“How will I know when I’m Ready?” One of my guitar class sophomores asked. The guest was Nick Stump of the Metropolitan Blues Allstars, one of the best Blues guitar players I’ve ever seen in person and I’ve been to more than a few concerts. The question seemed to puzzle him at first.
“Ready? Ready for what?”
“Ready to play out in public.”
“Oh good lord, son, if I waited until I was ready I’d still be in my kitchen!”
The truth is we’re all still improving, always striving to be better. Nobody ever reaches some lofty pinnacle where there is nothing else to learn. But at what point is it good enough to let other people hear?
The concept of performance is odd to begin with; one person gets “on stage” that is separates themselves from the rest of the crowd while the rest of the crowd watches them. How we select the person is sort of a mass cultural decision. Most people assume that if a person is on stage that they’ve gone through some sort of screening process conducted by authorities who are Knowledgable about stage work, but it ain’t necessarily so. Mostly it’s a decision on the part of the performer. Some stages are harder to get on than others, but few actually shanghai performers, so that’s the key; deciding you want to perform. Choosing the venue is important too. The Carnegie Hall is probably a bad place to start even if you do have connections. If nothing else, the next gig will be a sharp step down. Avoid places you know to be overly critical. Even off the internet, some people love to hate! There are plenty of friendly stages. Go see some shows and watch how the crowd reacts to the occasional bad performance.
When you decide to play a venue for the first time, you want to be prepared of course. Make sure you can get through your piece without stopping. Timing is far more crucial than intonation. While it is often acceptable to only get recognizably close to the notes, changing tempo and skipping beats will put the most forgiving audience on edge.
What other elements can you offer? Is there a funny story that introduces your song? Can you wear clothing that is neat/colorful/goes with your act? Can you relate emotionally to your song in a way that will convey this to the audience? Being on stage means entertaining, not being a virtuoso. Do the best you can to engage the audience and you will have done your job. Be careful; it can be addicting!