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Dropping The Ball Instead Of The Bass: How Every Musician Can Learn From The Onstage Mishaps Of Skrillex

1While not an attempt to discredit Skrillex, this article looks at how the popular dubstep DJ's use of a complicated series of time sensitive electronic devices has had a tendency to open him up to mishaps on stage, and what other artists can do to avoid such debacles.

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Guest post by Patrick McGuire of Soundfly's Flypaper

Let me get this out of the way before I say anything else: This article is not trying to make fun of Skrillex. There are plenty of other places on the internet you can find that sort of stuff — people love to point out Skrillex’s “epic fails.” Instead, what I’m hoping to get across here is how musicians can learn from Skrillex’s various on-stage mistakes — because no matter where we are in our musical careers, mistakes happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tatted-up, energy drink-pounding teenage DJ or a tuxedoed, white wine-sipping concert pianist.

Skrillex, for those of you who don’t know, is a hugely popular DJ who plays dubstep music. If you haven’t heard it yet, dubstep sort of sounds like giant robots fighting each other with lasers on another planet in the future. So, how can every musician learn from a dude who makes electronic robot battle music?

Skrillex doesn’t play conventional “instruments” during his show, but he does operate a complicated series of time-sensitive electronic devices while he performs. Because he’s doing much more than just pressing the space bar on his laptop and letting the music play, Skrillex messes up from time to time. And while live bands can recover relatively easily from their mistakes, with more players to cover up what any one musician might’ve fudged, when Skrillex messes up, everyone in attendance knows right away.

1. The music stops and a man gets very upset.

In this video, cleverly titled “SKRILLEX messes up lol,” we hear the music build up and finally drop, only to cut out a few seconds later. A man in the crowd, who we can assume was very much looking forward to this show, becomes emotionally shattered when this happens. “Can’t do that! Ya can’t do that!” he yells. Skrill — is everyone okay with me calling him that for the rest of this article? No? Alright, fine — Skrillex tells the crowd that the sun was in his eyes and that’s why he messed up.

What can we learn from this? I see two takeaways here. Firstly, every musician needs to be prepared when they play outside, full stop. Don’t forget to bring your sunglasses to an outdoor show, maybe put a glare protector on your screen, and if you know you sweat, bring sweatbands or wear a hat. This stuff, as minimal as it may seem in comparison to the importance of practicing and being prepared musically, can actually save you from big problems. The second takeaway is to think about Skrillex’s honest attitude. Yeah, he messed up really bad, but he owns it right away, apologizes, and doesn’t let his enthusiasm waver. This is how he’s able to keep the crowd with him until the music comes back on.

2. A bouncer accidentally pulls out a cord and stops the music.

Every serious musician can relate to the experience of having sensitive audio or power cords ripped out by accident. It’s inevitable; some things are out of our control. Heck, Flypaper’s editor, Jeremy recently told me a story of his bandmate kicking a power bar out of the wall by accident, resulting in a loss of power for 2/3 of the stage in an instant!

In this video, a bouncer walks by and accidentally pulls out one of Skrillex’s cords and the music suddenly stops. Big deal. Here’s what I love about this one: Skrillex acts incredibly responsibly. He has every right to be pissed off, but he takes it in stride and does not get irate. If something can go wrong during a live set, then it will eventually. When disasters you can’t control happen on stage, the best thing you can do is move on as quickly as possible without taking your frustration out on the crowd or anyone else.

3. Skrillex messes up the drop and plays the theme from Indiana Jones while he figures out what’s wrong.

“Every time I trainwreck or mess up and do something wrong, I play Indiana Jones,” Skrillex tells the crowd in this video after he messes up the drop. By the way, for the uninitiated, “the drop” in dubstep music sounds like when one robot from the future shoots a really big laser at another robot, we watch it travel through the air in slow motion silence, and then watch it explode on impact. Anyway, Skrillex handles this mishap flawlessly. He’s honest, funny in his impromptu banter, and has a great attitude about messing up. But most important of all, it’s clear he’s planned ahead for making mistakes live.

4) Skrillex hits his head on a stage prop.

In this cringe-inducing video, Skrillex runs on stage and hits his head on the corner of a prop. There’s not a lot we can “learn” from this other than that the stage can be a dangerous place, and that it pays to know your stage set-up inside and out before performing. It’s easy to feel invincible when you love performing and you’ve got a big crowd excited to hear you play, but stage injuries happen all the time. Be careful out there!

Love him or hate him, if you make music, there’s probably something you can glean from Skrillex’s live performance mishaps. Musicians hate making mistakes on stage, but it’s inevitable that some unexpected thing is going to happen at some point. Don’t get frustrated, don’t act surprised when it’s clearly your fault, just own it, apologize, be prepared with a joke, and move on. The crowd will have a funny story to tell. Just don’t let that one thing ruin your whole set. 

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