Just to be clear: this blog will not help with bedroom-based performance anxiety (there are specialist websites for that). We’re talking about the clammy-palmed, dry-heaving, bowel-melting terror that strikes you on show day. Forget the old cliché of picturing the audience naked (especially if you’re playing blues-rock for the sixty-plus crowd) and try these five tips to get your head straight before the gig.
#1. Change your mindset
Instead of viewing adrenalin as poison in your veins, put a positive spin on your symptoms and remember they’re actually a sign that your body is ready for action. The reason you’ve just thrown up for the fifth time is because you care so deeply about your performance – and all that nervous energy will translate into an intense show that leaves it all on the stage. Including a steaming pool of vomit.
#2. Channel your nervous energy
Spiritual types call it ‘centering’, and it goes something like this. First, take some slow, deep breaths to get your body out of ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Stop visualising being pelted by tomatoes and tell yourself out loud that you can do this, visualising the positive end result of a great show. Starting at your feet and working up your body, focus on and relax each individual muscle. When you hit the stage, summon up every last drop of nervous energy and negativity from around your body and focus it intently at a specific spot on the back wall, like you’re Cyclops from X-Men.
#3. Healthy body, healthy mind
Don’t be fooled by George Clooney’s smoothie routine in the Nespresso ads: too much caffeine will crank up the jitters, making your hands shake, your heart flutter and your bladder declare a code yellow. Likewise, cut back your sugar intake, eat a balanced diet and don’t fall into the trap of slamming a shot backstage each night (that way addiction lies). Try transcendental meditation, and if you’re worried that it’s too new-age, consider that ice-cool Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme is a fan (“There’s no dogma,” he told Rolling Stone).
#4. Get into the habit
If you only play two shows a year, the stage will always feel alien and the sheer enormity of the occasion will always threaten your underpants. On the flipside, if you fill your tour diary, getting up there will start to feel entirely natural, like buying milk or doing the washing-up. As Michael Amott of Arch Enemy once told me: “I’m not afraid of the crowd. I’m not afraid of the show going badly. I’m as comfortable being up onstage as having a beer in the bar or sleeping in my bed…”
#5. Do your homework
Everyone has their own personal nightmare scenario, but for most of us, it’s causing a howler that brings the set grinding to a halt. If that sounds like you, pinpoint which songs and sections are keeping you up at night and give them extra attention during band practice. By the time you hit the stage, you’ll be bulletproof.