I have a lot of people ask me how I can get up in front of a crowd and play music, tell stories, make jokes, perform. Everyone seems curious about how I don’t have stage fright.
I read blogs like Sonic Bids who post about different things for us music folks to do – like THIS and THIS. While I think they have some good ideas, I thought I’d put together my own ideas. I hope they’re helpful.
So, here’s my list of how to get over stage fright.
- Don’t. Even after years of performing with bands, and more than a year as a solo act – I still get nervous. I feel the anxiety coursing from my brain down to my nerves right now just thinking about being on stage. So, what do I do? I use it. Being on stage, I have two choices: I can either put on an authentic show and let my fear power me, or I can put on a mask (more of that later). Use the fear, use the anxiety, use the nerves. When I let go and just embrace it, I find I not only give a better performance – and one that is enjoyed more by the audience – but I also find it easier to find the groove for the night. Sooner than you’d believe, the fear is gone.
- Suck It Up. The truth of the matter is that most of the audience won’t really care if you’re nervous. They are there to see you perform, to hear some music, and to let go of their own worries and have fun. I tell myself this before almost every show, “Suck it up. You want to be a musician, you want to sell albums, you want this as a career? Then suck it up and go play the show. Or, go find a different passion.” And that is, in a way, the truth of the matter. Do I want to play music for a living? Yes. Do I want to constantly tour and play shows? Nope. I dream of the introvert musician life – but, until I can make that happen, I’ll do what I have to on a stage.
- The Mask & The Bluff. Everyone’s heard the term Fake It Til Ya Make It. Sure, that’s one idea. But, why not take it a little further? When I need an extra boost, I’ll emulate some of my heroes. I’ll go into Tom Waits mode and tell a story that rambles around while using a raspy voice. Or, I’ll play an instrumental or something that lets me go a little crazy on the guitar – I’ll pretend no one can see my face, like Buckethead. I encourage my fellow performers to find a mental place they can slip into as a mask, it can help. BE WARNED: Do not overdo it. Your audience is there to see YOU, not your impression of someone else (unless you’re in a tribute band). So, don’t get stuck in the mask.
- Deep Breaths and Vision. Okay, you’re up there on a stage, you’re playing your show, what are you forgetting? Breathe! Take some deep breaths. It’ll help to get rid of the anxiety (it aids in turning off the amygdale – The Fight or Flight response – read more about that HERE). I will be getting ready for my show, tuning up and checking my sounds – and while I do that, I take slow, deep breaths. While I’m performing I will use my sight, too. I will either look at someone who makes me comfortable (my Lady, or a close friend), or I will even close my eyes. When I close my eyes and play music I can let myself go a little bit more. I lose the self-consciousness outside my wall of sight, and I connect with my instrument or the words I’m singing. When I open my eyes, the audience seems to more engaged – which helps me feel better about what I’m playing.
Note: this doesn’t always happen. I’ve closed my eyes to play a song, opened them again, and the only people in the house are my Lady and my Family. Sure, I’ve cleared the house a number of times – but I’ve also opened my eyes to find a packed house with every pair of eyes on me (or their eyes are closed, too, and they’re rapt in the music).
5.) Make’em laugh. I use this one at least fifty times a show (give or take a million). I’ll tell a joke, a story, or even a quick one-liner that will make people laugh. I like to make it one that makes me laugh, too. Laughing eases tension. If you perform with a band, then say something that is an inside joke between you and your bandmates. You don’t have to say it in the mic – just look back at your drummer and say that line from Family Guy, or something you and your bassist laughed about at the last rehearsal. It will ease the pressure, and usually get your mind thinking about something else.
BONUS NUMBER 6.) Try Something New. If you’ve been doing the same things at your shows for months, or years, and you’re still feeling stage fright, try something new. Anything from mindfulness practice and meditation to changing how you set up your equipment can make a change for you and your show. I recommend trying any changes to your gear at rehearsals first – I know, it seems obvious, but I had to say it. I like adding new songs to my repertoire, trying not to play songs the same way too many times, and giving my shows a theme (I don’t tell people the theme – I just let myself know). It challenges me, pushes me, keeps things fresh, and keeps me going back and performing.
There you go. Now, go perform.