I recently performed a gig with the great comedian Bob Newhart where I was sight-reading big band charts with him and his opening act. I’ve done shows with Bob many times over the years. They don’t have a ton of music in them, but we always have to read the opening act’s book as well. I was handed a book of eight charts that I’d never seen before. The songs had varying grooves, a wide range of tempos, and several different time signatures. One piece even had a metric modulation intro based on the quarter-note triplet.
The expectation for these gigs is that everyone should perform at an extremely high level. Flawless execution is required. While there might be a few affirming fist bumps afterwards, I don’t expect everyone to jump up and down because we killed it. If the musical director is smiling, then I know that I’ll most likely be back for the next one.
The reason I bring up this particular gig is to demonstrate how confidence plays a serious role in the execution of any performance. Confidence is defined as “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.” But simply having confidence in yourself is not enough. The artist, the bandleader, other band members, and even the promoter have to be confident in you as well.
Ultimately it’s the artist’s career that’s on the line. If the show tanks because of mistakes you made, no one in the audience walks out of the venue criticizing the drummer. They will most likely put the blame on the artist.
The bandleader’s job is also on the line. They brought you in, so if you destroy the gig, they might not be asked to continue working for the artist. The other band members are also putting their trust in you to make their jobs easier and make them sound as good as possible. Finally, the promoter has the money locked into the gig.
Everyone involved is counting on you to do your part to make it a successful and profitable event. If you barely made it through, you’ve failed. This is why it’s so hard to break into high-level gigs. You have to have a history of dependability before you’ll even be considered for these types of situations.
How Is Confidence Achieved?
Let’s start by clearing up a modern misconception. Popularity doesn’t define mastery. There are tons of celebrities on the Internet with little or no actual talent, yet they grace the pages of tabloids. I’m not saying that visibility on things like YouTube and Facebook isn’t great—it is. But you need to be getting the right kind of visibility. Videos of you performing at gigs or a behind-the-scenes clip from a recording session are great to include on your channel. The most important thing is to show yourself playing music with other musicians. Jamming to play-along tracks or soloing by yourself won’t gain you a lot of confidence from other players and bandleaders who may be looking to hire a drummer.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun making videos. Everything helps to build your profile. But if you’re looking to be hired for top gigs, you need to get out and play with bands and other musicians and start making connections. You need to build some history of your abilities and work ethic to develop confidence in yourself and to gain the confidence of others.
Take Every Gig
Each gig provides an opportunity to learn something, so take whatever offers come your way. You need to be put on the spot a bit too, whether that involves sight-reading charts, playing different styles, or improvising. Use each gig to help build your vocabulary so that you’re even better prepared for the next one. This is part of what builds long-term confidence in your abilities.
As you build up your experience level from playing in different situations, you’ll have better confidence to handle more challenging gigs. This helps to relieve the pressure of high-level performances, and other players will notice when you make them play better too. The former NFL quarterback Payton Manning said something great about pressure: “Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.” It’s extensive experience playing music with others that prepares you to deal with the various pressures that you’ll come across throughout your career. So get out there and make music as often as possible. That’s where true confidence comes from.
Russ Miller has recorded and/or performed with Ray Charles, Cher, Nelly Furtado, and the Psychedelic Furs and has played on soundtracks for The Boondock Saints, Rugrats Go Wild, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, among others. For more information, visit russmiller.com.