Have you ever wanted to get out there and start performing? Maybe solo at an open mic night, maybe getting involved in the local blues jam, maybe starting or joining a band – or even going out and getting paying gigs as a live performer.

If so, you might have found yourself in the situation many of us do: our skills are up to scratch but we’re still not ready. Emotionally, mentally, psychologically, we just have some kind of barrier that stops us from taking the plunge.

Today on the show we have a returning guest, our friend Brent Vaartstra from the Learn Jazz Standards podcast, and his new show, Passive Income Musician.

When Brent was with us before, we talked mostly about jazz and improvisation, but today we wanted to dig into something different with him: what it’s like to be a gigging musician. From the practicalities to the juicy mindset stuff that can make the difference between sitting alone at home practicing by yourself for the rest of your life – and getting out there and sharing your music with the world confidently in a variety of musical situations.

Brent shares some really valuable insights and actionable tips, including:

  • The number one most important thing to do in advance of a session or gig
  • How to handle a new and intimidating performance situation, especially as an introvert
  • And we talk about “Imposter Syndrome” – that psychological phenomenon where you continually worry you’ll be found out as a fraud – even when you are actually good enough for what you’re doing – and Brent shares his six tips for overcoming it.

We loved having this opportunity to draw on Brent’s expertise and wisdom beyond the world of jazz, and we know you’re going to find a ton of valuable stuff here, especially if performing is part of your musical life – or you wish it would be!

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Brent Vaartstra of Learn Jazz Standards gives insights and practical advice for getting yourself from the practice room to the stage.



Sometimes these days I do an interview for this show and afterwards I think “Wow. Over a hundred episodes in, and I can’t believe we’re just now talking about this.” – because the topic and the content the guest shared has just been so important and valuable.

This was one of those episodes, so I sincerely hope you enjoyed hearing Brent talk about the practical and psychological aspects of performing, and the dreaded “Imposter Syndrome” as much as I did.

Let’s recap some of the big learning points he shared.

To begin with, why talk about this? Brent said that getting out there and playing with others, collaborating, making music together – is ultimately what music is, or should be, all about.

The details of how to go about it are going to vary by the specific situation – the level of professionalism, the style of music, the type and size of group playing, and so on. But there are definitely some commonalities that all musicians should be keeping in mind.

He recommends starting by observing the situation you’ll be joining – like seeing a band perform before you audition for it, going along to the venue you’ll be playing at to get a sense of it, just sitting and watching a jam session before you go along ready to play.

Then, preparing the music is probably the most important thing to do. It’s not about being a perfectionist and using that as an excuse to avoid going ahead – but don’t let it swing too far the other way either, where you get yourself so psyched up to perform you don’t actually spend enough time making sure you can play what will be expected of you. He talked about this in terms of respect – respect for the other musicians you’ll be playing with, that you’re making sure you will be pulling your weight and not wasting people’s time or making them look bad.

And again, don’t let that discourage you – Brent notes that he’s really just talking about the basic question “Can I play this repertoire” – not “Am I absolutely 100% rock solid on every single note and moment of every piece”. He says generally the barrier to entry is actually going to be lower than you might expect and you can judge it just by observing before you attempt to join. As he put it, just “do your homework”.

We talked about the intimidating environment of the “in crowd” among musicians and how a seemingly-relaxed jam session can actually be a bit scary as an outsider. Brent pointed out that musicians are some of the most insecure human beings on the planet! So they’re as scared of you as you are of them. His advice is to be yourself, be true to who you are. You don’t have to pretend to be an extrovert or fake a level of confidence you don’t have. Do try to make small talk and get to know people, but only in a natural way.

When it comes to the playing itself, you don’t want to be so focused on your own playing you end up oblivious to the people you’re meant to be playing with. Brent shared the story of when a pianist had to yell at him to simply stop playing because in his enthusiasm he was trampling all over the wrong part of the song! His advice is to think more like a professional, meaning remembering that it’s not about you, it’s not about how well you personally play. What matters is serving the music to the audience in the best way possible, and what’s going to make everyone in the band sound the best.

That’s what gets you to those kinds of transcendent experiences he described so well, where everyone in the band just “clicks” and you’re transported to a whole other world of music making and enjoyment.

Aside from those preparation and social intimidation factors, another thing that can hold us back is the so-called “Imposter Syndrome”: the feeling that you’re not good enough, even when you are. The continual anxiety that you’ll be found out as a fraud. I loved Brent’s full episode on this which we’ll link to in the shownotes, and what he shared here was that this affects everyone, at all levels. And the way to combat it is to actively practice shifting your mindset.

He has six great tips for this, which I’ll briefly recap:

  1. Remind yourself of your achievements, whether or not these are official qualifications. What in your past demonstrates that you are actually “good enough”?
  2. Remind yourself of your “Why” in music. What’s your motivation for putting yourself in this situation anyway?
  3. Be honest with yourself about where you’re at. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not, and then you can feel secure that you are, by definition, not an imposter.
  4. Keep a record of all the positive feedback you get, to regularly read and remind yourself of it all.
  5. Realise that mistakes don’t make you a failure.
  6. Keep a journal about your musical performances – how you felt, what went well, what didn’t go so well. Not the nitty-gritty practicalities of note-playing, so much as the feelings, emotions, mindset. Because that’s what we’re trying to shift in this process into a more positive worldview that enables us in future.

Ultimately his advice was to just do it. It’s great to see it as a goal to aspire to, but it doesn’t need to be a far-off thing! There are plenty of performance opportunities that you’re already good enough for and he said that’s when the real education starts – when you get out there and start learning through experience.

I hope you’ve found this conversation encouraging and it’s given you some highly practical pointers on taking the first (or the next) step into performing music live.

Be sure to check out Brent’s websites and podcasts. For all things jazz you’ll want LearnJazzStandards.com and the “Learn Jazz Standards” podcast. And if you’re interested in making a living online with your musical skills then Brent’s new “Passive Income Musician” podcast is a must-listen. Oh – and if you check out the recent episodes of both of those shows you might just see a familiar face!
Of course we’ll have links to all those in the shownotes for this episode at musicalitynow.com.

Thanks for listening to this episode, and I’ll see you on the next one!

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