• Phil McDonald

Dealing with failure

Picture the scene - You're on the stage, ready to go. It's a gig you've wanted for ages, a really good venue although tonight its a bit quieter than normal. That's probably because the band that was supposed to be playing had to cancel but kindly recommended you for the gig. No matter, you're on stage, all set and the drummer counts you in. You play the first song through and at the end, wait for the audience reaction. Silence, you could hear a pin drop. Then a bloke at the bar shouts, "Sh*te!" Panicked looks on your bandmates faces, how did this happen? You play through the rest of the set but the confidence has gone, you're playing as five individuals rather than a tight unit and all of you can't wait to get out of there. Any thoughts of repeat bookings are banished. No chance they'd want you back. A nightmare gig and a total failure.


This really happened to me a few years ago. It's not a situation I'd want to repeat and one I'll probably never forget. So what do you do in situations like this? Do you hang up your guitar, burn all your lyrics and vow never to play again? Of course not. So what do you do? How do you deal with failure? There's a few steps you have to take to help you if you find yourself in a failure situation. Stop. Understand. Move on. Let me explain.


Stop. Evaluate the situation. A bad reaction to your song isn't the end of the world. Ok, so it's not great but we still had the whole gig in front of us. We should have shrugged our shoulders and carried on as professionally as possible. The chances are the audience would have warmed to us, especially after a few more pints. So in a situation like this, the key thing is to take stock, and not go to pieces. Like we did.


Understand - why did we get the reaction we did? To this day we'll never know for sure but we can rule out a couple of things. Were we playing badly? No. We were well rehearsed and tight as a unit. Was the material right for the venue? Absolutely, we played rock covers with a few original tracks for good measure. The same setlist had gone down well at other, similar venues so that wasn't the problem. With the benefit of hindsight, I think a few factors worked against us. Firstly, we were a replacement act booked at short notice so some people at the venue were expecting to see a different band. Secondly, the bloke who offered his honest opinion was probably having a bad day, had a few too many and on any other day probably wouldn't have said anything. Lastly, we probably should have turned everything down a bit to account for the smaller than anticipated audience. As the venue got busier we could have cranked the volume up then.


Move on - these things happen. Instead of worrying about it we should have put it down to experience and got on with it. We did allow the situation to knock our confidence somewhat, having never had a bad reaction before. There was no one thing that caused it, that would be easy to put right, instead, you have to accept that things will go wrong from time to time. For everyone. Put it behind you can look forward to the next gig. Being a working musician isn't always easy, it's often quite hard and when things to go awry you have to deal with it. By using the above method you can get past setbacks and get on with doing what you do best.


For the record, we did get rebooked at that venue and played some cracking gigs there over the following months. Has anything like this every happened to you? How did you deal with it?


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