Turn It Down

July 28, 2017

Turn It Down


I've been playing music publicly more lately, thanks to my good friends Chris Baur and Roger Mindwater (we used to play in a band together called Campfield). A few weeks ago Chris let me play some songs at his show and, right in the middle, the waiter came up to ask us to turn it down. Ugh, not what you want to hear when you're putting yourself out there in a song you wrote. So we turned down the guitar, I backed away from the mic and we pressed on. But hearing that question does something to you as a musician that I want to write about...

It's certainly not the first time this has happened to me (unfortunately). The first was playing with my buddy Mike in our pseudo-metal/folk rock two-piece, Thrash Choir. Again, Chris was giving us a shot and we were playing a little impromptu four-song set at an outdoor patio on James Island that has since shut down. Some diners were sitting a little too close to our amps and asked us to turn it down. I even had the same thing happen while playing drums with Chris at a bar many years ago. We weren't invited back.

So what do you do as a musician when you hear, "Turn it down." Play softer, duh. But internally, it flares up a whole host of insecurities that are already present when baring your soul to a blank-faced crowd. What you're really wondering is, Am I too loud or do I just sound bad? It could go either way, but at this juncture in your musical career, you have a choice: Do I quiet down for good, or keep putting myself out there?

Maybe that sounds dramatic, but any expression of art truly is a vulnerable act, and for me using my voice is about as exposed as I can get. Most people fear rejection, and so when it actually happens, you have to deal with it. Quitting music is an extreme example -- I'm just getting started in a way -- but I just thought it was an interesting thing to write about. It's not everyday that we get to experience public rejection like this.


A more positive performance happened about two weeks prior, when Chris encouraged me to do an open mic night with him and Roger at Home Team BBQ. I did this about a year before, but hadn't been back since. Most of my performances are kind of a sloppy mess, with last-minute preparation thrown together with a few laughs and some forgotten words. However, this time I wanted to be prepared, so I practiced. But as showtime approached, all the lyrics and chords in my head were just getting jumbled around so badly that I could hardly think. I almost backed out about four times that night, but peer pressure wouldn't let me stop. (I guess peer pressure isn't always a bad thing, kids!)

And then, during Roger's set, this calm and clarity came over me. The stress left and the words became settled in my mind. I went up there and told the crowd that I often forget my words, so to forgive me should that happen, but you know what? I don't think I forgot a thing that night. I confidently sang songs about my wife, my family and contentment. Mike Williams played violin with me and it sounded beautiful. It was a real win, and I was reminded afterwards of why we even get up there in the first place: there is something energizing about a successful performance, about creating something and showing it to the world, that supersedes all insecurities and self-doubt. This moment overshadows the "turn it down" experiences like mountains swallowing valleys. For what is a valley without a mountain next to it? And what is the summit without a trek through the darkness leading to a beautiful light and a view that spreads for miles.

So when the world tells you to "turn it down," smile politely, finish the song and tighten up for the next one; because as long as you want it, there will always be a next one.

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