Some of the more intensely powerful artists and performers struggle with nerves, anxiety, and fear. This is likely because of the naturally acute sensitivity, compassion, and understanding that is required to effectively move an audience.
So, sensitivity becomes a two-edge sword. It cuts to the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual core of what is to be performed while leaving the performer cut wide open, naked and vulnerable.
Imagine you’re singing in the shower; and then, all of a sudden the walls break away and you’re on stage with no place to hide. That’s a bit extreme, but not far from the emotional truth of a genuine, powerfully moving performance.
Get Over Exposure
So the nerves that are often wrestled with are those same nerves that come with not wanting to be exposed. Think of the shower example again. You’re singing; and then you hear someone outside your home yell, knock it off, or they start singing along; or maybe someone pounds on the wall. That freaked out feeling that you have when a private moment has been publicly received is very much like the nerves and fears that come with performing live.
Crank Up Confidence
But for many, the nerves come due to a lack of confidence and that often comes from a lack of training or preparation. Even the issues that come from a disposition of heightened sensitivity and vulnerability can be addressed through some activities and practices to keep nervous energy and anxiety not only in check but properly channeled to focus and energize your performance.
Building confidence is critical to fashion a shield of armor that will help you fend off the jitters and panic attacks. One of the first steps is to equip yourself with an arsenal of at least five songs that you love to sing. These are songs that make you feel good about yourself and get you in touch with a sense of power and purpose.
This fistful of songs serves to anchor you and give you a handle on your nerves. When you sing them, it’s like a creative, emotional, even spiritual pep rally. These are songs that are also fun to play with.
So that if you want to try something new stylistically, these songs provide a safe place for new twists of phrasing, fresh shifts in a groove or tempo, and change ups in range or key.
Mastering Mix + Singing Success
These songs are great for applying tips and techniques learned in your Mastering Mix and Singing Success programs as well. You bring what you learn from the programs and your coaching sessions to the familiar territory of these anchor songs. It’s like a vocal backyard or secret garden where you can have friends and guests over to entertain, inspire, encourage, or simply just play with or perform for.
Attack What Distracts
If you’ve ever performed live in a club venue, frat house, or a wild party, you know how distracting an audience can be. The biggest problem is staying focused because the very focus of your attention as a singer and storyteller has become divided.
You want your audience to hear you, like you, and enjoy your performance, while at the same time you want the heckler, those “under the influence,” and others to either leave or shut up.
But your focus must remain on your performance and the messages, images, and feelings you are communicating, song by song. And the good news is that’s the one thing you have total control over. By keeping yourself seated in the moment of the message of each song, you will stay focused, remain strong, keep calm, and deliver as promised.
Once you stray from that focus, nerves and anxiety will creep in and then go on a roll like a psychotic snowball. You’ll likely lose your place, forget words, stumble, and start to feel defeated and not as good as you really are.
That fear of not being accepted or liked creates tremendous pressure to perform well. But the motivation to perform well should not come from a fear of an unruly, inattentive, or unappreciative audience. Yet even this sort of situational fear is best addressed by being prepared and building your confidence.
You can build confidence and be prepared for the unexpected by holding a mock rehearsal or practice run of your performance in front of an audience of close friends. Ask your friends to each bring one person that you don’t know. Your objective is to do your show at peak performance level – period – nothing less is acceptable. For you, it’s opening night. The goal of your invited audience members is to “dis” your performance through disruptions and distractions.
They should be armed to actively engage cell phones, books, purses, bags, noisemakers, pen-lights, papers, and other items that they can drop, rustle, shake, pull apart, and share with others throughout your run-through. There should be food and drink; perhaps even beer or a bottle of wine. They can hurl insults or comments at you or each other. They are to be your worst nightmare.
Keep Your Focus
Your goal is to stay focused. You will be distracted from time-to-time; but shake it off, regroup, refocus, and power back even stronger. You will learn a bit about your natural reactions and process for handling rejection.
You may feel angry or feel like crying. You might feel like giving up. At each point of deepest distraction and greatest frustration, your goal is to press on for the sake of the song you are singing.
One person in your audience must be designated to take notes. But you will not know who this person is. Your guests decide this. That person may even be a distraction at times; maybe even the most vocal or obnoxious. But their goal is to take notes on your responses, your recovery, and your focus.
Once the show is over, sit down to evaluate your performance with this person who has been keeping notes. This will help you be better prepared and more centered should any distractions threaten to disrupt your show. This will help you keep your nerves and anxiety in check. You want that disruptive practice to be a bit “over the top” but also as realistically annoying as possible.
Sometimes anxiety is rooted in the fear of forgetting words or the melody or key or pitch – it’s that fear of going blank, breaking out in a cold sweat, and then, freezing in that place occupied by what has slipped your mind. But relax, there are some things you can do to make your songs as spontaneously second nature as possible.
The Need For Speed
One exercise is to do a speed through recitation of your songs, one right after the other. You do this by setting a timer for one half of the estimated real time duration of your full song set (or those problem songs you feel need extra work with memory). If the timer goes off before you’re finished, you start over and do a complete fast-paced run-through once more of lyrics only.
Do a complete speed-through until you get through it at least one time! This exercise can also be performed by singing quickly. The point is to press on as quickly as possible without thinking too much of the meaning.
Place + Purpose
Another critical exercise in concentration focuses on meaning, and it starts with you writing down a specific place and purpose for each song. In other words, where does the song take place and what is it about. Then, define what you want the audience to receive from the song.
Ask yourself what you want them to carry away. This must be some message or feeling that will let you know that you what you have communicated is a success because the audience gets it.
By defining an objective for each song along with a situation, place, or purpose, you have something to anchor or connect you to your song that must also be communicated to or shared with your audience. This helps you stay focused on the meaning of each song and your reason for reaching the audience.
Another exercise for concentration is to sing through your performance while competing with or potentially listening to something else. Suggestions include the radio, CNN live, a music cable channel, or recorded music; you want it to be something that is totally unrelated to what you’re singing but something that would grab your attention. Your goal is to stay in your song set and not be drawn into the tunes and talk on the radio, TV, or headphones.
Before The Show Goes On
Be sure to warm up for at least an hour before your show, starting with humming your way through your songs as you see the words in your mind’s eye or hear them internally. This will also help to calm any pre-show jitters. Remember that nerves are a positive power source to tap for focusing your energy on delivering the message of each song and giving your audience a great show.
No Fear, No Spotlight
For your actual live show times, always invite at least one person for whom you will be singing. This should be someone that always boosts your spirits and empowers you personally. If they can’t make it, don’t panic. You can pretend they are there and dedicate your performance to them.
You can also pick out three friendly faces in the audience to play to – center, left, and right – that will help you vary your stage movement, eye contact, and interplay with the audience. If eye contact is too intimidating or annoying, choose spots in the house that can serve as your focal points. Don’t get hung up on one, and don’t choose something that’s subject to moving too much or disappearing.
After The Show
Do a quick self-evaluation after each performance to cite areas for improvement and to pat yourself on the back for sweet victories and bright spots.
Remember to keep your anchor songs alive as a fun place to play and gain confidence as you grow stronger. Engage in your concentration and distraction exercises to feed your focus, cradle your composure, and rock your audience come show time!