So, the gig was abysmal. Welcome to the club. You would be hard-pressed to find a musician who hasn't had some kind of show disappointment. No matter what the reason for the less-than-stellar occasion, you can bounce back from this. If you are committed to music for the long haul, buckle up for many ups and downs.
At the risk of sounding like an inspirational poster, it's not the downs that matter—it's how you learn from them and deal with them. Sob, drink, throw things, eat ice cream, watch trashy TV if you must and then put the disappointment aside so you can get on to the real task at hand: Doing what you can to have a better show next time.
02Identify the Problem
Why was the show a drag? Was the sound bad? Did you play a little looser than you had hoped? Was the turnout less than expected? Did people wander out or talk through the set? Was it a combination of factors? If there is one glaring issue, well, there you go. If several different things came together to create a perfect storm, jot them down and prioritize them according to the impact they had on your night.
You now know the problem. Now, where is the solution? For instance, consider the following:
- Bad Sound - Are you comfortable clearly articulating what you need from the sound person? If you're not sure, ask them if they understood what you wanted or if there is something you can do to be a little more precise. Do you need some new gear? Start saving your pennies.
- Loose Playing - Practice, practice, practice. Invest more time into preparing for the show. If you're not confident you can pull off a song, save it until the next show when you're a bit more comfortable with it. Solicit some opinions from your most honest friends before you take the stage.
- Bad Turnout - If you were working with a promoter, did you give them all of the requested promo materials in a timely fashion? Whether you were self promoting or working with a promoter, were there posters? Did you promote the show to the press? Was it listed in local gig listings? Did you use your mailing list to alert fans to the show? Were the tickets overpriced? Was the venue a little too ambitious for where you are right now? If the promotion ball was dropped anywhere along the way, take this as a cue to get a little more organized and proactive the next time around. If you jumped to a bigger venue that you weren't ready for, take a step back and put a little more time into building the fan foundation that will let you return to this venue in glory in the future.
Whatever the problem with your gig, ask yourself what you could do differently next time to avoid it.
This isn't always appropriate, but when you've had a so-so show, some outside opinions can help you understand the issues. Quiz your friends who were in the audience. How was the sound? How were the songs? What kind of vibe were you giving to the crowd? If you can, talk to the promoter and venue as well. What did they think of the show? From their perspective, could you have done something differently to promote the show or rev up the audience?
This kind of feedback can sometimes sting initially, but it is gold. Remember, when you have a good night on stage, the promoter and venue also have a good night, so you're all on the same team. They may also have a little more experience than you, so soak up any knowledge you can.
Many of the things that can cause shows to flop are completely outside of your control. You had no idea that the Star Trek convention was going to be in town that weekend or that an electrical storm was going to knock out all of the traffic lights or that the paper was going to bump the preview despite their repeated reassurances that it would be there. Sometimes the acoustics in the venue are just terrible, the promoter doesn't do their job or the stars just don't align.
It is important to learn a lesson from every bump in the road in your music career, and a big but frustrating lesson to learn is that sometimes everyone does everything right and it still doesn't work. If you couldn't have changed a thing about the show, then rest assured you have a good plan in place for your next gig and keep on moving.
Here's a "what not to do" freebie: Don't lash out at the people involved in the show, even if they really were the cause of the whole debacle. Don't take to your website to call out the sound engineer for a poor job. Don't start bad mouthing the promoter to anyone who will listen, even if they did a lousy job of promoting the show. Don't harass the record stores that didn't put up your posters or the venue manager who left your name out of their ad. These things can all be maddening, but you only have two good choices for dealing with them:
One is to privately, respectfully and professionally let someone know you felt let down by the way they held up their end of the deal. Maybe they really did drop the ball, or maybe they will tell you about something that happened behind the scenes that you didn't know about. Either way, maintain your professionalism at all costs.
Your second option—and really the best one if you think someone didn't do their job—is to simply never work with those people again. It's as easy as that. As for their work with other people, stay out of it. "Revenge" might feel good for a short time, but in the end, it's just not worth it. Move on to better things.
What to Do After You Play a Bad Gig
What Should You Do When a Show Flops?
You promoted and practiced and got all excited about your gig, but when the concert rolled around, it didn't quite go the way you had hoped. What now? Find out what to do the morning after the night before.