I have recently discovered a TV show on Paladia music channel called “Live from Daryl’s House”. It is an interesting concept, each episode is a live jam session of a guest artist with Hall and Oates founder Daryl Hall at his upstate New York house. He’s had the main great room renovated to be a performance space/video studio.
In between performances they have scenes of having dinner with the guest and discussing their music and various topics. The latest episode was with legendary guitar player/songwriter Joe Walsh of the James Gang, Eagles and solo artist. During the dinner segment Joe Walsh was talking about how he developed as a musician.
He made some interesting observations about current young performers that they are not willing to play live for an audience. He said they are a legend in their parents garage, but won’t play for an audience. Because they feel they won’t be good enough.
The key thing he said was, when he was young he played for an audience whenever he could. And it was awful. That was the key. Be awful. And he said it never really gets good. It just gradually gets less awful. This from a guy who played with the Eagles, some of the best legit musicians in rock music.
So this got me thinking about my experiences developing as a musician and performer. And I have to say, it really is a lot like this. As a classical singer we tend to have our first performances in church or school, whether high-school, or like me, college.
And I remember I was always scared to get up and sing because I never felt good enough. But everybody feels that way to some degree. Obviously some feel it more than others. But I realized after a while that I would improve after a performance way more than I would just practicing.
And just like Joe Walsh said, over time it gradually became less bad. I still always felt like it sucked. But if I was being objective, especially if I had a recording to review, I would notice that it wasn’t so bad and it sucked less than I thought.
It is hard to do, but if we can learn to have the attitude of it being OK to suck for the sake of learning we can really progress fast. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I was older. But I still try to keep it in mind, because we are always learning and improving.
To take this idea a little farther, I encourage people to find situations to perform where it doesn’t matter what kind of impression they make. This is so they can go into it with the attitude of being free to fail. It is hard to do and you don’t want the first time you try it to be in an important performance.
But the idea behind this is to experience the liberation that comes with the realization that failing has no negative consequences. If you can fall flat on your face, almost purposely going there, it gets rid of the fear of it happening. I guess it is a version of the attitude, do what you are scared of to kill the fear.
Once you do it failure becomes less scary. And an interesting thing happens. Often when the performer is inviting failure they are so free they perform the best they ever have. And that is the setup for a major breakthrough.
This discussion relates to my last post about Zig Ziglar and dealing with fear. I would consider this to be a strategy or exercise to continue the process of freeing ourselves from fear that we started in that post.
What I find so interesting about what Joe Walsh said was the part about it never really getting good, just less awful. In a sense that is not true because obviously with the good performers it does get good. But I think it is a matter of perspective.
From the perspective of the audience it definitely gets good. In some cases it gets great. But from the perspective of the performer it rarely gets good because our level of judgement increases as our skill increases.
So what is now way better than it used to be we still assess as not so great because our perspective has progressed in equal measure to our skill. That is how someone who was considered one of the best sopranos in the world could still be found in tears after a performance. Because she felt she had made so many mistakes.
Now, I would say that might be a little excessive, but it is certainly normal to feel disappointed with our performance when everyone else is enthusiastically positive about it. Even when I was younger and felt that I was not singing well, and even after I had learned what I was meaning to do and not achieving it, I would have audience members praise me and my singing.
Which was something that always felt disingenuous because I knew what I wanted to happen with my instrument and it wasn’t happening. So I would be disappointed with my performance. The frustrating part is even when you learn what you want to do with your voice it still doesn’t always work the way you intend.
Ultimately we are all faced with figuring it out ourselves. Even if we have a great teacher. They can only point the way and illuminate it for us. We have to figure out how to travel the path. But for most that guidance is the difference between getting it and not.
So if you are hesitant to perform, or too frequently disappointed in your performances, try taking a different attitude toward them. Go into it as an experiment where it is OK, or even desirable, to fail. Know that the failure will teach you more than the success. Which will ultimately bring you more rapidly to success.
It sounds a little backwards, but it works.
Leave comments and thoughts below. Thanks.