I was camping out with a group of friends the other night. As an afterthought, I had brought a guitar with me. Somebody mentioned that it would be cool if someone had a guitar, so I went and got it. I played a couple of Third Day songs. So far, so good. Then things went south.

You see, being in a band that plays original material is great, until the time arises when you need to play other people’s music. Unlike many musicians, I did not cut my teeth playing cover songs in clubs. So I was a little out of my comfort zone here.

A couple of songs were requested. I sort of knew one of them, and gave it my best effort. It kind of bombed. But then I had a thought.

Wait – there’s an app for that!

I pulled up an app on my phone that lets you search any song and pull up the lyrics and chords for it. The app will even scroll so you don’t have to touch it while you’re playing. Perfect, right? Wrong. The app is probably great but I don’t know how to use it. My campfire singalong quickly morphed into a public demonstration of how not to use this app. Not good. One thought began to race through my mind:

I’m dying here.

While I was with friends and my failure more funny than anything, this wasn’t the first time I had thought those exact words. I was reminded of some other times where I fell flat on my face.

Before there was Third Day, there was Nuclear Hoedown. We pretty much ruled the high school party circuit one summer. By “rule”, I mean we played at three of our friends’ houses. But at one of these parties, there was a pretty good crowd. I had been working on a Travis Tritt song for a couple of weeks. Since Nuclear Hoedown played mostly rock and metal, doing a country song was going to be hilarious. Or so I thought.

When my song came up on the setlist, I walked out to the microphone and started strumming my guitar. I started singing, but couldn’t find the first note. I had to start over. This time I got the melody right. But as I looked out, I didn’t see faces that were enjoying or even tracking with what I was doing. I saw faces that were talking and not paying attention. One thought kept going through my mind:

I’m dying here.

Something about that set me off. I stopped playing before I even got to the first chorus. I walked out.

While this probably wasn’t the most, um, mature way to handle things, I learned a valuable lesson that night.

While I’d love to say this was the only time, I’ve had that feeling many, many times through the years.

  • Singing a “solo” in church.
  • Leading worship for a youth group.
  • Having gear go down during a TV performance.
  • Performing for preschoolers. (You want to talk about a tough crowd!)

While these experiences were rough at the time, they all provided valuable life lessons that I couldn’t get any other way.

Now I’m not saying you need to go out of your way and purposely fall on your face in public. I’m just saying that if you lay everything out there and take some risks, you will inevitably have some failures. And when they happen, look for the lessons in them.

Believe it or not, these “falling on your face” experiences can help you in many ways:

  1. They help you see the edge of your comfort zone and push past it. – Being an artist of any kind is going to involve leaving the comfort of your friends and family and going out into the wider public. The more you can get used to this idea, the better you will get.
  2. They help you see the gap between dreams and reality. – In my mind, I was going to go out there and do this country song and was going to kill it. I did not. But I learned more from an imperfect experience in reality than 1000 perfect experiences in my head.
  3. They help you see areas you need to work on. –  In my first example, I could learn how to use the app. I could make a list of campfire songs to learn and practice those. I could seek out more singalong experiences so I could get better.
  4. They help you get more determined. – There’s a certain kind of pride that kicks in when you fail that can’t be replicated. Use this feeling! It can be a valuable tool.
  5. They help you figure out a path. – You know where you want to go, and realize that reality doesn’t line up with it. You then work out a plan to get to where you want to go.

In addition to learning from these experiences, we can also take some steps to avoid them. Or at least make them less frequent!

Practice. – “Don’t practice til you get it right, practice til you can’t get it wrong.” ~ Scotty Wilbanks

  1. Be prepared. – If you’re using gadgets and gear, make sure you know how to work them. And have a plan for when they don’t work (Notice I said “when”).
  2. Learn from the experience. – Immediately after any performance, but particularly a bad one, write down everything you can about what went wrong and what you need to do next time.
  3. Have fun. – Yes this sounds a little masochistic, but most of the time the audience doesn’t notice your mistakes as much as you think they do. Learn to roll with it and have fun!

What about you? Have you ever had a “fall on your face” experience? What did you learn from it? Do you have any advice? Use the comments to let us know!