If your last rehearsal sucked, it’s easy to freak out about your first booking. Take a breath. Don’t exhaust yourself with worry. Save your energy for the live gig.
Why Am I Panicking Before My First Live Gig?
So after all your hard work crafting songs and rehearsing, you finally scored that elusive first booking and you’re absolutely elated to be getting to showcase your work to the public. The problem is, your last practice before the big night didn’t go so well. In fact, it was downright atrocious! And because you don’t have a lot of time to fix the problems and be prepared for the show, you’re finding yourself plagued with that horrible, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach – that one that says you’re going to do a terrible job and embarrass yourselves in front of everyone, supporters and hopeful fans alike.
You know what though? There’s absolutely no reason to panic!
Hold on, hear me out.
What If That Last Rehearsal Was Terrible?
As some of you may know, I’m playing bass in a new local band called Rutherford, and we have our first gig tonight at The End in Nashville. But as skilled and as tight as we all are, our last full rehearsal this past Saturday was a bit of a mess – enough that there was genuine concern that we might not be up to snuff for our midweek debut. Some of us were missing cues, others speeding up or delaying transitions, and all of us hitting bad notes on nearly every song. On top of that, our setup in this new environment (the first time we’ve played anywhere else but our typical rehearsal room) was completely off-kilter – I couldn’t properly see the drummer, and he couldn’t absolutely hear me; the PAs weren’t loud enough; and because we were in a rectangular room (rather than a square one) we couldn’t properly form a circle during our jams. Eye contact was difficult to make at all crucial times.
In short, we didn’t perform well, and we didn’t all like the feeling we had coming out of it. If this was a representation of how we were going to do the night of the show, it wasn’t looking very good.
But that doesn’t have to be the way it is. Sure, being that it’s your first show, it makes absolute sense that you would feel that it needs to be perfect or else you’re getting off to a bad start – scaring away potential fans rather than attracting them.
Relax. Let it go. Relieve that pressure. And remember, it’s only your first live gig.
What If I Make Mistakes During My First Live Gig?
Don’t get me wrong – you need to take it seriously. You’ve worked hard for it. You do want to be the best you can be, and better than that even. But the truth of it is that there are so many unknowns awaiting you this first time out that you truly need to reset your expectations.
Let’s take the mistakes – the miscues and the timing issues, even the bum notes. The above rehearsal experience seems pretty darned scary but in reality it’s a good thing. First of all, those mistakes weren’t things that just happened haphazardly – they always existed. Always. It took this pressure situation to get them to come to the foreground, to show us where we were weakest. Because of this, we are now forced to pay attention to those areas where we aren’t quite polished – to work harder on those, and not so much on the things that by now we’re doing practically by instinct.
And while it didn’t happen on purpose (we actually played in this other space because we had no choice on that particular day), playing in a new environment together forced us out of comfort zones that we’d gotten used to playing in the same place all the time – not altogether unlike playing your first live gig. I highly, highly recommend ensuring that you get your band out of your typical rehearsal space and into someplace different within two-to-three rehearsals before your first show (or before any show if you have long breaks in between), and definitely within one-to-two weeks of said performance. Don’t forget that as good as you may seem playing in the same space, you’re not playing in that space your first live gig… or any gig for that matter. Getting yourself into a new environment is part of how you bring those weak spots forward, making mistakes and showcasing where you’re weakest.
Now, in our case, we really didn’t have time left over to correct ourselves and fix the bad spots before the show. But that’s okay – we still know where they are. As long as we remain positive and calm, we will keep these things in our minds and still perform better on the night than we would have without having discovered these weak areas.
The one thing I think we should have done (and I don’t know as we could have with the space provided), would have been to rehearse in the same configuration as we will be performing the night of the gig. In other words, facing an imaginary crowd, rather than facing in on each other. Because the reality is that we won’t get to just glance up and see where the other members are – we’ll have to do more work for that. And we haven’t rehearsed that. We communicate with each other very well with our bodies and our eyes, but we’ve never practiced doing so without the benefit of standing in a circle. In the future, we will. And I highly recommend you do, too.
