One shot at guitar stardom

Your one big shot at guitar stardom arrives – will you blow it?

Opportunity can knock on your door at any time.  Sometimes, ready or not, the opportunity is too big to even consider turning it down.  It can make your career in a moment.  So how can you be prepared?

Let me tell a little story about a video that I saw years ago…

I won’t mention any names, for obvious reasons.  Basically, there was a guitarist who got a lot of attention on the internet for an amazing guitar video he did.  The attention was so positive that he ended up having the opportunity to play on stage with his guitar hero.  The video of the performance would then be posted online to an audience in the millions.

Talk about an opportunity.

Something like that can single-handedly make or break a career.  In fact, there was a section of the performance where his guitar hero stepped back and gave the young man the spotlight.  The only trouble is, the young guitarist was not prepared for performing his song live and under these conditions. Once he got the spotlight, his performance was essentially made up of a series of ear-piercing mistakes.

I’d never seen anything like it and I’ve never heard of him again since…

So what went wrong?

Clearly, when making the video that led to his popularity, he’d practiced a lot and had taken the time to get the best takes he could.  There was no audience there, no pressure, no guitar hero watching him play or doing him the honor of taking a backing role to him.  It was no problem.  If he messed up, he could just start over again.  From lack of experience, he didn’t imagine the potential of what could go wrong during the live performance.  He took no action to prepare himself against what he didn’t know.

Now, let me tell you a little story of my own…

A number of years ago, I opened for the great Michael Angelo Batio.  It was the highest honor I’d ever achieved.  The only trouble was, I hadn’t been regularly performing more than one or two songs for a couple years.

Over my life, I’ve performed on stage hundreds of times in the capacity of acting, singing, playing the guitar, playing in bands, etc.  Stage fright hadn’t been an issue for me since I was 12 years old.  I had every reason to be confident in my abilities.

But this performance would be different for a number of reasons.

For one, I was going to be playing a bunch of my Classical arrangements that required absolute concentration.  One slight memory lapse and I could lose my spot in the song and not be able to find it again.  There was also the pressure of performing before MAB, who would be watching my performance.  I admit, I was nervous out of my mind.

So, the first thing I did after the opportunity was set in stone was to book as many local performances as I could.  I started practicing everything in my set list at faster tempos than I would be performing them.  I started practicing the songs with radio and video playing louder than my guitar to distract me.

By the time the show came around, my drummer and I drove down from Sacramento (where I was living at the time) to LA and we stayed in a hotel room.  I was exhausted for the show.  Not at all in peak shape.  My nerves got so bad that when I was on stage, my legs actually began to shake violently and they continued to do so for the entire set.  This had never happened to me before and I never could have anticipated it happening.  On a number of occasions, I had to take drastic steps (no pun intended) not to fall over from my suddenly unstable legs.  It was completely insane.

But, with all of that, I made no meaningful mistakes during the whole performance.

Now, I promise that I’m not telling you that to brag.  I don’t have some special power that allows me to do well under pressure.  I’m not inherently better than the guitarist from the previous story in any way. The difference is, I saw what happened to him and I was not going to let the same thing happen to me. The difference was that I was determined to take full advantage of the opportunity and be as prepared as I needed to be, including preparing for the unexpected.

During a performance, anything can happen.  If you’re known as a virtuoso, the very last thing you want is to come off as a sloppy player simply because you didn’t expect a distraction or a sudden attack of nerves.  Nobody in the audience will know why you messed up and they will just assume that you had no business being there – and, if you go into an opportunity like that unprepared, maybe they would be right.

Next week, I’ll give you 3 simple rules to follow that will absolutely guarantee that you will be prepared for anything.

When that big opportunity comes to you, don’t just “pull it off”… be ready to outdo anyone’s greatest expectations.

Dan Mumm is a Metal Method instructor and shred master.  Check out Dan’s lessons here.