Stage Fright? Hate the spotlight? Wish you could just relax and enjoy the moment on stage?
If you answered yes to these questions, then join the friggen’ club! Performance anxiety is a real thing, and most artists struggle with it at some point in their life. I used to be the kind of person who would confirm a show and instantly feel that excitement turn into dread.
For a long season of my life, the nights leading up to my performances were filled with disturbing dreams detailing every possible scenario that could lead to my catastrophic failure. The truck would break down on the way to the show. I would get lost. My hands would grow so large that I literally could not hold my guitar. And ultimately, I would forget EVERY SINGLE SONG I KNEW. The worst part about these dreams was that there was always a crowd of people to witness it.
My first serious bout of performance anxiety reared it’s ugly head unexpectedly.
I had spent my teenage years playing guitar and singing backup in a band. During that time, we played a bazillion shows, and I enjoyed them. I could noodle my way through every guitar solo and fuss with my pedals and sing my little parts all while thinking about what I was going to order at Applebees that night. Okay, so every once in a while at a festival or special event with thousands of people, I would find my palms sweating and feel a little overwhelmed. But, that felt normal and totally acceptable to me.
Years later, things changed drastically when I became the front person of my own band. My level of ease on stage instantly shifted. It was overwhelming to be the center of everyone’s attention. On the stage, no matter how musically prepared I was, my brain would turn into soup and betray me. And to make matters worse, I had no idea how to transition from song to song. This led to more and more slip ups and failures, and ultimately eroded my confidence down to the point where I no longer wanted to play shows. So I stopped.
What the hell had happened? I had played close to 1000 shows with my old band and had never felt this way. After TONS of experience being on stage, why couldn’t I make this transition? I realized later that fronting a band was a completely different skill than playing a supportive roll, and that I had no idea how to do it.
Forgiving myself for sucking as a front person took years, but once I finally did, I was able to learn the skills I needed to be a comfortable performer. Here are my 5 tips to help you grow into a pro…
Tip #1: Accept yourself where you are right now.
Being an artist or any other type of skilled professional takes a ton of work and dedication. No one emerges from the womb able to play a Mozart concerto, compete in the Iron Man, or do brain surgery. It’s okay if you’re not where you want to be at this moment, because you’re on your journey to getting there. There are no shortcuts to good old experience. Commit to the idea that you have what it takes to be a great perfomer, and that someday you will reach that goal. Be grateful for the skills you posses right now and think about how far you’ve already come. Accepting yourself where you are will give you permission to move forward.
Tip #2: Stop criticizing yourself & apologizing when people compliment your performance.
Changing how you speak about yourself is the first step to changing what you think about yourself. Negative self talk is a bad habit, and it reinforces the feelings contributing to your performance anxiety by replacing praise with criticism. Stop feeding the anxiety beast! Accept the fact that most people aren’t lying to you or “throwing you a bone” when they compliment you. Praise is a gift, let people be generous to you in this way.
Tip #3: Don’t dwell on your mistakes.
After your performance, acknowledge the slip ups you made during your set, and think about what could have prevented them. Then, FORGIVE YOURSELF. This is hard work and it takes practice, but it’s a habit that can change your life if you master it. Squash negative thoughts by remembering the parts of your performance that went well. Don’t allow the last thought you think about your set be a negative one. The goal is to re-train your brain to think of performing as a positive experience, and to do that you have to outbalance the bad thoughts with the good.
Tip #4: Prepare yourself.
Practice your musical skills whenever you have the chance. You cannot expect to perform like a professional if you don’t work like one. Identify your problem spots and focus on those areas during practice. If you’re always ruining the guitar solo in one song, or you get nervous whenever you think about a specific vocal run, build those skills into your muscle memory. Muscle memory is when you’ve trained your brain and body to complete a task through repetition. It allows you to perform tasks without actually thinking about what your doing, and it’s awesome. I almost never have to think about what I’m doing when I’m performing. This is because I’ve built up my muscle memory.
Tip #5: Perform, perform, perform!
Accept the fact that performing in front of people is its OWN SEPARATE SKILL. Being the center of attention is super weird and uncomfortable for lots of people. Nothing can replace or replicate being in front of an actual audience, so you need good old experience. Face those fears and give yourself as many opportunities to practice performing as possible. Open mic’s, busking gigs, and coffee shop appearances are great opportunities to build your skills. Pretty soon you’ll be breathing a little easier, smiling a little more, and you might even find yourself enjoying your moment in the spotlight.
Did these tips help you? What are some of the skills and strategies you use to become a better performer? Let me know by leaving a question or comment below.