Few things are as nerve racking as performing in front of a live audience for the first time. This major step in a performing career seems like the most important thing in the world before it occurs, so when it goes bad it’s like the end of the world. But if you were to talk to many of the world’s most renowned musical acts about their first gigs, chances are you’d hear a slew of stories about what a nightmare it was, so you’re in good company.
First off, if you first show bombs, it doesn’t mean you suck. What it does mean is that you’ve begun a process known in the biz as “paying your dues.” Ask any successful band about the results of their first show and the answer will be along the lines of “horrible” or “not so good” delivered with smiles and laughter as they reminisce about the old days. You won’t feel like laughing the day after a first show gone bad, though, so the “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh” maxim probably doesn’t resonate. You’re more likely to be second guessing yourself and playing a game of “if only” till the cows come home. But now’s the time to get back on that horse and ride, rather than wallow in self-pity.
Reality check: It was your first-ever show! No one expects it to be great or even that good, honestly.
Ask yourself what you learned from the experience. Did the show bomb because you were too nervous to remember all your parts? Because the sound sucked? Because the audience sucked? Because it was the wrong venue? Because you sucked? If you believe any of these things were the root cause, examine how to correct the course for your next gig.
If your performance really did suck, don’t give up after one show. Practice more. Play in front of as many people as you can. The more people you play and sweat in front of, the better you’ll get at shaking off those nerves. If someone heckled you at the show and that’s what threw you off course, now you have some battle scars. Bone up on a couple of pithy comeback lines now that you know what it’s like in the trenches, if that sort of repartee suits you.
Play more open mics and session jams. Nothing helps a musician get better at his or her craft than playing with other musicians in a mostly stress-free environment. Jamming with others is a great way to regain your confidence as well as develop a support network of like-minded people to commiserate with.
Chances are, you don’t suck. Nerves are usually the main reason a first show tanks. If you’re not nervous, something’s wrong. Even the stars still get nervous, only they know how to deal with it after years of experience. That’s what you’re learning how to do. Keep practicing, keep performing and don’t let one gig gone haywire keep you from chasing your dreams.