Why you gotta play live – by Neelesh Vasister

Neelesh Vasister

November November, a transitional month by all means. Summer is dead and buried, the shorter days are still somewhat of a depressing novelty and Christmas silently speeds towards us like an unstoppable festive torpedo. It can be tempting to flip off the word, finally yield to Netflix’s free trial and spend the Winter in deep social hibernation. With this in mind, I dedicate this week’s blog to an issue concerning musicians of all standards – getting out of the bedroom and playing live.

I read somewhere that art lies somewhere between narcissism and crippling self-doubt. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than when courage outweighs insecurity and you finally take your skills to the stage. As crucial as cold, sober practice is, live performance is the other side of the same coin. For beginners it can be seriously daunting. Is it scary? Absolutely. Will I suck? Of course you will. Initially. The important thing is however, that you simply get out there. Not just because it’s an adrenaline high on par with sex or finishing a marathon, but also because it’s the only real way to work up your confidence and develop your onstage persona.

It’s probably best to compare this to language learning. As productive as word-repetition exercises may feel at the time, it all means very little until you take your language skills ‘to the streets’ and learn by both immersion and brutal trial and error.

Reluctance to play live is by no means a problem only concerning newbies. I went to music school a couple of years ago after succumbing to parental pressure to do something concrete towards my career choice. I was lucky enough to be placed in the fast-track class surrounded by some intimidatingly good guitarists from the world over. It’s a shame then, that the majority of them never utilised the opportunity to go out and take their highly-developed skills out of the house. Bear in mind this was in London, a city blessed with multiple jam nights every day of the week. ‘Bedroom musician’ is now in the age of home-recording and youtube perhaps not the pejorative it once was, but in my school they were easy to spot. In our weekly performance classes they could be found anchored to the spot, eyes glued to the fretboard with no discernible stage-presence whatsoever. Phenomenal guitarists, diligent students, but painful to watch even in a simulated live environment.

A gig is worth a hundred rehearsals. That’s an adage I’ve heard thrown around various rehearsal rooms. I can personally vouch for this – it’s absolutely true. Licks and runs I’d practiced for hours at home would suddenly turn to mulch in front of a live, breathing audience. I acknowledge that and play all the more to compensate for it. I try to take some inspiration from Slash. Even on a gruelling stadium tour he would actively seek out jam sessions between gigs, regardless of which city he was in. That’s dedication to the art of performance right there. Few people are so hardcore, but those who make a dedicated effort to play live as much as possible will rapidly improve in all areas.

There will always be a hundred reasons not to get your ass out there and play live, but do yourself a favour and jump into the deep end. It’s the only way to learn to float.

Article by Neelesh Vasister, guitarist with The Wild Circus.

Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a 'recovering musician', he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.

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