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Simon Woods: Shy Musicians

Sounding Off By Simon Woods
Published November 2011

Live performance is all well and good for the young and fearless, but not all hobbyists are made that way...

In August's edition of Sound On Sound, I read an excellent Leader by Editor in Chief Paul White, on the strong case for playing your latest composition to a live audience.

By the end of the article, my palms were sweaty and my blood pressure was up. Not because I was annoyed — the advice was very good — but more at the prospect of playing my composition in front of a live audience. Paul asserted that "it doesn't hurt to test your performance abilities and your material in front of real people.” Well, I say it does! There are many reasons why some of us in the world of DAWs and bedroom studios don't choose to play live, and I'm going to tell you mine!

Reason number one is fairly obvious. A friend of mine once said there was only one reason he didn't make the grade as a professional footballer: total lack of ability. I'm not suggesting I have no musical skills, but not enough to carry off a live performance. In the studio, within my DAW and in my fantasies, my guitar playing is of the six-fingered style favoured by the likes of Pat Metheny. My keyboard solos reach speeds that would make Rick Wakeman hang up his cape. My drumming ... well, you get the picture. Even setting aside my limited ability, there are tricks that make some compositions impossible to play live, short of growing extra fingers or hiring a crack team of session musicians.

Reason number two: I'm no spring chicken. Who wants to listen to a 51 year-old bald bloke trot out a few tunes? Unless I'm mistaken, there hasn't been a huge change in the music market recently, and Justin Bieber is not older than he looks. There just isn't any interest in nerdy old studio blokes' songs, except from long-suffering wives and partners, who can readily hear the recorded versions, as opposed to live.

Reason number three: this is my composition, it's my baby and I like it. If you don't like it, well, that's tough. I make music not because I want to make huge amounts of money from it. I do it because I enjoy the process of composition, the construction of the tune, and the recording. The composition is the end in itself, and when it's complete there's a sense of disappointment that's only alleviated by the excitement of starting the next one — which, of course, will be better.

Reason number four: I don't have the time. I'm a happy amateur, and this is my hobby. I have a very sensible job that takes a lot of time, but earns me enough to buy the gear featured in Sound On Sound. I often compose and record late at night when the day's work is done. It's my relaxation. Why turn it into a source of stress with a live performance?

Reason number five is probably the major reason for a lack of live performance: stage fright! I'm not talking about the sort of stage fright that the great, the good and the successful talk about. You know the type — the star who says "I suffer from dreadful stage fright” and then goes on stage to give an amazing performance, loving every second of it.

No, I'm talking about the sort of fear that prevents your fingers from functioning, your mouth from emitting sound and your legs from doing their normal job of supporting your weight. I've played in front of real people, and I can remember looking at my left hand, thinking that it really shouldn't be making that E-chord shape any more, it really should have moved onto A-minor or possibly that D that I was sure occurred three bars ago. Forget about D9(b5)/F#! No, my fingers weren't going there at all. That hand was just frozen on E, and no-one really likes songs consisting of one chord strummed for three minutes! If I did manage to stay on my feet for long enough, that piece rehearsed privately with such serenity and grace went from a beautiful Miles Davis jazz tune to an Einstürzende Neubauten piece, complete with realistic drill and other industrial noises. The temptation to speed up, thrash it out or just 'get it over with' has ruined many a wonderful musical moment for me.

So in conclusion I would like to say: please let us studio nerds stay where we feel comfortable and safe, in the studio!

About The Author

Simon Woods is a deputy head teacher and a self-confessed studio nerd. He has played live and has frozen on stage but has never actually fallen over.

Published November 2011