Handling performance setbacks

Ask questions and get answers about how to make music in any particular way. Hardware or songwriting or whatever.

Moderator: Mods

User avatar
fluffy
Ganon
Posts: 9356
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:56 am
Instruments: sometimes
Recording Method: Logic Pro X
Submitting as: Sockpuppet
Location: The Plaidlands (also, Seattle)
Contact:

Handling performance setbacks

Postby fluffy » Sun Mar 13, 2016 12:01 am

I don't play live shows very often - usually just two or three a year, including Song Fight Live. Every time the backing band is different. As a result, lots of things can go wrong - and they usually do.

Even experienced bands with a fixed lineup are going to have problems though, and the challenge isn't to prevent a problem from happening (because it will) or even in making contingency plans to prevent a setback from being fatal - the important thing is being able to recover with grace and skill and make it seem that there wasn't even a problem in the first place.

I have a really hard time with that. I have anxiety issues and in get flustered easily and I need tools to cope with the inevitable and recover from those things, or else I start to forget my lyrics or have trouble playing the right chords and then that just makes things go totally off the rails.

Does anyone have any advice beyond facile aphorisms like "It doesn't matter, just relax and have fun" which don't fucking help me when I'm in the middle of an anxiety spiral?
User avatar
jb
Notable Hylian
Posts: 3532
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:12 am
Instruments: Guitar, Cello, Keys, Uke, Vox, Perc
Recording Method: Logic X
Submitting as: The John Benjamin Band
Location: WASHINGTON, DC
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby jb » Sun Mar 13, 2016 10:18 am

I like to anticipate what might happen, and have a plan in mind for what to do if it comes to pass. And I find you can often practice those mishaps naturally in rehearsal--- if you screw up song X don't just stop and take your time about recovering, or start over--- do what you'd do in performance, so you get to practice recovering. If you want you can even practice "breaking" a string--- just see what a Capella sounds like until the song ends, or you can retune. I had this happen to me in concert recently; broke my B string and the whole guitar dropped a half step.

When teaching kids, one of the hardest lessons for them is learning how not to stop when they screw up. It's actually part of the skill of playing music, and it needs to be taught and reinforced, and rewarded. If you're practicing a part, you can stop and fix-- you have to, in fact. But then you should do run throughs of sections and ultimately the whole thing, without stopping no matter what.

JB
Lunkhead
Princess Zelda
Posts: 5142
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 12:14 pm
Instruments: many
Recording Method: cubase/reason/mac/tascam4x4
Submitting as: Berkeley Social Scene, Merisan, Tiny Robots
Location: Berkeley, CA
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby Lunkhead » Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:06 am

It really depends on what goes wrong. Some things are easier to deal with than others. I had a problem with breaking strings in my college band so I started bringing a backup guitar. Frequent string breakage may indicate you need thicker strings or to try not to beat the shit out of your guitar so much (John :P). Mistakes you can try to play through and try not to make pained faces (I'm still working on that one...). If you skip a section of a song, again, just try to act like nothing happened. Most small things will fly under the audience's radar if you don't make a big deal out of them. Starting a song over once isn't a big deal, but if you run into problems again, just move on to the next song. It's super painful as an audience member to watch somebody restart a song over and over. It makes it so painfully obvious that they are losing it.

Equipment failures can be pretty disruptive. I can think of a couple instances as an audience member seeing a show when the PA went out. One time it was The Family Crest performing and they're mostly acoustic and they just played louder and played through it and were awesome. The other time it was Neko Case at a big festival and it was kind of a disaster. She only had 45 minutes, and there was another set after hers, so, she couldn't go beyond her time, and the sound people took 15-20 minutes to get the PA to work. The crowd almost started getting ugly. She was pretty flustered until a couple songs in, after they got things working again. I've had times where my amp wasn't working, electrical issues or bad cables, bad pedals, etc. etc. If you can remove the broken stuff from your setup great, if not, well, you can be pretty screwed.

