Rule number one of playing music: You must BE THERE to play the music.
What if you went to a concert to see your favorite band and the lead singer decided to be in another arena that night while the band played the one you were in?
Ridiculous? Maybe not.
Before I make my point, let me offer one more parallel. Have you ever been talking to someone and they “checked out on you” or you felt they were “somewhere else”? Have you been “somewhere” else when someone else was speaking? Most people have. This is a degree of consciousness, an attention to or awareness of surroundings and it does have degrees.
All it really says is that there are degrees of “there” and when we are at our dullest, we could be said to be that much less there than when we are at the pinnacle of sharpness and focus, with ability to communicate as an index of it all. Music itself being communication, it follows these laws.
Alcohol and other drugs, therefore, take you further out of the communication loop, making you that much less “there” for the performance, and it has everything to do with how you are received, if you are received at all!
When Your Audience Calls You on Performing While Intoxicated
Let me start by saying I am not here to start a holy war. Not even a debate. My point in writing this is the same as all my other material: help musicians be, play and experience the best they can and to inspire others. This is merely one of the rules I have used in my success in music. I have never played intoxicated and it has served me well, to the point where I realize it is part of the success i have had.
Let’s start with the basics. What does a drug really do? At face value, it seems all drugs are different – they do different things. Some depress, some stimulate, some alter reality. All have one thing in common: they are poisons or toxins to the body and, therefore, have some effect on the person.
Under such influence, let’s say alcohol, for instance, one becomes less aware of what’s going on about them. Let’s look at some examples.
Not to Mention Weed…
The most popular drug of “choice” in music that I’ve seen is pot. Pot is something which I have seen defended by just about every pot smoker as “not affecting” them or “enhancing” their experience. While it may seem fun, let’s take it to the extreme in terms of “not affecting” them or their playing.
Let’s say someone smoked 10 times the amount of pot they ever have smoked. Would you say they would be pretty “out of it?” Of course, they would be. They’d be lucky to be conscious. Let’s say they smoked 5 times the normal amount. Would they be out of it then? Sure, but maybe only half as much.
The only point I’m trying to make is that it is a gradient, like with anything else. The little bit has a little effect but, an effect nevertheless. It will make someone “a little bit” out if it. Each little bit more makes them a little less there – a little less aware.
Think of alcohol. One drink – you’re a little less aware – you’re “buzzed”. One more drink and you’re a little less and so on. The drug makes you less aware. The most extreme example would be anesthesia. It makes you not even there for a major organ being removed from your body.
When you go under anesthesia, you are “not there” to experience the surgery. Any drug acts in the same way. Drink enough alcohol and you’ll pass out. Ever experience not remembering the night before? If so, you’ve experienced this first hand.
So who cares? I mean we all want to have a little fun right?
While I could get onto a whole soap box about drugs, everyone has their “reasons” for wanting a little less consciousness. That is a separate issue which is personal.
Put 5 musicians together, however, and you get a problem. A band is a synergy. It is a communication with art, formed by a group and sent to and received by an audience. How can you deliver when someone is not there? And that goes for anything – not just music.
Performance is exchange – exhange of communication between performer and audience.
So really look at your productivity level. Should you be currently using some sort of drug while performing, you may not realize the difference. Just know that others around you do and, when that’s your audience, the show’s over.