So, you’re backstage and your show starts in one hour. You start sweating and your heart starts beating faster and faster. You feel the need to use the toilet more often than usual. You might have a migraine, or feel a void in your stomach – like you felt at school when the teacher announced a pop quiz. Your hands might start shaking. You’re wondering “what if I fail?”. You play your worst case scenario over in your head, again and again. It’s OK, though. It’s stage fright. Fear is just an emotion and since you’re able to control all kinds of other emotions and function normally in your daily life, I’m pretty sure you can deal with this one, too. Just look in the mirror and shake it off. But, just for future reference, I’m going to give you five tips for overcoming stage fright.
- Practice, practice, practice: This one is kind of self-explanatory. What’s more, I’m sure you’ve heard that the key to success is hard work. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll feel on stage. Nothing will be able to stop you – not even bad sound or other technical difficulties. Knowing your parts, as well as the parts of your band, is the number one advice I can give. If practice was food, there’s no doubt it’d be a superfood.
- Sharpen your reflexes: You know your parts, your sound check was great, but at the gig the power goes off. Why panic when you can actually improvise and turn this drab to a fab? Create an intimate moment – improvise an acapella version of your songs or cover a favourite. On stage you can be whoever you want to be, so if you’re naturally funny, for instance, channel your inner Louis C.K. Tell a joke until the sound is fixed or ask the audience to tell a story. Turn an unfortunate event into an unforgettable night. Before the show, prepare for all possible misfortunes in a calm and trouble-shooting kind of way. If you play guitar or bass and your strings break often, make sure you have spare ones on stage and plan for one track in your set to be the one where you change your strings. Always remember that there are solutions for pretty much everything and as long as you learn to creatively control your anxiety, everything is going to be fine.
- Build a persona: Whether bold or subtle, creating an alter ego could be the way you say goodbye to your stage fright once and for all. Based on your music and lyrics, you can come up with a persona that suits you and feels comfortable when you’re impersonating him/her. Collecting all that screams ‘stage outfit material’ (shoes, jackets, jewellery, wigs, make-up, etc.) could be a fun thing to do, too. I’m not saying that looking like a peacock will make you feel like you own the world, however, it might help. There’s a reason why Till Lindemann (of Rammstein) puts on all his gear or why theatre and movie actors wear costumes.
- Think like your idol: As weird as it might sound, you and your idol have way more in common than you probably think. The way you get influenced by them on a creative level is the same way you should get inspired by their confidence and stage skills. They’re a professional who is most likely recognised for their talent and contribution to the music scene. This means that expectations for them to succeed are probably a tad higher than in your case. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that, despite the pressure, they’re always able to deliver. They always shine and are strong enough to pull through the tightest of schedules. If they can do it, then you can do it, too. The moment you get a wave of anxiety, I’d recommend you think of Beyoncé, Madonna, Mick Jagger or whoever you please – would they let a random fear of failure overtake their performance? Do they even have that luxury to sit around and stress out? The answer is obviously no! Think like them, and you can only win!
- Take some ‘me time’ before the show to warm up and concentrate: When you’re a person who has anxiety tendencies, the tiniest of things could affect your whole existence – especially in the context of going on stage to sing your own songs, where you’re in the spotlight and vulnerable. The best thing to do here is to prepare yourself physically and mentally before hopping up there. Like athletes, we need to be in peak condition before our performance. Whether you’re a singer, a guitar or bass player, a drummer, a keyboardist, or a percussionist – you name it, you need to warm up those muscles properly. You can warm up as a team or alone, that’s completely up to you. Take one hour before the show to concentrate, stretch and run the set through in your mind. If you wear special costumes or clothes on stage, use your time putting them on to become the greatest version of yourself you can be. Hide any anxiety inside yourself, perform to your full potential and don’t let stress get in the way.
It takes a lot of courage to get on stage to perform your own songs and I understand that long tours or those moments before that ‘important’ show can be nerve-racking. However, music is supposed to be fun – we play it; it’s like a game. A game that we, as artists and performers, choose to play. Always remember that you do your dream job – many people would kill to switch places with you. Channel the energy you waste being nervous into delivering a memorable performance. That way, everybody wins!
Sarah P. fronted the highly-esteemed duo Keep Shelly in Athens for over a decade, and has now stepped into the limelight on her own. ‘Who Am I’ is the title track to her upcoming debut album as a solo artist. She also recently delivered a Masterclass on overcoming stage fright to the students at BIMM Berlin.
Photography Credit– Christoph Neumann and Nao Takeda