What Do I Do About The Things I Can’t Control?
I’m a big believer in controlling whatever it is you can control, because there will be elements in every circumstance in your life that you have no control over. So the next thing to keep in mind when you’re setting expectations here is that there are going to be a lot of things that just aren’t in your hands.
So let’s start with the above environment idea. Even if you’ve played at this venue in different bands or watched other bands play there and understand the layout, you and your current band have not played this venue together yet, so it’s going to be a different beast. In preparation, is it possible you could find a rehearsal spot that is in relatively the same shape as the stage? If not, that’s understandable and not the end of the world – but in the least you should follow the above suggestion and play in a different environment, facing an invisible audience. Get used to what that feels like. Know at least that before you go out there.
Here are some other things you can’t or likely can’t control – so don’t stress about them your first live gig:
- Press/Advertising – Unless you’ve created your own marketing campaign for the live gig (and I don’t mean simple Facebook invites), it’s up the venue to handle it. Don’t worry about this aspect now, but the more serious you get, start taking more control of this in the future – let the venue handle itself but don’t depend on them.
- Audience – This goes hand in hand with the above. Don’t expect a ton of people. It’s okay if there aren’t a ton, actually – this gives you the ability to rehearse your performance on an actual stage without perceptively sacrificing your image (I’ll get to that “perception” thing in a second), but you have to ensure that you still give it 110%, whether there’s 5 or 500 people. That’s because in order to truly know your capabilities and your weaknesses, you need to give it everything you have – that’s the only way you can say “yeah, I’m screwing it up here and here”. Otherwise, you could easily put your mistakes down to just not trying hard enough. You’re misleading yourself if you do that.
- Sound – Not only will the venue’s acoustics likely be way different from anywhere you’ve rehearsed thus far, but you’re going to hear things (the other band members, yourself) far differently than you did during practices. Be prepared that you might not hear that guitar so well, or that the drummer’s kick might actually kick your ass. Also, if you haven’t used monitors in rehearsals, prepare for them to be helpful but very distracting. You’re going to have sounds coming at you from places you weren’t expecting.
- Setup – During rehearsals you could take all the time you wanted to get the sound right. Not here. You need to make sure your gear is prepared and if possible, that you’re in tune before you even go on stage. Some gigs (like tonight’s) don’t allow the benefit of a soundcheck. So be prepared for that. You need to get on and get your ass moving. You can’t take your time. One thing you could do is to prepare for this, and rehearse getting onto the stage and getting prepared with the rest of your band. Time it. You’ll never get this exact (because every venue is different) but to understand what it might take is the most important thing. You won’t know without practice. You don’t have the benefit of roadies to do it for you right now. So don’t stress when it doesn’t flow or you’re not right where you want to be.
- Image – When you go out onstage this first time, if you aren’t playing your best or the band together isn’t sounding as amazing as you feel it could, don’t freak out. The audience is not likely perceiving you to be as bad as you are. By nature, you’re more critical of yourself than they will ever be of you. Your career isn’t over if you screw up here or there, or get completely lost. This is your first time out, after all! Even if you’re a gigging veteran, and you’ve played a ton of shows in your life, this is still the first time that you’ve been out with this group of people. As bands go, this group of three, four, or five is barely out of the womb. Work hard. Work your best. Be professional, but cut yourself some slack. It’ll be okay. Make a mistake? Log it for later and move on. A good way to amplify this idea would be to take audio (good audio but not audio you intend to sell – just something for you) of the live gig and listen back to it next rehearsal. Even long-established bands like U2 do this after almost every live gig so that they know the trouble spots to work on.
What Things Are Under My Control?
And that gets me to what you can control at this point. And really, it’s just two things bunched into one: How much you put into it (ie: how hard you work) and how much you recognize and take with you (ie: the mistakes you log and put more work into later coupled with the experience in this new environment). You can do all this and not panic over every little thing. You can put this much focus into it and still have fun. I mean, that’s what you got into this for, right?
So relax. Sit back. Take a breath. Don’t exhaust yourself with worry. Save your energy for the live gig.
Work hard. Be good. You’ll win!