No One Remembers the Heckler

At this point it should be fairly common knowledge that if you want to play music in some sort of professional capacity, at least one of your band members should be a “people person” or at least not riddled with social anxiety. The funny thing about musicians is that a lot of us are socially awkward and are far too aware of it for our own good. Yet somehow, even though it seems to be the most counter-intuitive thing ever, we convince ourselves to get in front of people and play music.

Music is one of the few artistic mediums that most everyone enjoys and has some opinion on, sometimes even very strong opinions that they're not afraid to shout from across a crowded barroom. So to actually sit back and think about the kind of people who subject themselves to this kind of scrutiny is something I find interesting. Especially when most of those people would usually never put themselves in the middle of a public setting.

I've met loads of musicians in my life, and I'm pretty sure I've met every type. There are the really humble ones; the ones who could stand to be a lot more humble; the ones who lack any shred of confidence whatsoever; the ones who fake confidence; and the ones who might possibly be insane. That previous sentence is a bit of a farce however; all musicians are comprised of several parts that fall into more than one of those categories, and frankly, we're all kind of nuts.

Call it insanity or courage, but either way you look at it, you'd have to be at least a little crazy to play music for a crowd of strangers. Throw alcohol to the strangers in this equation and the madness becomes even more obvious. On the other hand, one could easily argue that diving headfirst into any new, potentially hazardous experience is the cornerstone of a life well-lived. Perhaps this is why so many artists I've met are also a bit reckless.

Speculation aside, walking onto a stage (or getting in front of everyone in the living room, whichever) is a truly nerve-racking experience for just about anyone. The only thing I can think of that's worse is walking through the crowd after you finish playing. It doesn't matter if you play well or not, you're going to know (or at least think you know) what the crowd thought by the time you get all your gear outside.

This is when a simple glance can manifest in someone's mind as “oh man, we must've sucked, no one is saying anything.” or something much more severe depending on the outlook of the person. Then of course, there are the backhanded compliments. My personal favorite, “that was really cool, but...” and everyone's favorite, “you guys sound like (insert band)” and no matter how it's intended, the band always feels at least mildly insulted.

Eventually, you may start going into auto-pilot at times like this; you'll just nod, fake a smile and say “thanks” whether you actually mean it or not. Hopefully you don't become this jaded, but it does happen because unfortunately, people can be unnecessarily blunt and cruel when offering their opinions. Compounded with the average emotional sensitivity of someone who spends the majority of their time expressing their feelings through song, and you've got a potentially explosive or melancholy situation to deal with in a parking lot.

It's really no wonder so many musicians lose hope. Hearing encouragement from friends can only do so much when so many performances go bad, or perhaps simply not perfect. Plus, there's an entire industry built upon undermining a musician's confidence enough to sell them “the tools they need to get to the next level” and various other lies. Some very astute and dishonest person a very long time ago determined that musicians were easy targets and we've been trying to overcome that ever since.

We get cheated out of gas money, heckled, ignored, and ridiculed all because we want to share our music with the world. It's not right and it's probably never going to change, but one small thing we can all do to make a more enjoyable experience for everyone at a show and for our lives in general is just make an effort to not be a dick. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

My advice to the musicians out there who perhaps struggle a bit with social anxiety in some form or another is to just keep trying. Oh, you were expecting a revelation there? No, I don't have this all figured out, but I'll let you know when I do. I'm barely getting by just like a lot of other people, but what I do know for sure is that we all share many of the same insecurities. Life doesn't get any easier, but from what I understand, you tend to get a little better as you go along.

You may never get over the seething rage that wells up within you when a voice in the back of the room tries to embarrass you, but you can always learn how to turn it around on them. When you get right down to it, you're the one with the microphone. You're the artist, the person who creates something for the enjoyment of others and for your own peace of mind. Anyone can talk shit after one too many PBRs, but it takes real courage to publicly bare your soul, especially with your own musical accompaniment. You'll play bad shows and deal with more disappointment than you ever planned for, but always keep in mind that no one remembers the heckler.