More than one new student has contacted me this week describing issues of confidence on stage, so today I’ll talk about where confidence on stage comes from, and how to get it.
I wish I could snap my fingers and help people feel confident. I’m sure they wish I could, too! And there are certainly some tricks you can use to stay calm right now, in the near term, tonight, if you’re fighting stage fright. But actual deep confidence takes a while to develop. Here is where I believe confidence comes from. (Anyone who has more ideas, feel free to add them in the comments section below.)
If you’re not prepared, you’ll be nervous. Because if you have to think about what comes next, you can’t think about giving to your audience. You can’t think about expressing the song. A high level of preparation will do a lot for your confidence.
Each time my cover band performs a new song live for the first time, I’m a bit nervous because it is – almost by definition – less prepared than all the other songs we have in the set. We do make sure that we can play the song well enough before we take it live, but we don’t beat it to death. In other words, it’s not *quite* as prepared as it could be.
An exception was the first gig that we ever played together. We practiced that one set start to finish until we were bored to death with it. But we were prepared! I wasn’t nervous about that one because I didn’t have to think. (And we landed a booking agent at that gig.)
Give Rather Than Receive
It’s natural to want to be liked, especially when you are standing on stage in front of a bunch of people. But you have to start the energy loop. You have to give the love first.
And when you do, you’ll stop worrying so much about yourself. And people will feel that. The audience knows when you’re more concerned about yourself than about them, just like anyone you spend time with off-stage knows that. We’re all still humans, whether we’re onstage or off, performer or audience. So focus on giving your energy, rather than waiting to receive it from the audience, and your confidence will improve just because you’re no longer so self-conscious!
Of course, the first time most people get on stage, they are not terribly confident. (Some fortunate few are, like my 14-year-old student Jacob Larson, but not all of us are that lucky.) If you’re one of the majority of people who aren’t comfortable on stage because you haven’t stood in front of a crowd and been the center of attention very many times, well, then you just have to go do it, again and again.
I once heard about a 12-day theory of stage fright, which was basically that if you have stage fright, get up on stage 12 nights in a row, such as at open mic nights, and it’ll be gone forever. At least I think that’s how it went. But the bottom line is that if you don’t have confidence because you don’t have much experience, then get yourself some. Just do it. Sorry, that one is no big secret.
This means knowing you belong on stage. Knowing you were born to do this. Knowing that you are not “borrowing” time from the audience, but giving them something good to experience. Knowing that you deserve to be there.
This comes from inside. You have to look inside and cultivate authority on your own. You have to be playing music you believe in. You have to know this is what you are here to do. You need to know you have something of value to give.
If you don’t believe you deserve to be on stage, no one else is going to, either.
Having “Enough” Skill
I put “enough” in quotes because it’s a slippery, subjective measurement. At the very least, you need to be able to sing on pitch and in time, of course. But depending on your genre, your audience, and your type of gig, “enough” skill on your instrument can vary quite a bit. For some genres, the bar is pretty low – as long as you are charismatic, who cares if you can sing more than an octave an a half? (Hello, Bruce Springsteen.)
If you are aware that your skill level falls short of the audience’s expectations, that’ll wreak havoc with your confidence. But try not to beat yourself up about this. Most people underestimate themselves. You’re probably better than you think. And remember, most audience members aren’t musicians. You have better ears than most audience members, just because you’re a musician.
Bottom line is you need enough skill to know you can play your music well. You don’t have to be the best singer or the best guitar player in the room to be a success. So… just practice what you need to, and stop worrying. (There’s more about this in the Zen of the Stage DVDs.)
If you are suffering from stage fright, there are lots of tricks you can use to get a short-term, immediate boost of confidence or calm. Rather than describe them in this article, you can just grab my e-Book HERE if you want to learn more. It has 10 quick-fix methods to deal with stage fright, all of which I’ve used at one time or another.
A Strong Mental Foundation
For the longer term, you can cultivate a strong mental foundation that will allow you to deal with whatever comes up. And things are always going to come up. You can’t expect that every gig is going to go just like rehearsal.
I developed this mental foundation through sports psychology in 15 years of nationally competitive waterskiing. Then, a couple of years ago, I translated the techniques to the stage and put them in the Zen of the Stage DVDs, which you can get on Amazon or straight from my web site. There’s way too much information to put into a short article like this, but you can learn a lot more about what’s in the DVDs and how they work, HERE.
What other ideas do you have? How have you cultivated your own confidence on stage?
(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn