Often when I’m performing in public, someone, usually a guy, will come up and want to show me that they also know how to play guitar. “Hey can I play you a song, bro?” or “Hey man, I want to show you something”. In my experience, if you hand over your guitar, you have to listen to 5-10 minutes of amateur crap, often while wondering “Is this crazy idiot going to run off with my guitar?” So, I’ve just started telling them “Sorry, it’s bad luck to let someone you don’t know play your guitar.”
I’ve never had a real musician want to impress me with something they can do. This is because real musicians never feel the need to prove to some random stranger that they’re musicians. They already practiced today. They already performed somewhere recently. They know what’s involved with performing in public and would never dream of crashing someone else’s gig. It’s the wannabes who get all excited and want to show you what they can do. They see you doing what you love and they want to steal some of that mojo for themselves.
Last night, I was performing at a bar and this drunk old guy came up waving a pick and asking if he could sing two songs. I told him no. He said “It’s my birthday”. I told him “Happy Birthday”. After the show was over, he articulated what I’ve always suspected is going through a guy’s mind when he tries to crash your gig:
“I saw you up there looking all cool and with all these hot girls in the audience looking at you, and I said to myself ‘I want to get in on this action’ “
Yes, it feels cool to be on stage, especially when there are hot girls in the audience. But what you don’t see is all the work involved in putting that show together. You don’t see the time I took to make friends with the owner and get his permission to play. You see the people in the audience, but you don’t see the time I took to go out and meet those people, add them to my mailing list, and then get them to actually show up. You don’t see the last 5 years I’ve spent practicing every day, and the time it takes me to write one song. You just see me having fun and looking cool and you want to jump on the bandwagon.
Well I’m sorry, but no, you can’t jump on my bandwagon. Go get your own damn bandwagon. I built this bandwagon, from scratch, over many years.
And furthermore, this is my job. Yeah, I love it, but it’s still a job. I don’t come into where you work and say “Hey, are you using Excel, man? I know how to use Excel, too! Check this out!”
I sympathize with these wannabes to some extent because I used to be one. Before I got serious about music, I would see someone playing and I would get the urge to show off my own meager musical ability, although I was never bold enough or drunk enough to try to crash someone else’s gig. After years of taking lessons and playing in subways, bars, and bus stops, I don’t get this urge anymore. I know that being a musician is a job, not a party.
It’s not as glamorous as it looks on the good nights, and the pay is shit. But if you want a job as a musician, you can get one. Buy a metronome, take lessons, practice every day, and start going to open mic nights or playing on the subway, in the park, or at the bus-stop. There are open-mic nights in every city (yes, even Puerto Vallarta) where you can satisfy your urge to sing in front of people. But don’t just show up drunk at my gig and ask if you can play. This is my gig, and I worked hard to get it. Get your own gig, your own guitar, and your own fans.