For 12+ years, I’ve been driving around North America and Europe playing my songs to audiences and venues of all sizes — and of varying quality. At the beginning, I would play more than 150 shows per year with about 149 of those for very few people, if any at all, who didn’t necessarily care if I was there or not.
I’ve had many hockey games enjoyed on the TVs behind me, promoters who wouldn’t pay me, sound systems that didn’t work, and all kinds of drunken antics. One particular lowlight took place in a town that shall remain nameless (let’s call it S Catherines… hmmm, that’s too obvious… Saint C… better) where there were two people in the audience. Somehow those two people managed to get into a fight with each other and then proceeded to “take it outside”, which, if you do the math, eliminated my “audience”.
Much of my time trying to “do what I do” has been spent in a compromised version of it. While it has improved significantly over the years, many people have asked how I managed to keep going?
Here are the top three things I’ve learned on how to “stay in it” or, how to stay animated about your career throughout (and sometimes in spite of) the journey.
1. Set your inner sense of “quality control” and don’t compromise on it.
I made a commitment to myself a long time ago. I said “This is what I do, whether there’s 2 people in the audience or 2000, and I’m going to show up and perform to the very best of my abilities”. I did that for two reasons: out of respect for the people who came to see me and out of respect for myself.
The key to “staying in it” is to never back off on the care and quality that you put forth — always be relentlessly great at what you do. That inner knowing and sense of pride in yourself is what will keep you going especially when you can’t clearly see the impact your work is having on others. They may not say it often, but people do notice.
A few years ago, a fan emailed me about one of my songs, a favourite of both her and her late husband. They had been married for nearly 50 years, and as he was dying in the hospital, he asked her to play that song. They held hands and listened to it as he passed away. For her 75th birthday, her kids surprised her by hosting a private concert with me at her party where I played that song for her. It was one of my most treasured moments. She is now a frequent attendee at my shows, always sitting in the front, smiling and wearing her “Peter Katz” t-shirt.
I’ll say it again — you don’t know the impact you’re having on others, all you can do is show up, do your best according to your standards, and trust that will have an impact on others.
2. You followed this path for a reason — stay connected to it.
My reason for doing what I do is to build meaningful moments, to follow through on the promise of a ticket and make the experience important, valuable, memorable, uplifting, and fun too.
By reminding myself of this reason, it keeps me committed and fosters the self-fulfillment I get from my work. It makes sure that I show up fully every time no matter the circumstances, which has helped me become the professional I always wanted to be — I now know how to handle challenging situations and see them as opportunities, to think on my feet, and to make the most out of any situation. Some of the best moments with my audience occurred when something went wrong, like doing an impromptu unplugged show in Zurich because the power went out or dealing with a drunk patron in Lethbridge who was doing some kind of interpretive dance in front of the stage by inviting everyone in the audience to dance as well.
Staying connected to my reason has made me a lot more willing to deal with the challenges as they arise; and, persisting through those challenges has allowed me to appreciate it when a show does go well. It’s also important to identify those little victories along the way to help keep yourself motivated.
3. Being a critic is easy, do the hard thing instead — take action.
The critics always speak the loudest. I once had a critic call my album ‘cheesy and sentimental’. Later, I found out that same critic used one of my songs at their father’s funeral. I had another critic call my music ‘overly sweet’. That same critic later told me that one of my songs had made her weep and then asked if I could perform at her daughter’s school as part of a fundraiser. Why hadn’t they published that part of the story?
It’s easy to criticize from the outside, all you can control is how you answer to yourself. Be your own critic, hold yourself accountable to your standards and ask yourself if you’ve met them. Trust that having an honest dialogue with yourself is all you need to keep improving and getting closer to your goals; everything else is noise. I’m not saying to ignore all feedback. Feedback is hugely important but it should be filtered through your own set standards of accountability, integrity, and self-respect when deciding what is and isn’t worth listening to.
I, myself, use a very simple barometer — it’s my “head on the pillow” rule. When I put my head on the pillow at night, do I know that I tried my best? That I worked hard enough so things went as well as they possibly could? If I take a deep breath and tune in to myself, then I know I’ll find the answers to those questions and that I don’t need them from other people. As long as I’m engaging in self-reflection, and doing something about what I find, then I know I can get up and keep moving forward the next day.
My last — and bonus — tip is to make sure you find time to go lie in the park under a tree and read a book every now and then. Relax, take some self-care time and maybe eat a cupcake while you’re there too. That’s especially important for staying in it. I’m rooting for you!
Peter Katz has evolved from a nervous first-timer at an open mic night into to a JUNO Award, Canadian Screen Award, and two-time Canadian Folk Music Award nominated singer-songwriter with five albums under his belt. A gifted storyteller, Peter infuses his presentations with songs which inspire audiences to create their own path, overcome obstacles, and find success in whatever they desire.
Interested in learning more about Peter and what he can bring to your next event? Email us at [email protected].