This post is slightly difficult to write, I hesitated, but then decided I should share this with ya’ll, because that’s what we do these, share, everything! So, sometimes, not often, but sometimes my performances, well, um…, they suck. Well, maybe not suck, but they aren’t up to the level that I know they can and should be, and that is what this article is about-sucky performances and what to do about them.
If you have read my previous articles you might note that I offer advice based on experience: performing experience, songwriting, learning something new, etc… this article follows suit, but today I write about the experience of doing a bad job at something I do well.
Performing bad happens, all of the time, to really great performers. Not just musicians, but athletes, actors, and dancers. Sometimes we have an off day, and when that sometimes happens our performance suffers. So what do you do when it happens to you?
If you are doing badly and you notice it while performing, there are a few things you can do to “fix” it, but it all depends on what the issue is. Here are a few tips on what to do and not do when you are performing poorly, or after a poor performance.
Don’t run off the stage. This might be tempting, once you realize what’s happening, but please don’t pull an Ashley Simpson SNL faux pas and run off, that will only make it worse. At least don’t run off in the middle of a song, if you think you need to leave, let the song finish, then naturally leave the stage. Do this with a smile and a wave, the more confidently you do the exit the less people will question it. Perhaps you need a minute to adjust, or drink some water, get a cough drop, stretch your hands, or maybe you just need a break. This is to be applied if you still have a show to finish, obviously if you are at the end, finish and exit quickly.
Do what you can to correct on the fly and make the best of the situation. If it’s your vocals, people are going to notice if you’re off key, or out of time. For either issue, the best thing you can do is to stop for a minute, dance around a little and listen until you can get back on key, or on time, this applies if you’re playing an instrument as well. If you forget the words, don’t try to restart make something up, sing ooh’s whatever, but don’t stop! Keep going and eventually either you will remember or the song will end.
Do be prepared. If you’re sick, or you’re voice is strained, there isn’t much you can do to make your larynx heal on the quick. Having good vocal mechanics and instrument mechanics will come in handy during these times. That way you can adjust your singing or playing style to get though a performance. This will happen at some point in your career as a musician, so practice now and be prepared later. You will think you can handle it, that it’s just a little cold, but the longer you sing and the more you push to get the sound out, the worse your voice will become as the show goes on. When this happens, let your fellow musicians and sound person know because you’re going to need their help getting though the show. Longer instrumentals and a really hot monitor will help you get through it, even though it probably won’t be a very good performance.
Don’t make a big deal publicly about a bad performance. You might trend for a few minutes right after your crappy performance, but it won’t last long, think Mariah Carey circa 2016 terrible NYE performance. People have very short term memories about things that don’t personally affect them. They might notice it when it happens and talk about it on the car ride home, maybe even a day or two later, but they will forget much quicker than you will, unless you keep talking about it. (Side note, I know there is video everywhere out there, if there is evidence of a bad performance and you aren’t widely famous do your best to scrub it, take it down or ask people that posted it to take it down. This is why you should never allow tags to pop up without approving them first. ) Back to the don’t. After the show is over, don’t mention it, ever again, and just like that it will be a forgotten bad memory that nobody will care about.
Do make a big deal about it privately. Even if the reason you did bad is because you were sick, don’t make that an excuse publicly, people will use that against you. A bad performance can be a positive experience, because it shows you a chink in your armor and forces you to take steps to become a better performer, or at least it should. If you consider yourself a professional and you can’t objectively take the bad from a performance, learn from it, fix it and become better for it, then you aren’t in the right profession. It takes a big person to admit and then learn from mistake, so be big, very big. Professional athletes are forced to do this all the time, Tiger Woods is a very good example of this. You have to have the ability to know when you messed up and be humble enough to want to fix the mistake(s). This is what makes great performers great, as much or even more so than their ability.
Don’t make excuses. This will make you seem whiny and unprofessional. You messed up for whatever reason, okay, see tip 5 and fix it. Find the reason you messed up and work on that. If you were off-key, or out of time or your voice was strained, why did those things happen? Were you under-practiced, out of shape, not all there mentally? What ever the reason, figure it out and address it, but don’t excuse it because that will only cause you to perform bad again, for the same reason.
Okay, there you go, 6 tips that I myself needed to be reminded of. My show a few weeks ago was not a great vocal show for me, although it was a really great show on keys (you should always find at least one positive.) I have spent so much time recently really wood-shedding my keyboard playing skills that I took for granted my singing skills and it showed. Like any underused muscle, my voice under-performed, and it’s because I allowed it to. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t as good as I can and should have been. I went back and listened to the recording and could tell what areas needed to work, and guess what? I have been working on them every day since, and I will continue too. It’s arrogant to think that because you excel at one thing, you don’t need to continuously work at it. Just like you get weak when you stop lifting weights or working out, your voice and hands can weak when you stop working them out on a regular basis.
So to all of my musician friends that have had sucky performances, it’s okay, I’m here for you. I hope this article will keep you from having too many, and will help you when you do have a bad performance.
Love and Light,