If you’ve been playing guitar for a while the chances are that you’re interested in doing gigs.
It’s great to get up and perform music in front of people, both from an entertainment point of view and because it’s a landmark in your guitar playing ability.
Whether it’s a solo performance of your own songs with just you and a guitar, or a covers band made up of you and some friends, doing a gig is fulfilling, fun and good for your development.
There is, however, a trap that I fell into shortly after I came to London to study music, which you should avoid. I shall call it the ‘gig that never happens’ phenomenon.
Here’s how it goes…
I’d seen loads of cover bands in pubs and bars in London.
Some of them were great but a great many of them were really not very good.
“I can do loads better than this” I thought; “If these guys get paid for this then my band’s going to make a fortune!”.
So, I spoke to guys I knew and put together a band. I spent many hours putting set lists together. I made careful arrangements and transcribed parts meticulously which I then practised until I could almost play them in my sleep.
The rehearsal loop
We would rehearse for 4 hours at a time trying to get things absolutely perfect.
Many weeks passed by as we rehearsed, fine-tuning each song in painstaking detail. Months passed by.
Then we got a different singer and they wanted to introduce other songs they liked, so had to rework the repertoire.
Then we changed drummer.
Then we changed singer again and decided to completely change the set lists so pretty much started again.
More months passed by and still more rehearsals took place as we continued to ever-refine our performance.
Soon there was another change to the repertoire, then another change of singer, and so on.
Whilst all this had been happening, other musicians I knew had joined bands that were already working, and were getting well-paid gigs.
Well over a year had passed by and all my band had done was rehearse a huge number of songs in the privacy of our hygienically-challenged rehearsal studio.
Eventually, the band just evaporated and we never actually did a single gig.
A better approach
The point of this story is that if you want to do a gig, rehearse yes, but as soon as your performance is decent, get a real gig booked in and work towards it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a local pub gig or a free performance at a local event.
We need an unshakeable deadline in order to make things happen.
Don’t wait for perfection to arrive.
It never will.
You can always improve things in between gigs and of course the gigs themselves will effectively be paid rehearsals too.
My first paid gig
The first paid gig I ever did was about six months after my band evaporated.
It was in central London with a group of people I’d never met before.
There were no rehearsals, and I was given one week to learn a repertoire of 40 songs, which to my surprise I managed to do reasonably well.
Our performance on the day, I thought, wasn’t very good. It certainly wasn’t up to the standards that I’d been aiming for. And yet the audience clapped, danced, cheered and had a great time.
At the end of the night the clients came over and thanked us for doing such a wonderful job.
Strike a balance
Having high standards is undoubtedly a good thing, and I’m a firm believer that we should always aim high. But don’t aim too high, and don’t fall foul to the ‘gig that never happens’ phenomenon.
Sometimes ‘good enough’ really is good enough.
Consider who you will be performing for and what the purpose of your performance actually is. Is it to showcase your vast musical vocabulary and impeccable technique in front of a critical panel of music professors?
Or is just to make people dance and have a good time…?
I learned a big lesson that day… and I got paid for it.
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