What a Waste of Talent.

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. πŸ˜‰

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. ShouldΒ  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 πŸ˜‰

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 boyfriendyeah no. Definitely not going to work.
Keeping a 9-5 jobheeeeeee-yall no.
Trying to be super girlyzero chance of that happening.
Being excited about going to schoolerm, seriously?
Attempting to be coolI’m definitely NOT cool, super awkward, self conscious and nerdy – yes. Cool, not so much.Β 
Pretending I’m not introvertedlol, 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.

Fear.

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.Β  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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ™‚

❀ ❀ ❀

Published by

Katie Marie

Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. Originally from the UK, now living in lovely Austin TX.

20 thoughts on “What a Waste of Talent.

  1. This really resonated with me. As a Libra, introvert, and beginning songwriter I struggle with that very same fear. Performance anxiety is particularly frustrating for me because I am a professor and in front of crowds all the time with no problem. I have also had the same experience as you when I played my songs in a busy coffee shop (best solo performance). Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts Beth – very much appreciated! πŸ™‚ ❀

      Like

  2. I think you’re incredibly brave to even play background!! As an introvert, I can’t imagine playing to a crowd, any crowd. My stomach had flutters just reading your experience. Follow your bliss and keep being true to the one that matters most. Thanks for sharing this. It’s beautiful and relatable. I get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Sandra! Appreciate your thoughts and you taking the time to read my post πŸ™‚ ❀

      Like

  3. Katie,
    Your wonderfully phrased article articulates the exact same way I feel about performing solo, and why that is so. Thank you for putting (y)our feelings down on paper so eloquently. πŸ™‚

    Perhaps another way to think about the comment made is that the person meant well, in that he had listened intently to you and wanted others to have the same experience he just had. But, I agree with your assessment 100%.

    Glenn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha!! You’re so welcome Glenn πŸ™‚ It makes me feel better to know others feel the same way, thank you so much for your thoughts! Much appreciated πŸ™‚

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  4. I’ve been told the very same sentence many times over. I had a professional career as a singer for a few years. I chose not to take that path as I found it turned into a job, and the fun drained out of it. So I stopped. Now I love to sing in my bedroom, full blast, in my Pjs. I let go, and heal, and get thru difficult emotions.
    Many friends, family and strangers have said I’m wasting my talent, so I tried recording. And as you must know yourself Katie, that’s a totally different experience. Your eyes under the microscope and you can hear every slight mistake as it cuts thru the air. I felt like I wasn’t any good, not good enough for sharing. So now I avoid that too.
    Maybe singing will be a fun way to earn money again some time, but for now, I’m happy. So sod um! Haha xx

    Thank you for sharing, it reinforces my own feelings x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Waw, thank you so much for sharing that Naomi – when I posted this I honestly didn’t think many people felt the way I did, obviously I was wrong! Which in turns makes me feel much better πŸ˜‰ I’m happy you are doing exactly what makes you feel comfortable, that’s always the right thing to do! Thank you for taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts, much appreciated πŸ™‚

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  5. Great story! You sound like your pretty clear about playing and creating on your own terms. Good for You! Going to be flying on a couple trips this year and hope we stumble on to one of the airport gigs. Welcome back from Talum. My favorite spot is in Akumal. Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post, hopefully we’ll meet at the airport (or somewhere else!!) one day πŸ˜‰ Happy travels!! πŸ™‚

      Like

  6. Thank you so much for this, Katie, it’s been a really interesting read. I’ve had bouts of the fear – for one bad year I had it at every gig I did – and it’s not one little bit fun. It’s wonderful that you’ve found a way to avoid the situations that trigger it while still being able to perform and to bring such joy to others. Please keep doing what you do. Xxoo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really appreciate you sharing this Sarah ❀ ❀ Like I said on FB, I always REALLY enjoy seeing / hearing you play live and come away feeling super inspired – so I'm extremely grateful you do what you do! πŸ™‚

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  7. Thank you for sharing. But don’t you think it is time you did something about your fears? Of course, I do not know whether you have tried already, but I believe that you should “convince” yourself that you are so capable of doing great stuff that you can be proud of. Nobody expects you to be perfect, it is human to make mistakes. But you should people get a chance of truly realising what things you can do that you love. Just my thoughts – I really don’t know you, but it grieves me to read that you are so awkward of yourself although you have so much talent, love and dedication to the things you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there! Thank you so much for not only taking the time to read my post, but sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated πŸ™‚

      I guess the question I was throwing out to everyone is this:

      What is a waste of talent?

      and

      When is it right or wrong to follow a certain path?

      There’s so much of what you wrote that I totally agree with. Believe me when I tell you, I tried a lot of different things, therapy, meditation, medication and everything in between – and the only time I felt as though playing solo was manageable was in a background / low pressure situation. I feel happy. I genuinely enjoy playing. As mentioned in my post, if I was faced with a ‘real’ show, with a room full of people starting at me, I would be terrified the whole time and not enjoy it at all. I have played hundreds of shows in this setting and found almost all of them very uncomfortable.

      I guess I came to the conclusion that it took too much of a toll on my body and soul and I need to just do what ever makes ME happy, which in turn will make others happy too….and playing these type of shows makes me very happy indeed.

      I still do lots of shows as a side musician and love that.

      I guess some people are just not meant to stand in the centre, they’re better off standing to the side a little, where they can shine from there instead πŸ˜‰

      Thanks again for your thoughts, really appreciate it!

      Like

  8. “What is a waste of talent? and When is it right or wrong to follow a certain path?”
    Of course this is no waste of talent – and in my opinion there is no “right” or “wrong” way. The most important thing is that you are happy with what your are doing.
    You’re post made think otherwise – but obviously, I was wrong. If you are happy with where you are then you are in the right place πŸ™‚
    On the other hand, thanks to your recommendation I’ve read The Art of Practicing by Bruser – and this was an eye opener especially for playing live and in front of an audience. Perhaps you should revisit it? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha!! Very good point, maybe I should re-read it πŸ˜‰ It’s a wonderful book, one of those life changers ❀

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  9. I love your post and it’s great that you have discovered what makes you happy. Too often people feel that they have to fit in with what others expect and never get to that point in life. I saw the Wild Ponies a couple of years ago when they were touring in England and it came across that not only were you good at what you do but also that you were enjoying yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for your thoughts and kind words ❀ Adore Doug and Telisha and always love playing music with them!

      Like

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