Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - March 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gig Entropy: Playing Live Is Always a Compromise

Unless you're playing with Sting or some such.

Your sound will never be "right" live.  You'll always be fighting something.

You will be too loud on some songs, too soft on others.   Some solos will feel like you've got enough gain, other's not enough, then you'll end up with too much.

Maybe your amp will be in a weird place, and you'll have to step around something delicate to get to it.  Your cable will keep wanting to get caught on a nail on the stage.  You wore the wrong shirt, and it keeps interfering with your picking hand.

Suddenly midway through a set the singer's monitor is blowing you away.   Or it starts ringing.   The cymbals are piercing.   Or you can't hear the bass player who cues you on a part in a song.

Maybe people are dancing too close to the front of the stage, and now and then they bump into your pedal board.  Maybe a fight breaks out between a pair of Ultimate Fighting Champs, and somehow a 150 lbs. wooden table lands on your wah pedal.    Maybe the neat "rain" stage effect that is supposed to blow away from the stage starts blowing onto your guitar and gear.

The venue you're at likes the temperature to remain a steady 65 degrees.  Which makes it closer to 60 at times, and your fingers don't want to work right.

Or you've got to walk on stage during a song to get ready for your part in said song, and your guitar has gone out of tune.    Or the weather is constantly changing, and your guitar doesn't want to stay in tune at all.

Somehow, the set list changes and a song is counted off that is 10 patches away on your pedal board, meaning you've got to figure out how to make the song work with a completely foreign sound.   Somehow, the band decided to change the key of a song at the last moment and you practiced it in a different key (with different fingerings/chord voicings).   Somehow,  a song has been added to the list that you haven't played in months.

I've only recently come to terms with this phenomenon:

gig entropy.

I'm a notorious perfectionist. That doesn't work in reality, which I've always known.  The trick, I think, is to alter what "perfect" is.  Having a proclivity for perfectionism has a more evolved meaning for me now.  It now includes the pragmatic expectation for "disaster", AND the reality of knowing one can't absolutely prepare for it.

Which is aggravating, but mentally more freeing.

I have not played as well as I would like because of the above mentioned annoyances/problems.  I couldn't realistically have prepared for them, and wasting mental energy doing so is actually a less "perfectionistic" approach to a gig.  Learning not to have expectations is a bizarre mindset, but one that actually makes sense in that unless you think in a generally vague way (I don't), you'll NEVER meet your own expectations.  Thereby short-circuiting the possibility of a "positive" outcome.

You aim for "good", and try not to think beyond that.  Very difficult, but makes for a better mindset - as opposed to "frozen with possibility, good and bad".