As I write this, I am about to start the second in a series of five gigs this weekend. I’ve got about ten minutes to start time, and I thought I’d write a little bit about a particular night many years ago that brought me to the point to where I am today. In fact, if it weren’t for that night, I might not be here this morning for gig number two.
Let’s go back three decades to an Italian restaurant/club called Lorenzo’s. I’m a young energetic drummer, and I’m playing a nice cushy job six nights a week. The gig lasted over three years (we should all have such gigs!), so I actually moved into the apartments next door so I could just walk to and from the place.
As time went on, the group (a trio by the way: keyboards, bass, and drums) settled into the gig. The best part of a gig like this is the absence of equipment setup; the drums are there waiting for me every night.
And so we do the gig.
Set after set, night after night, month after month, and then year after year.
Did you ever hear of the saying that familiarity breeds contempt? Well it also breeds boredom. I think any job, even in music, can get tedious and tiresome, and it requires an extra effort to keep things to a professional level after so long.
Being the young fool I was, I soon fell into the easy way of caring less and less, even though I was getting a check every week. And it wasn’t just me – the other two guys started getting sloppy too. Occasionally the keyboardist would get a little tipsy as well.
And so we plodded on into mediocrity.
One night on this sea of doldrums, I had a revelation. What if I weren’t at Lorenzo’s. What if I were somewhere else? Would I be playing differently? Would I feel and think differently?
So I placed myself mentally somewhere else. I told myself, “James, you are not in Lorenzo’s. You are in a recording studio, and the songs you are now playing are actually tracks you are laying down.” Here’s one thing about recording:
IT IS MEANT TO BE PLAYED BACK!
Most of what we play, whether in practice, performance, or gigs, is of the moment. The notes are played, they go into the air, and disappear.
In a recording situation, when you know that what you are playing will soon be analyzed and critiqued for time, feel, dynamics, phrasing, and overall musicality, believe me that is a different mindset. What you play does not just go into the air and disappear.
So I began to play in Lorenzo’s restaurant as if it were Lorenzo’s Recording Studio.
What do you think happened? I was aware of how sloppy I had been playing, so my playing sharpened up considerably. The gratuitous fills disappeared. Every note began to count. Whatever song we played that set (and it didn’t matter if I “liked” that song or not), I tried to make that song come alive.
Then something else happened: the other guys began to sharpen their playing! I had not told them a word about my little experiment, but it was obvious they had picked up on my new attitude. The band began to sound more professional. We were tighter.
That night at Lorenzo’s, even though many years ago, changed the way I look at my playing. I became aware of how important mental attitude is. Your attitude colors how you play and how others react to you. I may not have fully realized it then, but I had taken a substantial step toward professionalism.
How about you? Could you put the same experiment to work and see what happens?
I guarantee nothing but good things will come as a result. Try it, and please let me know how it went, either by contacting me or leaving a comment below. I’m sincerely interested to know your thoughts and feelings.