with lots of anxiety and have done nothing to prepare beforehand, your performance will be tentative.
Things look, sound, and feel….awkward
What you generally get when a band isn’t prepared on stage is a real awkward situation for everyone involved. The audience and venue want you to do well and when you don’t, things can get quite uncomfortable. No one is expecting a flawless performance, especially if you’re new and developing your chops. But if you aren’t taking the show seriously by getting musically, mentally, and technically prepared beforehand, that lack of seriousness will negatively impact your show no matter how talented you are.
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.