For those of you that don’t know, along with being a side musician / session player, I occasionally play solo acoustic shows.
The key word here is: occasionally.
There was a time when I did as much solo playing as my side gigs. I toured under my own name, released albums and EPs, did the whole Singer/Songwriter thing.
About 4 years ago I decided to say no to any solo shows, unless they met the following criteria:
- They are corporate, wedding, or background gigs where people are aware of you playing but aren’t giving you their full and undivided attention
This is exactly the sort of show most acoustic artists would hate with a passion. A room full of noisy people, not really listening and generally treating you like background music.
Me? That’s my ideal solo gig right there. 😉
A couple of days ago I performed at one of my favourite places, Austin Airport. Because Austin is both awesome AND rad, we even have music stages inside the airport, with multiple acts playing throughout the day.
During my set break, a guy came up to me and said he really enjoyed my music and wanted to know more. I explained that I predominantly work as a side musician and that the airport is one of the few places I play my acoustic singer/songwriter stuff.
He looked at me like I was nuts.
‘I don’t understand’ he said, ‘Why don’t you play more of your own music? I would pay to hear you play. You deserve an attentive audience who can properly appreciate what you do’. I thanked him for the kind words, but told him that when I’m playing alone, I much preferred shows where I’m in the background.
He scoffed, shook his head and replied with, ‘What a complete waste of your talent’.
I had no idea how to process what he had just said. Should I be upset? Flattered? I mean, what do you say to something like that?
In the moment I didn’t say much, and like a good little Libra, I went away and spent the following 48 hours having a good old think about it.
Here’s the thing; there have been multiple instances in my lifetime where I have done what society / other people have expected of me, despite every inch of my being silently screaming noooooooo!!!! This is especially weird, as I come from parents who have constantly told my brother and I:
- Never follow the herd.
- Be proud of who you are.
and, most importantly;
- ALWAYS be true to yourself and only do what makes YOU happy.
After many years of basically doing the complete opposite, I *finally* understood how important all of the above really is. It took me a while to fully embrace the mantra to thine own self be true, especially during my teenage years, where being different, introverted and unique were definitely NOT qualities I wanted or appreciated 😉
Here are a few examples from the past *cough* *cough* years of my life, where I have done things that just weren’t me:
Getting a boyfriend – yeah no. Definitely not going to work.
Keeping a 9-5 job – heeeeeee-yall no.
Trying to be super girly – zero chance of that happening.
Being excited about going to school – erm, seriously?
Attempting to be cool – I’m definitely NOT cool, super awkward, self conscious and nerdy – yes. Cool, not so much.
Pretending I’m not introverted – lol, ok, whatever.
I attempted to do all of the above and so much more in order to be liked / accepted / whatever. But the moment I started following my heart and doing more of the things that felt good, life became a heck of a lot easier, and, rather unsurprisingly, I was so much happier.
When I play a ‘proper’ solo gig, I spend most of my time grappling with an emotion that is so incredibly hard to control.
I’m not talking a little bit of nerves or a rush of anxiety – I’m talking full blown fear. I feel like at any moment I may die, vomit, pass out, or do a combination of all three. Sometimes I’ve been lucky and have been able to control it, but most of the time it consumes me to the point that I’ve had full blown panic attacks during a song, with a room full of people staring at me, all the while attempting to look to the outside world like I’m having the time of my life.
It’s as fun as it sounds.
I thought if I kept playing solo shows that at some point this feeling would disappear.
But no matter how hard I tried, it never went away.
So about 4 years ago, I made a decision to only play solo shows I felt comfortable playing. For the most part, these are places where people are talking, stuff is going on, and you are very much background music.
When I play these type of shows, I feel free to do whatever I want and it doesn’t matter if I screw up or something doesn’t work out. There have been multiple times where I’ve made up a tune on the spot just because I felt like it. I can try covers that randomly pop into my head. I can loop some chords on my looper and create random instrumental pieces. I can play any songs, in any order, talk over the mic if I want to, or not. I can try that new song I was working on last night – the one that doesn’t have a second verse yet 😉
I’m not offended if people are half listening to what I’m doing, I don’t get mad when some weird siren starts going off inside the airport, or there’s an announcement over the speakers that Sarah left her shoes at security and she needs to come and collect them. I’m incredibly grateful to have somewhere to play my acoustic music and more often than not, I get so many super-sweet people come up and tell me how much they enjoyed it, which really means a lot to me.
The weird and ironic thing about all of this, is that when I’m playing as a side-musician, I LOVE the buzz of a packed room. Being afraid doesn’t even enter my mind. I’m always itching to get up there and play. I don’t mind at all that people are staring in my general direction, in fact, the moment I walk on-stage this wonderful calming energy comes over me and I know with 100% of my being that this is EXACTLY what I am meant to be doing. These are the moments I live for and they are the reason I do what I do.
And so, to go back to that guy’s statement from earlier; ‘what a total waste of your talent’, I say this;
I don’t think it’s a waste at all. I’m being true to myself and doing exactly what makes me feel good. I believe that whenever we play music, we put energy out into the world that has an immediate effect on the people around us. Whatever I feel, you’re going to feel it too. If I’m uncomfortable or fearful, that’s exactly what I’m going to project. But if I’m relaxed and happy to be playing, whether you believe in all this tree-huggin-hippy-crap or not, you’re going to sense that, without even realising it. For an awkward, introverted soul like my good self, it’s wonderful to have somewhere like the airport to play and I don’t ever take it for granted.
Business folk and weary travellers can come and hang out in a space that is energetically controlled by me, and for the 2 hours I’m playing, I try to make it as relaxed and welcoming as I possibly can. Time and again I’ve seen people wander in from various gates, grateful for the comfortable hang spot while they wait for their flight. It’s a nice feeling to know you’ve created that doing what you love.
If someone goes away from one of my airport gigs feeling inspired, calm or super happy, then I’ve done exactly what I set out to do, which to me is far from being a waste of my talent. In fact, venues like the airport are exactly where my talent is able to shine.
Who knows – maybe in 5 or 10 years time I’ll be touring solo again, doing the exact opposite of an airport gig. But for right now, I’m more than happy with what I’ve got 🙂
❤ ❤ ❤