Musings on playing solo

As a solo artist, I have to say this: I hate playing solo. I hate the feeling of being placed under scrutiny, with everyone’s attention placed on me like an unerring laser.

Yet, I persist.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about being given gigs. In fact, I know there are times when I actively pursue gigs. I’ve never turned down one, either. In a way, it’s rather perverse how I pursue that which causes me pain.

The question then becomes, why do I play solo in the first place? Why don’t I just focus on releasing my work? Or, if I really do feel compelled to play live, then why don’t I do something like In Orbit for my timeofhex material, where I played with a collaborator?

Initially, playing solo live was bourne from being frustrated with collaborators. There was a point in my life a few years back where I played in multiple bands. Of course, each band just had to implode at around the same time, which then left me bandless and disillusioned.

So timeofhex became an outlet for my musical aspirations.

Something that I had long reconciled with myself is that, in order to progress anywhere with music – you have to be prepared to present it publicly. The act of performance isn’t something that comes naturally to me. To the surprise of most people who know me, I’m actually a fairly shy, private person.

Put me on a stage and I’ll bust out some great moves, but off-stage…don’t expect me to mingle with the crowd, because that’s just plain frightening for me. I probably look like an aloof asshole, but it’s not intentional.

The nice thing about being on stage with other people is there are others that an audience can focus upon. Playing solo, on the other hand, is highly confronting because the solo artist is the focus. There is nowhere to hide.

Not even my projections are enough to hide behind.

Then, there’s also the issue of technical requirements. I find I’m basically responsible for everything surrounding my act. I need to make sure I have all my cables. I need to make sure everything is working. I need to carry all my gear in and out.

If things go wrong – it’s on me. There are no buffers for solo artists. There’s no group identity or group responsibility.

However, going back to an earlier point – if I didn’t play live, it would be harder to promote my music. There’s a rare few artists who are able to promote themselves without playing live (Enya comes to mind, although she already had a reputation before being Enya, and Steely Dan had played live for years before calling them off for a while), but for the majority of artists, playing live is the quickest way announcing your existence.

Hell, being an artist is a constant battle of justifying your existence as an artist. You are judged on your artistic output and the reach of said output.

Playing in a band has its own issues. There are many times when I’ve appreciated being a solo act. If I get asked to play somewhere, I can give definitive answers because it’s really just me. I don’t need to wait for a group consensus. I also don’t have people flaking on me at the last moment, or people who turn up to gigs obviously unrehearsed.

I don’t have to deal with juggling other people’s personal issues. I don’t have to coddle people’s fragile’s egos and bank accounts.

So, my solution is to basically suck it up and deal with the discomfort of playing solo.

It doesn’t help that I can be my own harshest critic. I hear every wrong note played, even though they might be imperceptible to everyone else. I see every flaw in a projection. I notice every awkward word and mannerism I give to someone off-stage.

I am very aware that I am like a cat: weird, awkward and not always approachable.

Perhaps what I really need is a reframing of the situation. Perhaps the discomfort behind playing live is actually a lesson in resilience. Perhaps it’s really all about being able to deal with situations and changes without losing my sanity.

Plus, I always remind myself of the thrill when my existence is acknowledged, through applause from appreciative audiences. Sometimes, a few small kindnesses makes the pain worthwhile.