8 August, 2013 in Features
This month our regular columnist, singer-songwriter Lisa Redford, looks at how to deal with those sometimes crippling pre-gig nerves
f you’re a performing songwriter, do you recognise and dread these feelings moments before a gig? Butterflies in the stomach… racing heartbeat… dry mouth… clammy hands… shakiness? Stage fright unfortunately affects most musicians at some point, no matter how often they perform, and is frustrating considering performing live is an important aspect of being an independent musician and a key way of gaining new fans.
I find it a fascinating topic. Sometimes I definitely feel edgy, especially those moments before stepping on the stage, while other times I’ve felt quite relaxed and been able to get into that zone easily. Whether your stage fright is minor or if the thought of walking onstage sends you into panic, hopefully these tips, including things I do pre-gig, will help you reduce your fears.
The first thing is not to fret about getting rid of your stage fright, but instead concentrate on learning how to handle it, and developing ways to help you cope with it. Adrenaline and fear mean you care about your performance going well, and adrenaline helps give you that buzz and energy – so use it to play a great gig. So many fears can pop into your head before playing that it can feel overwhelming to quell them, and it’s this fear of the unknown that makes us lose feelings of control. So taking command of your thoughts is key.
“Yoga, meditation and visualisation all help with controlling nerves”
Worry makes your body tense up, so I do some deep breathing before going on stage. Yoga, meditation and visualisation are all calming techniques that also help with controlling breathing and nerves. I usually follow my breathing exercises with vocal warm-ups because, as well as also helping with breathing, they give me something to focus on and take my mind off worrying about the gig. I have some favourite exercises and I can go into more detail on vocal warm-ups and breathing exercises if you want to contact me.
Playing live in front of audiences often is one of the best ways to make it feel less daunting, whether it be an intimate gig or a big theatre. It also helps you hone your stage craft skills. I definitely feel less worried when I’m on a tour than when there are long gaps between gigs.
Being well prepared and knowing your material is hugely important. Practising a lot beforehand and working out a set-list enables you to know how your set is going to go. It’s spontaneous and exciting to go with the flow and the set-list doesn’t have to be carved in stone, but it’s definitely less stressful going on stage knowing what you’re going to play. I also usually add notes to my set-list, such as when I need my capo.
For my pre-gig routine, as well as vocal exercises I find reading helps to distract my mind. I also like to find a quiet spot to sit. I used to chat away to people who had come to see me, but found it would make me more edgy as well as tiring my voice. Sometimes I prefer to walk around outside the venue – moving the body definitely helps. Fear makes our mouths dry, so keep hydrated by drinking room temperature water; I also like to sip ginger or peppermint tea. Find whatever works best for you.
Onstage, get a feel for the performance space as that will help you feel comfortable when playing. During the soundcheck is a good time to get used to the stage and the sound and make sure you’re happy. I find small things like having a table where I can easily access my capo, water etc really help me. If, like me, you play guitar on stage, make sure you’re comfortable with your microphone stand and where to plug in. Be comfortable in your stage gear too: it’s best to dress lightly as, even leaving the issue of any stage lighting aside, stress raises the body’s temperature, so you might start to feel hot even if it’s mid-winter in the UK and you’re playing an unheated barn!
Before playing, I like to smile at the crowd and introduce myself as it helps me feel less tentative. I have certain songs that I start with and it’s usually one I know really well and can play confidently. If you dread talking on stage it’s good to have some things in mind but also okay to be spontaneous. If you make a mistake or say something silly, don’t worry. The audience aren’t there to make you feel bad, they’re rooting for you and being yourself and playing with real emotion will endear yourself to them.
“Even Beyonce, I’m told, has an alter ego called Sasha Fierce”
Some performers find it helps if they pretend that they’re actors playing a role, and develop a persona for the stage. Even Beyonce, I’m told, has an alter ego called Sasha Fierce! Certainly some nights when you’re not feeling especially confident it might help to imagine and project a more confident version of yourself.
Stage fright is hard to conquer but by adopting certain techniques you can at least manage and control it when it arises. If you believe in yourself and your talent, and are positive, you will feel more confident on stage. Don’t focus on how bad it might go but try to work out the moments before or during a gig that you find the most nerve-wracking and focus on figuring out how to deal with them. Try to enjoy the performance as playing live and sharing music is a magical and wonderful thing.
I’d love to hear what you do to combat pre-gig nerves, so if anyone has any more suggestions, feel free to email me or use the Comments button below!
Regular Songwriting columnist Lisa Redford has been described by BBC Radio 2′s Bob Harris as “one of our finest singer/songwriters.” She has earned acclaim for her heartfelt acoustic music with gorgeous melodies, stunning pure and soulful vocals. Lisa recently released an EP called Reminders, recorded with musician and producer Jeff Hill who has worked with Rufus Wainwright and Teddy Thompson. It has received glowing reviews and BBC radio airplay.