If you already have issues outside the context of performing, what tools do you use in those other contexts? You may just have to bring them fully to bear and then some for performances. The other platitude I will drag out is that the more you do it the more comfortable you will get. I think that really only applies if you do it regularly for a long time though. 2-3 performances scattered throughout the year doesn't seem like enough to contribute toward getting used to the stress of the situation and the potential for chaos.

Have you thought about performing more often, like doing an open mic regularly? Also, if you can build your confidence and calm around performing solo that can help when performing with a pickup band. You can be the anchor for the band, and if shit goes wrong around you it won't be so bad as the center of the band will hold. That's enough for most audiences to enjoy the performance.
User avatar
josh
Fortune Teller
Posts: 308
Joined: Tue Mar 25, 2014 4:43 pm
Instruments: Guitar, Bass, Kazoo, Vocals
Recording Method: Reaper, Scarlett 2i4
Submitting as: Zack Facco
Location: Cambridge, MA
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby josh » Sun Mar 13, 2016 1:52 pm

Seconded: play out more esp open mics
Check out my band The Facc-Tones!: https://www.facebook.com/facctones/
User avatar
iVeg
Fortune Teller
Posts: 381
Joined: Sun May 12, 2013 10:06 pm
Submitting as: inflatable vegetables

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby iVeg » Sun Mar 13, 2016 5:39 pm

Setbacks are never fun.
PRACTICE I feel way more confident when I know my part(s) very well, and know what's coming up. Worst feeling was having to fill in for a much better guitarist on short notice, kinda mangling it, then looking up to see a close up on my hands on video screen.
RELIABLE GEAR My main guitar has never broken a string during a performance. It's fixed bridge, and It barely goes out of tune. I used to have an Ibanez with a whammy, and that would go way out if I broke anything. My bass is giving me problems, so I've been borrowing a reliable one. Have a spare if you need one. Spare strings, cables.
IMPROV See if you can sit in with a Jazz improv band. Nothing like having really nasty jazz chords flying past you at high BPMs. It makes improvising over normal music a lot easier. Or it scars you for life :)
Possibly the longest continuous losing streak at SongFight? [21 in a row]
User avatar
fluffy
Ganon
Posts: 9356
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:56 am
Instruments: sometimes
Recording Method: Logic Pro X
Submitting as: Sockpuppet
Location: The Plaidlands (also, Seattle)
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby fluffy » Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:22 pm

Some great advice so far, thanks.

Lunkhead wrote:If you already have issues outside the context of performing, what tools do you use in those other contexts? You may just have to bring them fully to bear and then some for performances.


I'm not sure hiding in a closet and shitposting on Twitter until the lorazepam kicks in is a good way of moving a concert forward. :)

The particular thing that happened was last night, Sockpuppet was opening Spudfest, and it was me, Spud, Amy, and a torrent of non-stop equipment issues. My guitar's pickup wasn't working (again! just like in Portland, ARGH) so I did what I should have done at SFLPortland and just miced my guitar - so I feel good about that. But then the sound setup was janktastic and the person running the sound didn't have control over everything and also didn't know how to control what he did have control over, and the lighting was abysmal so Amy couldn't read the sheet music, and she put in a valiant effort at piano but she decided I was better off without her halfway through the set - and she was probably right but it still rattled me even further when she just walked off the stage between songs. And then by my last song I could barely remember how to function, much less play piano (even though I'd practiced my piano rendition of the song dozens of times over the week leading up to it).

And then Octothorpe came on and we had many of the same problems too, plus the usual things that happen during Octothorpe performances, but by that point I was just thinking "well at least we aren't butchering my songs" but I was still sucking at drums in ways that don't happen when I'm practicing with the band.

If I'd had my wits about me I'd have just done the me+guitar thing and done my best at simple acoustic renditions of my songs, but I'd been so rattled by the failure for things to go how we'd practiced that I was just on the verge of catastrophic structural failure. And I'd like that to not be the case.

I probably should have actually done weed and/or lorazepam before going on because both of those help me with my anxiety, but I only ever do them as a reaction, rather than as a prophylactic measure.

Lunkhead wrote:Have you thought about performing more often, like doing an open mic regularly? Also, if you can build your confidence and calm around performing solo that can help when performing with a pickup band. You can be the anchor for the band, and if shit goes wrong around you it won't be so bad as the center of the band will hold. That's enough for most audiences to enjoy the performance.

