Why 70% is the new 100%

I’ve recently had a mindset shift that’s helped me shake loose a lot of my self critical thinking when I perform.

Like most musicians I’m my own worst critic. Mistakes that are barely noticeable to anyone outside of myself can derail an entire gig, as I get caught up in beating myself up, and descend into shame, thinking that I’m a terrible drummer, and the bass player must hate playing with me etc. I don’t know to what extent you feel this, but I do know one thing for certain. There’s no quicker way to remove yourself from actually playing music and responding to what’s around you. I was always frustrated at the fact that it felt like I was only performing at 70% of my best.

In October I went to a masterclass with Matt Halpern from Periphery. Small group of people, up close and personal. The question I asked was if he had nights where he came off stage and wasn’t happy with how he played. “Every night” was his answer. So I asked how he dealt with it. This is where the gold was.


He explained that when you’re performing, especially touring and playing backline/gear sharing there’s so many variables that you can’t control. You might have had a shitty nights sleep. You might be injured. The kit might not feel right. Foldback might not be happening. There’s too many to name all of them. As much as you’d like to have total control of what’s happening, it’s simply not the case. He also told a story of Mike Johnston performing a clinic at PASIC. After the clinic Russ Miller, Matt and a few others went back to talk to Mike. They congratulated him on a great clinic, and he told them that he thought it was shit, that when he practiced it at his studio it had been way better, and then Russ told him the magic words. “It’s the same with everyone. When you’re playing live, 70% is a good gig.” We’re human. We’re not a drum machine, and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be one.


Now my attitude going into a gig is that if I give this 70%, then it’s going to be a good gig. Now don’t misinterpret this. I’m not saying that I half ass my preparation, or only learn 70% of the material. All it means is that I give myself a buffer, where if I make a little mistake, then it’s no big deal, it’s just part of my 30% margin of error. Since then I’ve enjoyed my gigs a lot more, and because I haven’t gotten stuck in my own head beating myself up I’ve actually played better as well! Here’s an example of how this helped me recently.


My band Mabel were playing a show at the Oxford Arts Factory on the Gallery stage. For those that haven’t been there it’s a tiny concrete room with a very small stage. I’m a pretty tall guy (185cm/6’2”) and like to sit pretty high because of this. We were kit sharing with the headliners, and when I got onstage I realised that the stool didn’t go up. Not even a little bit. So I was stuck! Usually this would have de-railed me, and I’d already be thinking that it’s going to be a shitty gig, but this time I thought “It’s all good, just give it 70%.” It wasn’t my greatest gig, but I was able to enjoy it instead of shitting on myself the entire time.


So try it. Take some of the pressure off. Make 70% the new 100% and let me know how you go.



Matt Johnson on Jeff Buckley

This video is one of the reasons why I love the internet. Grace is one of the most influential records that I've heard.

I first got shown it when I was 16. Garry Beers, the bass player from INXS had 2 daughters that were at the same school that I went to. Every year the school would have a competition between the 4 houses, and the winning house would get a day planned for them that would usually consist of jumping castles, pizza and this particular year, a live concert. I got a call from Garry asking if I'd play drums for it. I shat myself. One of the biggest pressure situations I've been in to this day is playing New Sensation with Garry, and praying that I'd get the stops right!

After the first rehearsal he gave me a lift home, and we were talking about music. He asked if I'd heard "Grace", and I told him I hadn't. He gave me his copy of the CD, along with a couple of other records to say thanks for doing the gig, and it all changed from there.

A lot of the early influences I went through haven't stood the test of time. I still have a lot of fondness for those early records. Metallica, Primus, D.I.G etc. But Grace is one of the few albums that have stood that test of time. It's in my top 5 of all time for sure, and if you told me I could only listen to 1 album for the rest of my life, this would probably be it.

There's always a sense of mystery surrounding the record. There's documentaries about it, and hell, people have talked a lot about the process, what it was like, where it was recorded, but I wanted to know about the drums! What was it like for Matt? What was the process? Where was his head at? Tonight that all got answered by this video.

This is one I'll be watching a bunch of times, and you should check it out too.

Sometimes finished is better than perfect.

I've had this squarespace blog for nearly 9 months now. But this is the first entry.

For all those months I've been looking for the perfect first post. I've been waiting for the right time. Looking for the perfect thing to open up the door. But... It never comes.
It's partly through fear. I'm really scared of looking stupid, of opening myself up and getting shot down. But today, I decided to prove to myself that I'm not a good writer, that my ideas of wanting to be a grandiose intelectual writer are not true.

I was listening to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, "The Duncan Trussell Family Hour"
(The live episode from the improv with Dan Harmon and Emil Amos, listen to it here.) and something that Dan Harmon said struck a chord. The question was about something that people can do to break themselves out of their everyday patterns and move closer to something great. He said to prove to yourself that you suck. To just write something. 

All the waiting around for the perfect moment, for the perfect first post is that fear. So this is it.

What I want to do with this blog is cover a bunch of ground. To have detailed technical analysis of drums, music, techniques etc. But I also want to talk about more esoteric ideas. Where does creativity come from, mindsets, and a bunch more. I also want to share my own experiences. 

So this is it! Post 1 down. I don't think anyone will initially read this, but the important thing is I'm starting. So you should to.