Many aspiring musicians dream about selling out concert halls and singing in front of huge crowds but in most cases performers’ beginnings are a lot humbler. I think most artists choose this frightening, insecure and often demoralizing path not because they dream of getting rich but because they want to share their art with as many people as possible and connect with their audience.
We perform because we just can’t bring ourselves to do something else and we put all of our energy and time into creating what we want to share with the world. For me making my music heard has always been a top priority but I know from experience that it’s not easy to do. I couldn’t always find venues to perform in, I was scared I wouldn’t sell enough tickets if I did get a gig, I was worried that I wouldn’t have the right equipment and so on.
Instead of moving back and forth from one pub to another at home, I decided to expand my horizons a bit and take my music on the road so that more people could hear it and I would have more options in terms of venues, concerts and schedule.
I’ve always loved travelling and I get many great ideas for new lyrics, styles and melodies from new experiences, cool people and unique locations always get my creative juices flowing. So I figured I’d make my very own tour and figure things out as I go, live on a shoestring budget and just have fun with my music while travelling and performing wherever and whenever I could for a quick buck. Hey, it worked for DubFX and Ed Sheeran, why not me?
I realized that I was going to have to carry my guitar around with me everywhere I went so I decided to pack light in order to be able to haul everything from one place to another easily. I only made two major investments before I left and I don’t regret either of them because they saved me and my guitar more times than I can count.
First, I bought a good quality backpack so I could keep everything in one place and make sure my clothes and electronics don’t get wet if the weather takes a turn for the worse while I’m on the road. I had my phone charger and my tuner in my backpack so I wanted to be on the safe side and I was glad that I made that decision several times since I got caught in the rain while trying to hitchhike more than once. By the way, I don’t recommend that you hitchhike, it’s just not safe, but I’ve found myself in dire situations a few times so I had to do it.
The second and probably most important thing I bought for the trip was a guitar case that looked like it could take a beating. Seriously, I bought a pretty sturdy flight case just to be sure that nothing happens to my instrument. Looking back at my travels I think that I would have crashed, scratched, broken and bent that guitar a hundred times if I hadn’t bought the case so it was money well spent. It took me a few days to get used to carrying it around all the time, I was used to keeping my guitar on my back so having a case in my hand all the time was new.
At first I thought it was going to be a pain to travel with it but I adjusted in no time and the first time I hit it pretty hard on a rail by accident I was so glad nothing happened to my guitar that I wanted to kiss myself for having the brilliant idea to get it.
The thing with travelling is that you just can’t predict what’s going to happen next so protecting your instrument is vital, especially if you’re depending on it to make money for your next meal. If you’re thinking of going on the road and performing like I did the most important piece of advice that I can give you is to make sure your equipment is safely packed. My guitar travelled a lot better than I did but it was worth the effort.
When I got on the road I decided that I wasn’t going to be picky about anything and that I was going to focus on what truly mattered: performing. I played on the streets, in pubs and at open mic nights, basically anywhere they would let me.
Looking back, I think the toughest place to perform is on the street because it’s harder to grab people’s attention when they’re busy with their own problems but once you manage to gather a crowd, even a small one, it’s one of the greatest feelings a performer can experience.
It’s also a great lesson in humility and a reminder of how hard you need to work for every single note you play because if you’re not trying hard enough or you’re tired or you lose heart, people will notice.
I think going outside of your comfort zone and playing in new places for new crowds is a great character building experience for any artist, it definitely was for me. I had to learn how to deal with rejection up close when people ignored me or walked away and not take it personally. But it also taught me to be grateful for every pub owner that let me sing on his stage, every dollar somebody put in my guitar case and every stranger that bought me a drink after a gig.
The crowd on a busy street can be a very harsh but very honest critic and I got a lot of feedback from playing this way, it made me change my music, my attitude and my approach towards performing in general. I met other musicians and played with them, learned some new tricks and even made a few friends along the way but most importantly, I came back with a lot of energy and an overwhelming desire to use what I had learned and work even harder.
Going out of your comfort zone every now and then can be a great experience and a fun way to help yourself grow as an artist and a person, so give it a try, you might be surprised by how much you end up loving and learning from it.