Yeah, I really want to do open mics, I just haven't found an open mic that I can get to easily that I also feel comfortable at (unfortunately, the nightlife character of my neighborhood has changed drastically over the last few years). I think I was at my best performance-wise when I was doing public karaoke once a week, and later when I was doing weekly open mics at Floyd's. I definitely want to perform more, but I also want to perform my songs the way they sound in my head, which means it needs to be more than just me and my guitar.

iVeg wrote:Setbacks are never fun.
PRACTICE I feel way more confident when I know my part(s) very well, and know what's coming up. Worst feeling was having to fill in for a much better guitarist on short notice, kinda mangling it, then looking up to see a close up on my hands on video screen.
RELIABLE GEAR My main guitar has never broken a string during a performance. It's fixed bridge, and It barely goes out of tune. I used to have an Ibanez with a whammy, and that would go way out if I broke anything. My bass is giving me problems, so I've been borrowing a reliable one. Have a spare if you need one. Spare strings, cables.
IMPROV See if you can sit in with a Jazz improv band. Nothing like having really nasty jazz chords flying past you at high BPMs. It makes improvising over normal music a lot easier. Or it scars you for life :)


I do all those things (well, I haven't done a jazz improv band in a while - I did a regular-ish thing back when I was in Albuquerque - but I'm improvising on my own stuff all the time) but there's always something that goes wrong in a way that I thought I'd anticipated but I still just get so rattled. There's a few jazz meetups in Seattle that I've been meaning to attend although they tend to be far-flung and hard to get to. But jazz also doesn't really feel like the same sort of thing either.

Anyway, on the plus side, as a result of last night's repeated failure of my guitar I finally found out what was going wrong with that (at least this time), and so I have another (literal) button I can press whenever something goes wrong and see if that fixes it.
User avatar
jb
Notable Hylian
Posts: 3532
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:12 am
Instruments: Guitar, Cello, Keys, Uke, Vox, Perc
Recording Method: Logic X
Submitting as: The John Benjamin Band
Location: WASHINGTON, DC
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby jb » Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:40 pm

Backups are good, if you can have them. Backup amp, backup guitar, backup snare, backup kick pedal, backup sticks, backup cables, backup mic, backup strings, backup picks, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. When we do gigs around here we try to share a drum set, but all the drummers bring their own snare/hats/cymbals/kick pedal. And I know that if something awful happened to my guitar, I could ask another band for a loaner. (As long as they don't know how hard I strum in advance...)
User avatar
josh
Fortune Teller
Posts: 308
Joined: Tue Mar 25, 2014 4:43 pm
Instruments: Guitar, Bass, Kazoo, Vocals
Recording Method: Reaper, Scarlett 2i4
Submitting as: Zack Facco
Location: Cambridge, MA
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby josh » Mon Mar 14, 2016 6:43 am

On open mics. I remember there being a handful of good ones when I was around. I imagine Connor Byrne still happens at least. And Hopvine. Check out OpenMikes.org.
Check out my band The Facc-Tones!: https://www.facebook.com/facctones/
Lunkhead
Princess Zelda
Posts: 5142
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 12:14 pm
Instruments: many
Recording Method: cubase/reason/mac/tascam4x4
Submitting as: Berkeley Social Scene, Merisan, Tiny Robots
Location: Berkeley, CA
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby Lunkhead » Mon Mar 14, 2016 8:44 am

Oof, sounds rough, sorry to hear about the mishaps. At least you've got a good attitude about learning from the experiences.

I'm sure I won't be telling you anything you don't already know, but, if you're really committed to playing acoustic guitar live, especially with a band, make sure you have a solid reliable instrument with a solid reliable pickup. Mic'ing an acoustic live sucks. It sounds like step one should be doing everything you reasonably can to invest in your guitar/pickup to minimize the variability there.

Shitty sound is very frustrating but par for the course at most places. Lower your expectations there if you can. I just try to practice so I can play and sing through a song even if I can't hear myself. Also trying to keep the on-stage volume down gives sound people a better chance of mixing things.

