This is an odd time for me to finally post on this topic, which I’ve had in draft form for 8 months. Starting the “From The Archives” series has me motivated to keep the blog up, so I’m going through old drafts too.

Back in February of this year I was sitting on an airplane with my friend Aaron Fabrinni as we travelled from Minneapolis to San Diego for a Go Fish gig. It wasn’t a typical Go Fish gig – the band was leading worship for 4 days at a Children’s Pastors Conference where we would play 7 different 20+ min sets. In the weeks leading up to our trip I had done gigs with over a dozen other artists (including a 90-min show subbing with Owl City, my first time playing with them) in addition to multiple Sunday morning church gigs. That might sound like a lot, but it’s really just a typical month for a freelance musician, and Aaron and I were discussing how we each approach the mask-switching acrobatics required to pull off performing so many different songs and styles in a short period of time.

I’ve always considered this kind of thing to be 90% mental. For me, the physical difference between playing with one artist vs another has always felt similar to the physical difference between driving to one place in my town vs another place. Sure, I might have to use highway speeds for one trip and neighborhood speeds for another, or lots of turns as compared to a straight shot, but my arms don’t care about that. As long as I know where I’m going then I’ll  be fine. My point here is to emphasize that juggling a ton different gigs is mainly, if not entirely, a task revolving around your MIND.

So how does one prepare the mind for switching gears so rapidly and frequently? A few years ago I heard the term “uploading” in reference to learning/retaining music and I’ve stuck with it ever since. Basically, I think of my mind as a hard drive, with both RAM memory and hard disk memory. Stuff like Go Fish shows (and Owl City shows at this point) are hard disk. I’ve played that music so many times that I have it completely memorized, and I’m able to nail one of those performances regardless of how many other gigs are happening that same week. RAM memory is different. It has to be uploaded. It can be uploaded quickly, but likewise disappears quickly once I shut it off (i.e., go to sleep or stop focusing on it or whatever).

My method for RAM gigs for as long as I can remember has been charting. I make detailed word document charts (not Nash number system, and not staff paper) while listening to the tracks I have to play. I can do this weeks or just days ahead of the actual gig, and then I of course bring the charts with me to the gig itself. However, the key for me has been to use the charts as cheat sheets – something that I only glance at during the gig if I need to. What I do is take some prep time on the day of the gig (as close to gig time as possible) to listen through to the tracks I’m playing while reading my charts. Then I’ll sometimes double down and go through the charts one more time without listening and imagine myself playing the tunes in real time (i.e., humming to myself and maybe even using a practice pad to tap out the patterns physically). This process “uploads” the music to RAM memory, and then when I walk out to play the gig the music feels almost as familiar as hard disk memory.

The uploading is what takes my relationship with the music to the place where the chart becomes just a cheat sheet. I could probably play the gig without any uploading, but then I’d be scrambling to read my charts so closely that my listening would be hindered. I’ve made slight adjustments to this uploading process over time, but for the most part it’s been exactly as I just explained it for 10 years.

So there it is. The interesting part about the timing of this post is that I haven’t used this process AT ALL for two months, so I’m wondering whether the RAM side of my mind has undergone any atrophy in not being used. I have a bunch of different gigs in December back home, so we’ll see what happens.