Crash, Burn, Learn

Why you may want to start performing before you deem yourself completely ready

There are two schools of thought and two corresponding mindsets when it comes to musical performance. The first one stipulates that public performances should be considered only after one has reached a sufficient skill level, corresponding to what audiences expect of proficient amateur musicians. The second school suggests that one may attempt performances sooner in order to gradually build skills specific to public performances along the way, even if the actual performances may not sound very proficient yet. It turns out that this is a metaphor for conducting business as a startup.

If you follow the second school of thought you will take more risk and perhaps expose yourself beyond your skill level. You may also disappoint part of your audience along the way. You risk being compared with others in an unfavorable way. It turns out that these risks and disadvantages are balanced with a number of advantages, and the risk taking may pay off in a big way as we will discuss. In addition, this mindset extends beyond music to other skillsets and is very relevent for businesses as well.

When one learns music as a child, in most cases the second mindset is the default one. Most music schools will push kids to perform at whatever skill level they are. Some children are perhaps more self conscious and will be reluctant to follow this path, but a majority of children does follow it. Audiences are generally very understanding toward a potentially sub-par performance given my a young child musician. The situation is more complex when people learn music later in life or as yound adults of even teenagers: aaudiences are less understanding.

A first reason to adopt the second minset is to take advantage of performance opportunities as they surface, and acknowlege those as special circumstances making it possible to perform and improve your skills. For instance a recently formed band may be asking you to join them at an upcoming performance as they identified the need for your instrument. If you decline, they will very likely find someone else who may then become a permanent band member, taking the slot that you graciously did not fill. There is necessarily an “opportunity cost” associated with forgoing opportunities. In addition, you will not gain the corresponding amount of performance experience. As opportunities may surface and disappear, with a mindset that you are “not ready” you will need certain effort to create new opportunities once you deem you are “ready”.

Secondly, it is likely that your initial audience will be small. As a learning musician, you will likely not be famous enough to attract wide audiences, and the band members susceptible to welcome you in their band will likely be in a similar situation. In the worst case your entire audience will think you are very bad, and will not want to consider listening to you for some time. But it will be a small number of people. And that does not necessarily mean that they will all cross you out forever. They may be willing to reconsider in the future. And again, that is the worst case situation. As a learning musician, you will also attract smaller crowds (perhaps of other musicians or learning musicians) that are more understanding and not necessarily looking for perfect performance.

You may overestimate the skill level required for a good performance. If you play as part of a band, then your job is to make the team sound good. It doesn’t necessarily require holding the entire performance by yourself, unless your team is very weak. Musicians that do their part, play in time, do not overplay, listen to others, and are serious, motivated and reliable are in demand, even if they make mistakes on stage. That is not the definition of a “virtuoso”, and in many cases you may not even be required to play a solo piece. You may get sooner to that level than you think. There is a distinct possibility of having too much skill, which can become counterproductive. The performance with an ensemble may feel boring for you. You may feel that you have to shine and be very visible, which the rest of the band may resent.

Finally, performing in public is not only a learning experience, to overcome your fears, but it also an exhilarating experience. This is particularly true if you play with others. It can become a happy and thrilling experience shared with others, of making music from scratch, and creating and sharing emotions.

The same risk-taking mindset is valuable for business, and particularly for start-up businesses. Many think today that releasing a product as soon as it is “minimally viable” is an excellent idea. In this way you will get feedback and perhaps money from potential customers sooner. You will be able to adapt your product more easily. However, different people will have different notions of what “minimally viable” means in business. So do they when it comes to music.

For additional thoughts on the topic and some references, see my blog:

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