What to Do When You Screw Up on a Live Set?


We’ve talked before about how mistakes are inevitable when playing live, and how to plan ahead to avoid some of the most common ones.

But, what happens when the unavoidable happens and you’re up there on stage freaking out about it?

The first thing you’ll need to do is assess the situation. Not all mistakes are the same, so of course, there’s no magical solution that’ll help you handle every single one of them. What you want instead, is to think quick and know how to handle it. With practice, it will come like second nature:

If It’s Small, Let It Go

Some mistakes are unnoticeable by the public. What makes them noticeable is when they musicians give them way too much attention and the show is interrupted. Which technically would be another mistake on its own, since you’d be taking a small misstep and making it ten times bigger. Learn to identify those tiny mistakes. It could be as simple as someone playing their part slightly differently but in a way that doesn’t affect the tempo or the feeling of the song. When that kind of stuff happens, just keep going. Don’t give it a second thought and move on. In fact, this is something you shouldn’t even avoid as experimenting can lead to great new sounds that you probably couldn’t come up with calculated thinking.

Correct Course and Keep Going

There are, of course, the mistakes that are noticeable but not that terrible. That is, maybe someone messed up the tempo slightly… but at least the amp didn’t spontaneously come up in flames, so just correct it and move on. When you make this kind of mistakes, try to keep calm as to not to make them worse. Don’t beat yourself over it and end up ruining the entire performance. Just fix what you did wrong, and keep the show going.

Walk it Out, and Learn from It.

These are the mistakes that will absolutely stop the show. We’re talking, the singer forgot the lyrics, while a guitar string got loose and a drumstick broke, hitting the bassist in the eye. Just total catastrophe. The kind of mistake absolutely everyone notices and distracts from the entire show. Here’s the thing, when something like that happens, there’s no ignoring it. So, you can either make the best of the situation or storm off in frustration and anger. If you want to sort of save the entire thing, the best thing you can do is laugh it off, joke about it with the audience then when you’re done, take stock of what happened.

If it was a mistake on your part, like someone just completely messed up the song, you know that you need to rehearse a lot more before your next gig. If it was an external mistake like the sound not working halfway through your set, you’ll know to allocate some more time for a thorough soundcheck next time you play. Likewise, a broken instrument will make you always bring spare pieces on your gigs from that moment on.