How I Messed Up During Rehearsal For My Concert

I have a 1962 Harmony Stratotone electric guitar. And I found out — at the worst possible time — that it sounds terrible.

Harmony Stratotone 1962

This is a guitar that my dad found in the trash — it was in a foreclosed house his realty company had just bought. When I plugged it in to my amp, I was shocked that it actually worked.

I use the term “worked” lightly.

Last year, some friends and I played a bunch of shows to raise money for my wife’s and my adoption fund (we’ve since adopted!).

But during one of those shows, I play this electric guitar, plugged into a Fender amp.

We started playing my song “Lunch Money,” but after a few bars, it was obvious something was way out of tune.

Something was terribly off.

That’s when, in the middle of the chorus, I realized the problem was my trash-to-treasure guitar. Apparently, it was still trash.

I stopped the song, quickly switched to my acoustic guitar, and started the song over. If I couldn’t bear to listen to it, neither could the audience.

(Fortunately, it was in a bar where not many people were paying much attention).

But my mistake started much earlier than this concert. It started during rehearsal.

You see, if I had practiced the right way, I would’ve realized, “Oh, crap, this guitar’s intonation is awful and I should borrow someone else’s.”

I learned that I should practice exactly the way I plan to play the concert. This means I should use the exact instruments, the same stage setup, and a similar amount of energy that I will during the show.

(I’ve read how many artists even plan out what they’ll say in between songs — the friendly banter they’ll have with the crowd or what they’ll say about their merch table).

So this is the lesson to take from this story: always practice exactly how you will play the concert.

Or else.

Play Each Concert For The 1%

I once played a gig with an attendance of about 100 people. Doesn’t sound bad, but 99% of the people seemed like they didn’t care.

Live music
Sometimes concert attendance will feel like this

You see, me and my band were the musical entertainment before a non-music event. So the people weren’t there to see us.

It felt like the seats were empty because, after each song, nobody clapped. It was so weird and awkward.

Just silence.

Actually, I shouldn’t say nobody clapped — the soundman did.

He was the 1% that actually mattered.

And that 1% is what I should’ve been concerned about the whole time. Every concert I play should be for the 1%.

Let me explain: the 1% are the people that actually care. The people that honestly enjoy your music.

Even if it’s just one person out of a hundred, the concert will have been worth entertaining that individual.

I’ll perform through awkward silences if it means only one person enjoyed it. It’s all about connecting with one person at a time.

And it turned out that this soundman wanted me to play for some festivals that he runs. So the event ended on a high note.

You never know who’s listening, so play each show for the 1% — for that one person who cares.

Andrew Bird’s First Solo Concert Was An Accident

Andrew Bird said his first solo gig was an accident. Fortunately for us, we can learn from this.

Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird (photo via Philadelphia Magazine)

Bird was in a band called Bowl of Fire, which had a nice run, but he disbanded it in 2003. In an interview with the Cleveland Scene, Bird talked about this first concert on his own.

“The first show I did solo was totally accidental,” he said. “It was only because I couldn’t get the band together, and I didn’t want to give up the gig.”

He had been experimenting with looping his instruments, but he wasn’t sure if looping would work at a live show.

“I thought no one would buy it,” he said of the looping. “Something about that high wire act and trying to do that on stage turned it into a different performance experience. Having to pull out of nosedives on stage and talk your way out of it was risking more.”

With this first gig, he took a chance. He improvised.

And it paid off for him.

“A couple of years into the solo thing, people were showing up more than I ever expected,” he said. “There was an initial insecurity, but after that I enjoyed packing up my Honda Element with amps and doing it all myself.”

When you’re faced with something outside of your norm, outside of your comfort zone, try improvising. Try taking a chance.

It just might pay off for you.

I Will Never Play At This Venue Again (For Real)

I once played a show at a certain venue. And I will never play there again. Here’s what happened…

Caleb J. Murphy music
Not the gig at Cap’n Crunch Cafe

For the sake of the venue, I’m not going to use its real name — I’ll call it the Cap’n Crunch Cafe. I’m also not going to say what city it’s in and I’m going to change the name of the venue manager to Daniel.

Now usually, coffee shops don’t/can’t pay artists, but rather encourage them to sell merchandise and collect emails for their newsletter.

I understand this. And I knew before the Cap’n Crunch Cafe gig that I wouldn’t be getting paid. That was fine.

But because coffee shops often don’t pay, they always — in my experience — give you a free drink.

So, before the show, while the place was still pretty empty, I went up to the barista and asked if my bandmates and I could each get a free drink.

“Uh,” the barista hesitated. “I can give you like $0.25 off.”

“Oh,” I said.

Sort of a letdown, but I placed my order and got ready for the show.

Strike one, Cap’n Crunch. 

By the time we were ready to start, there were nearly 100 people in that cafe, which is way more than that place got on any regular evening.

It was packed.

RELATED: Play Each Concert For The 1%

So we did our first set and it was really fun.

Then after the first set, we took a quick break. So I went over to the barista to grab my drink.

As I was getting ready to pay, he said, “No, man. No charge. I should be paying you for bringing all these people in.”

I took my free drink and we went back up to play our second set.

Now, the verbal agreement I had with the venue manager was that we would play for two hours. We played for a total of 1 hour and about 35 minutes, with a five-minute break in between sets.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal since we weren’t getting paid and we brought in a lot of paying customers. I honestly didn’t think anything of it.

But … several minutes after we said goodbye and thank you to the crowd, my bassist came up to me.

He said the manager was in the back complaining we hadn’t played for the full two hours, saying, “When I say two hours, I mean two hours.”

Yes, it wasn’t a full two hours like we had planned.

But if Daniel wasn’t happy about that, he could’ve come up to me and said something professional like, “Would you be able to keep the music going? You guys ended a little early.”

Totally fine with that.

It was not so much the request, it was the snarky way in which the request was conveyed.

Strike two, Cap’n.

So we went back up on stage to jam for the next 20 minutes or so.

But in the middle of a song, I looked over and there was Daniel, stage right.

He was making a cutting motion across his neck with his hand.

“You done?” he lipped.

Me and my bassist exchanged a glance, like I guess we’re done now. Apparently, our two hours were up.

Cutting us off mid-song was unprofessional, unnecessary, and made me feel like Daniel didn’t really appreciate us being there.

Strike three, Cap’n Crunch Cafe. 

So we cut the song short and said our second goodbyes and thank yous to the crowd.

And those were my last goodbyes and thank yous to any crowd in that venue.

Takeaway point: if you’re a musician and a venue treats you like this, just move on. Find venues that treat you professionally, whether they’re paying you or not.