We all know the feeling of terror when we take the stage. That hyper-aware place where your thoughts become jumbled, your voice quavers and your palms sweat. If you say, "Oh, not me! I never get stage fright" I say you're lying or you've never been on stage. Performers in general and musicians in particular are insecure by nature. That's why we seek the spotlight in the first place, to gain validation from others. Don't worry, it doesn't have to paralyze your performance or worse, keep you from performing at all. You may not be able to banish it completely, and you may not want to as it can be used to your advantage. Read on McDuff and I'll pass along the words of wisdom I've absorbed in my years of dealing with stage fright and discussing it with other professional musicians.
The very first line of defense against stage fright is using your own mind to blunt it's impact through mental imagery. Remember what that last audience looked like the last time stage fright negatively affected your performance? Now change that picture in your mind. Imagine those scary people all in their underwear. Briefs and boxers with little pink cupids and superman underoos. They look rediculous don't they? The more rediculous the better. They don't seem all that threatening any more do they? The next gig you play, just as you're about to play, take a look at the audience and choose their mental underwear. Then close your eyes for a moment and really try to form the mental picture. They may wonder what the hell you're laughing about but they're not going to seem very threatening.
Be prepared and you will not feel so insecure. Practice, practice, practice. Know your parts before you get to rehearsal and use the time in rehearsal to fit the parts together. That's what rehearsal is for. Take a few minutes before the show to run over the first few numbers in your head or on your instrument quietly, preferably in private. Once you have the momentum going by playing a couple very well prepared songs, the rest of the show is a piece of cake. You'll have the confidence borne of success to carry you through the rest of the evening.
MEDITATION OR DEEP BREATHING EXERCISES
Try this little exercise for relieving stress. Take a slow, deep breath through your mouth. Really fill those lungs up. Hold it just for a half a second and breathe out through your nose very slowly until your lungs empty. Repeat this a few times. Don't you just feel the stress ebb away? Your perception becomes clear. You become calm and centered. You've just increased the oxygen level in your brain, increasing it's power and clarity. Feels good, doesn't it?
Oh Mantra sounds like a mystical word doesn't it? It's just a phrase that you repeat over and over. With each repetition, you believe it more. You can make up your own but, as goofy as they sound, here's some I've used that worked for me.
"I'm a musician and you're just regular people. You wish you were me."
"Tonight is the night of my best performance ever"
"Damn, I'm good!"
"Every female in the house wants me"
"You look pretty stupid in your underwear"
Okay, I made the last one up on the spot but you get the idea. Take a self-affirming thought, turn it into a phrase and repeat it over and over in your mind.
BE ON TIME AND INSIST YOUR BANDMATES DO THE SAME
Feeling frantic trying to get set up in a hurry, starting the show without a sound check, having the club owner watching you get ready to play, etc. These add an enormous amount of stress to the beginning of your show. If you have a bandmate that constantly shows up at the last minute or late, fire him and replace him. This person is no pro and he'll drag you down. If you are always late, shame on you! Buy a watch. Leave your house an hour early. Grow up, there are other people's reputations depending on you. I make it a point to be the first person to arrive at a venue.but I don't go inside until the second person shows up. That way I don't feel nervous in an unfamiliar place with only strangers around me.
No alcohol before the third set. (or none at all ) And no pot smoking, it makes you paranoid. Save it for after the show if you must partake.
ESTABLISH A PRE-SHOW RITUAL
Rituals are comforting. They make you feel comfortable in a place and in your mental space. I insist that set up be done 15 minutes minimum before show time including all sound checks. This 15 minutes is mine and I suffer no interruptions. I go to the dressing room or my car and do deep breathing 5 X. I then run over the first two songs in my head. I then do my mantra. At 5 minutes before the show I grab a bottle of water, hit the bathroom and splash my face. I time my arrival to exactly show time and count down or cue the first song. No talking, no intro, just go. The goofy people in their underwear KNOW you're a professional, there to entertain them.
USE THE EVIL POWER FOR GOOD
I briefly mentioned the "hyper-aware" state that stage fright can induce. This is your naturally occuring "fight or flee" response to a situation you percieve as dangerous. Your perceptions are heightened, you hear better, you see better...you can perform better. By the way, it's not really dangerous on-stage. I've played some of the roughest bars and biker clubhouses around and the only time an audience member has physically attacked me is when they were an angry husband or boyfriend trying to keep me from taking their woman away from them. Just see who's with that total babe before you hit on her too hard and you're safe.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If nothing else works, see a counselor or doctor. There are many therapies and medications that can help with extreme stage fright. I've heard of many performers who take beta-blocking drugs and swear they do wonders. Don't let your musical talent be stifled.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ol' Ketchfish is a songwriter and musician with years of performance experience, back to the bad old eighties. He's played every kind of venue from dirt floor barrooms to church halls, from stadiums to small town bandstands. At every gig, he's experienced stagefright and he's found some techniques to use it to his advantage, so can you with a little practice. Check out his website at http://clik.to.ketchfish for more information.