Posted: 10 September 2019
We’ve all had that dream: it’s the night of the big presentation, you walk on stage and the audience immediately starts laughing. You drop your cue cards. You open your mouth, but you can’t speak. Somehow, you’re naked. As farfetched as these dreams can be, it doesn’t stop that feeling of dread creeping in when you’re about to perform. So what should you do if stage fright is starting to get you down?
While it’s the most vital step in resolving any issue, talking is often the hardest thing to do. As the saying goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, so try to talk about your stage fright with your bandmates, management team or friends and family. The more you talk, the more you’ll discover how common an issue it is. It’ll also allow other people to help you. For example, your manager could speak to production staff at a big gig and advise them to give you a bit of undisturbed personal time.
Nobody’s suggesting that jumping on the next celebrity endorsed foot craze is going to cure your stage fright but consuming the right things is important. Playing a set can be physically draining so it’s important to eat and drink as normally as possible, even if you don’t feel up to it. Nobody wants to see you faint because you didn’t eat all day. That being said, too many sugary foods and caffeinated drinks can make you feel more jittery and anxious. Although some musicians overcome their nerves with alcohol, this isn’t the healthiest coping mechanism. Don’t go damaging your reputation by slurring your way through a set.
Mindfulness has become such a popular practice that you’re probably sick of seeing it pop up on your Instagram feed, but it’s not all mood journaling and adult colouring books. Techniques like deep breathing or meditation might help you relax before you go on stage. There are also resources available online that teach you how to manage negative thoughts or experiences.
Sometimes nerves can be eased by something as simple as having a plan. The more variables you can prepare for, the less ‘unknown’ there is to fear. Make sure you get as much information about the gig as possible, rehearse your material thoroughly and pack any spare accessories you might need. You might also benefit from getting a feel of the stage before you go on. If you don’t have a soundcheck to take advantage of, you could ask to see the stage when the venue is empty.
For some people, a general lack of confidence lies at the heart of their performance problems. Taking up martial arts, dance, or improv classes might help you to find extra confidence. If you’re not ready to commit to a new hobby you can push yourself in other ways, like talking to a stranger on the bus or ordering something different at a restaurant.
As tempting as it is to jump in at the deep end, it’s important to play gigs suited to your career level. This will help you to get used to the audience size and the types of people that work these events. It might even help to play a couple of casual open mic nights while you build your confidence.
Sometimes you need to let go of additional pressure. That might mean letting another band member take the role of frontman so you only have to focus on the music. Or you might need to cut back on talking between songs. If you feel too exposed as a soloist, you could try to find a backing band.
When you find yourself beginning to panic, it might help you to rationalise some of your fears. Ask yourself, is anyone really going to remember if you stumble over a couple of words? Is anyone paying that much attention to your specifically, or are they just enjoying a drink at the bar? Audiences can be remarkably unobservant. They’re unlikely to notice your nerves unless you make it a big deal. If things don’t go as planned, remember that this is just one show and it doesn’t have to define your music career.
Stage fright might be something that you always have to deal with but acceptance is a big part of managing your nerves. Knowing what’s coming can help you put plans in places to make gigs more manageable. And if it does stick with you, remember that you’re not alone. Thom Yorke, Adele, Rod Stewart and Barbra Streisand are among the many celebrities who have opened up about their stage fright and we all think they’re awesome.