I go to a local open mic night every Wednesday (you probably already know that). I do it religiously. Every time I go, just before going on stage, there is a feeling of dread that overcomes me. I love writing songs. Performing is something I love to do. So why the dread? Because songwriters tend to measure themselves against other songwriters. This is wrong. Its precisely this that made me ask myself “Why do you do this?”.
Why do you do this? If you’re going to be a songwriter you need to do it for all the right reasons. If you want to perform then you definitely must be doing it for all the right reasons. Doing it for the right reasons is what builds confidence. Without confidence you will always be sub-par.
The reasons you write and perform matter. If you aren’t doing it for the joy you get from it then you will never be good at it. The same applies to any endeavor, really. I know that there are some people out there who do it for the money. Some do it for fame. Some for women. Some for drugs and some for all the above reasons. These people aren’t songwriters. And they aren’t any good no matter what the critics say.
You can perform horribly and write the ugliest songs yet still be a good songwriter. If you are doing it for money or any other superficial reason then you are not a good songwriter no matter how many people sing along to your song or how many groupies or mansions you have.
I do it because I love it. Like Michael Jordan played basketball for the love of the game (his book is good). My songs are okay. They aren’t bad. But they aren’t top 40 either. In comparison to others who play on Wednesday nights I might be below average. But I’m a good songwriter. Because I put myself into my songs. Each time I put pen to paper and fingers to frets I am creating something that is and always will be a part of me.
I have confidence as a songwriter. I have confidence because when I go up on any stage and perform its not me playing. Its something larger than myself. Its metaphysical is what it is. Its an aura, some sort of energy that takes over for me. While I’m on a stage I am not on this earth.
There are a few things that can kill that sort of moment though. Thinking about the crowd; their reaction, wondering if they like you etc. will kill your performance and keep you from really touching the music. If you try to be as good or better than another performer then you will never feel the kind of joy I feel when I’m on a stage.
I am guilty of these things. I commit the deadly songwriting sins from time to time. I start thinking that the guy who came before me was better and how am I going to follow him up. I look out into the crowd and see people whispering to each other and I swear to myself they’re whispering to each other about how much I suck. Sometimes I concentrate on my playing too much. Yes, you can concentrate on your playing too much.
If you’re a songwriter you should be practicing your songs before you get to the stage. They should be second nature to you. Of course mistakes will be made, lines will be forgotten, and sometimes it just takes a long time to memorize your own lyrics.
When you get up on that stage you should think about the song. Not the notes and not the words, but the song. The song is the emotion, the part of you that you lend to those notes, chords, and lyrics. Without a piece of you Beethoven played in perfect time by the best orchestra in the universe will sound like shit. The song is you and you are the song.
If you can concentrate on the piece of you that was put into the song and feed off of that as you perform, you will undoubtedly have an incredible performance. But if you write and perform for the wrong reasons then your songs have no life and will ultimately suck no matter how good your technique or well you stuck to [music] theory.
Tomorrow I am going to perform at the Ashbary around 9:30. I won’t be the best player or have the best songs, but my performance will be amazing.