Lighting is something I had not really thought about much until I was playing in Jonathan Mann's band. I don't think I ever played a single show where I wasn't reading off of charts. I didn't have any lights though and there were times when it was too dark and I had to wing things more than I wanted to. Clip-on LED lights are cheap and maybe a good thing to have in your guitar gig bag/case to loan people if they're going to be reading off of charts to accompany you on a one-off gig.

But then again trying to plan for every possible issue can be a bit maddening. I feel that way about for example trying to keep my bike from being stolen or vandalized. You can plan all you want but things can still go wrong . And if you only do this 2-3x/yr you're unlikely to have a time when you get through a performance without issues. I'm still working on the whole accepting the things I can't change part, it's very difficult. :/
User avatar
jb
Notable Hylian
Posts: 3532
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:12 am
Instruments: Guitar, Cello, Keys, Uke, Vox, Perc
Recording Method: Logic X
Submitting as: The John Benjamin Band
Location: WASHINGTON, DC
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby jb » Mon Mar 14, 2016 8:58 am

It's difficult, but really helpful, to attempt to internalize the idea that the audience is not hearing your mistakes. It's true!

When you're performing and you screw up, you dwell on it for a bit-- which makes the mistake seem outsized. But for the audience it went by in a fraction of a second-- and they are not intimately familiar with the music so they either won't notice or they might think it's just the way the music is supposed to be.

I cannot tell you how many times I've come offstage thinking that I've just performed horribly only to discover that the errors I thought were so egregious weren't even noticed by people in the audience who DID know the music, much less laypeople!

And finally, if they do notice an error, a friendly audience-- one that either likes you or your music-- will be very forgiving, and can enjoy themselves a lot even if you screw up. In fact, audiences seem to find errors endearing if they're not constant. One or two flubs, and they'll be on your side rooting you on.

JB
User avatar
Niveous
Princess Zelda
Posts: 6588
Joined: Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:45 am
Instruments: vocals, songwriting, acoustic guitar
Submitting as: Lucky Witch and the Righteous Ghost
Location: Sunnyside, NY
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby Niveous » Mon Mar 14, 2016 9:19 am

Lunkhead wrote:Have you thought about performing more often, like doing an open mic regularly? Also, if you can build your confidence and calm around performing solo that can help when performing with a pickup band. You can be the anchor for the band, and if shit goes wrong around you it won't be so bad as the center of the band will hold. That's enough for most audiences to enjoy the performance.


Doing open mics have been greatly beneficial for me. A year ago, I would quake like a leaf before every performance. Now, after doing a weekly open mic, I feel much more comfortable on stage.

Performing with others also helps a lot. Lately, I've performed as a duo with Roymond a lot and it has made for very good performances.

And like Sam said, if there's a stumble, it can be dispersed and the audience doesn't even realize.
"I'd like to see 1984 redubbed with this in the soundtrack."- Furrypedro.
NUR EIN!
X-Tokyo
Lucky Witch and the Righteous Ghost
User avatar
fluffy
Ganon
Posts: 9356
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2004 10:56 am
Instruments: sometimes
Recording Method: Logic Pro X
Submitting as: Sockpuppet
Location: The Plaidlands (also, Seattle)
Contact:

Re: Handling performance setbacks

Postby fluffy » Mon Mar 14, 2016 9:10 pm

This is all great advice. Thanks, everyone.

And yeah my guitar is USUALLY rock-solid, except, it seems, when I take it to a show. I have no idea why. Unfortunately being an Ovation with a weird soundhole pattern means I also can't hook a backup pickup to it. I could bring my Ibanez instead but I don't like playing it as much and I like the Ovation's tone way better. But maybe I need to start being more pragmatic about this stuff. (and by "maybe" I mean "")

I do practice my stuff like crazy so that I can play it even without being able to hear it, but then I forget everything when I get into a flustered anxiety spiral. That's the bit I'm trying to address here. Sounds like really the best thing is just performing a lot more, which is definitely what I want to be doing in the first place. Just gotta look for a good open mic. I'll check out openmikes.org.

Return to “Help and How To”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests