How Musicians Shouldn’t Watch Live Music

It’s usually pretty easy to tell where the other musicians are in the audience at a given show, not because they’ve all checked in on Facebook or something, but because they tend to perform some uniquely debilitating behaviors. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes, musicians can be the worst at watching live music. Here’s five ways that can happen, along with some strategies for recovery:

  • Tunnel Vision

At shows, it can be easy to become overly fixated on the instrument that we play in our band. It’s normal to specifically appreciate an artist for their drums as a drummer, for example, but sometimes, we let our allegiance to our instrument keep us from appreciating the whole mix. Sure, zeroing in on the guitarist might help us catch the nuances of the modulation on their delay repeats, but it might make us miss moments from other instruments that would make us enjoy what we’re listening to as a whole even more! Asking ourselves “have I looked at more than one of the band members on stage during this song?” is usually a good litmus test for whether we’ve got concert tunnel vision.

  • Comparison

Of all the faults on this list, I’ll admit to being the most frequently guilty of this one, so fret not if it applies to you as well. Too often, I find myself losing the ability to enjoy a show because I’m too caught up in trying to decide if I can play guitar better than everyone on stage. There’s no shame in wanting to be as accomplished at our instrument as we can be, but too much comparison can rob us of the joy that we take in our instrument, the ability to deliver compliments, and any perspective that sees other musicians as something more than just a threat to our reputation. In my own experience, sometimes the best strategy is to simply assume that every player on stage is better than we are from the start, and try not to give comparison a second thought for the duration of the show. This perspective helps us get past the unnecessary act of…um…”guitar-measuring,” and usually leaves us more free to do things like enjoy the music.  

  • Window Shopping

If you hear a sound coming from a particular person on stage that just blows your mind in a way it’s never been blown before, it can be acceptable to politely approach that individual after their set to ask how the sound was created. However, the caveman drool-fest over gear that happens far too often at shows has got to chill. We get it, we promise. Amps are cool, and guitars are cool, and pedals are cool, and drums are cool. Appreciating the tools that go into music making is a natural thing, but we’d never come up to Lebron James after a basketball game and use the limited time we had with him to talk shop about sneakers. The general practice of “making sure I’m not getting to wrapped up in the gear” is helpful in lots of contexts, but at shows as well, where too much attention to the pedalboards of our peers will cause us to miss the musical point.

  • Stone Face

Just like affirming the skills of another musician doesn’t inherently diminish our own, visibly enjoying another artist’s music doesn’t cause our own music to become less enjoyable. Too often, the default behavior of many musicians is to be as stolid as possible at a concert unless the music they’re hearing is literally the best music they’ve ever heard. The blatant double standard of wanting an engaged audience when we play, while remaining disengaged at the shows we attend, should be enough motivation to smile at shows every so often.  

  • Upstaging

While being too aloof at shows is far more common amongst musicians, every now and then you get the person who thinks that their job is to be more entertaining as an audience member than anything happening on stage. Dancing and being all silly are great ways to respond to live music, but most people can recognize when those behaviors start to become less reflexive than they should be, and start to be an event all to themselves. Just like we shouldn’t upstage each other when we’re on stage, we shouldn’t upstage the people on stage when we’re not on stage.

We wouldn’t wear a T-Shirt that reads “I TOO AM A MUSICIAN!” to every show we attend, but too often, we let our identity as a player override our identity as an audience member, and it really only hurts ourselves. If we can check our musician hat at the door, we often stand a better chance of leaving satisfied.

Ian