I, and many other people, have a habit of not meeting my own expectations when I’m playing at a gig or at a jam session.
I feel like I practice well, I learn the language and the material. In many ways I’m adequately prepared to do my job as a banjo or guitar player in a band.
And then I get on stage and I clam up. I forget parts of the music, I can’t remember all the chords or maybe I forget to come in for “the big solo.” Sometimes it feels like this music stuff just isn’t for me.
Except that’s not how it always goes. Sometimes it’s easy. I remember all the tunes, I feel comfortable, I might even use the excitement of the audience or the band to elevate my playing beyond what’s possible in my living room at home.
So what gives? It turns out everything matters. The location, the band, the amount you’ve practiced, what you ate that day, how focused you are, how much you’re getting paid, who’s in the audience, how many times you’ve played with these people.
If you have a bad gig I would bet that you can trace it back to a lot of variables that were out of your control. But there are a lot of variables that you can almost always control, and which will give you a shot at a comfortable experience every time.
Before you play a gig, do you eat food that gives you energy? Do you wear something that makes you feel confident? Do you really learn the material? Do you show up early enough to get set up and take in the atmosphere of the venue?
You don’t have to do anything to prepare if you don’t want to. But you’re going to eat that day, you’re going to wear clothes, you’re going to show up to the gig. So why not do all of those things in a way that’s going to put you in a position to succeed? And not only that, but imagine the psychological benefit of doing all of those things because you value your own success. You have to believe that your success is worth prioritizing, which in turn will enable you to confidently perform for the audience that you have an opportunity to serve.
You are going to have bad gigs. Don’t let them be bad because you decided not to really show up.