How to Prevent Stage Fright From Getting in the Way of Your Musical Goals
So, the time has come. The day of the big show has finally arrived. Up until now, you were really looking forward to hopping on stage. But now that the hour of reckoning is upon you, you are overcome by stage fright.
Stage fright is normal for most people and in some ways, it can be a good thing. A little bit of nervous energy will make the performance more exciting. And it means you care about what you’re doing and will be careful not to make a mistake.
But if you are overly anxious, you will be stiff and awkward on stage. You may act withdrawn. What’s worse, if you play an instrument, it could make your hands shake and stiffen up affecting the way you perform.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize stage fright. Here are a few suggestions.
What Causes Stage Fright?
Knowing what causes a condition can minimize its symptoms. Let’s start by talking about the factors that contribute to stage fright. These include:
- Mistakes: One of the reasons you may have stage fright is because you are afraid of making mistakes.
- Unfamiliar Role: if you are not used to being on stage, you may be anxious because you are being put in an unfamiliar role.
- Humiliation: This stems from a fear of saying something embarrassing or performing badly.
- Negative Results: Every musician hopes they will bring the house down, but there’s always a chance people will boo or leave in the middle of the set.
- Rigid Rules: Rules regarding set times, volume restrictions, onstage behavior and more can contribute to nerves.
- Personality Traits: If you tend to be a nervous person, you will be more likely to experience stage fright.
- Preparation: Being poorly prepared or too well prepared can psyche you out.
- Audience interest: This can go both ways. If the audience is focused on you, it can make you nervous. It can also rile your nerves if they are leaving in the middle of your set.
- Physical Appearance: Many people have physical assets they are ashamed of. They may feel these characteristics will be focused on when they are on stage. This will make them even more nervous.
What Are the Symptoms of Stage Fright?
Stage fright is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Racing pulse
- Rapid breathing
- Dry mouth
- Tight throat
- Trembling which can affect the hands, voice, and the rest of the body
- Sweaty, cold hands
- Digestive issues
- Vision changes
What to Do to Minimize Stage Fright
Engaging in certain behaviors will limit anxiety when you are on stage. These include the following:
Avoid Caffeine and Sugar: Caffeine and sugar are known for producing symptoms of anxiety like shaking, digestive issues, accelerated heartbeat and more. It’s best to avoid them before a performance.
Practice: Practice is tricky. You want to practice enough that you know your s**t. This will make you feel more confident on stage. But if you over-practice, you can get to the point where you can’t focus on your instrument which can do more harm than good. You might also get to the point where you start focusing on your mistakes which can make you more nervous.
It's hard to find the perfect balance, but it’s safe to say that once you feel confident with the songs, you can scale it back a bit.
And practicing does not just pertain to how you play the songs. It can also include how you move on stage. It may seem silly, but you may want to try standing in front of the mirror and performing your onstage movements. This will help you determine what looks good, so you feel more confident when you’re in front of an audience.
Have Fun: Anxiety and fun typically do not go hand in hand. Instead of letting anxiety eat you up, try letting go. Close your eyes and imagine the audience having a good time. Lose yourself in the music and tell a few jokes. You are sure to start feeling better soon enough.
Stop Obsessing Over What Could Go Wrong: If you obsess over missing a certain note or singing out of tune, it will make things worse. Focus on the positive instead.
Avoid Thoughts of Self Doubt: A positive and confident attitude will minimize feelings of self-doubt.
Practice Controlled Breathing and Mediation: Controlled breathing and meditation reduce stress. It’s a good idea to engage in these techniques at some point before a show. Note that they take a bit of practice to master so you won’t want to just take them out of the hat randomly.
Try them out at home first. Once you have learned how to do them, bring them into your before-performance routine.
Connect with the Audience: Think of the audience as friends and talk to them as you would an old buddy. This will get everyone feeling more relaxed.
Act Natural: Forcing the way you act on stage will add to your anxiety. Be yourself and you will be more at ease.
Eat a Healthy Diet and Get Plenty of Sleep: Mental and physical health go hand in hand. If you eat healthy, get plenty of sleep and engage in recommended lifestyle habits, you will feel less anxious in general, including when you go on stage.
Make Yourself Look Good: This may seem shallow, but when you look good, you feel more confident. And lets’ face it, it’s also beneficial to look good for your audience. You can do this by wearing an outfit that is flattering, styling your hair in a certain way, and wearing makeup if you like cosmetics.
Talk to a Therapist: It may seem extreme, but if you really can’t get a handle on your emotions and you are set on being a musician, you may want to talk to a therapist to come up with ways to control your fears. He or she may address the issue with cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic strategies. They may also refer you to a psychiatrist who will prescribe you anti-anxiety medications that can be taken right before a show or on an ongoing basis.
Don’t Magnify Mistakes: It’s okay to make mistakes. But if you magnify them, you can get yourself into real trouble.
Say you miss a note. Life goes on. But if you focus on it, you could start missing more notes and getting lost in the song. Practicing often along with the right mindset will keep you on track and give you the focus you need to keep going.
Picture Your Worst-Case Scenario: This may sound counterintuitive, but it can be effective.
If you are feeling anxiety coming on, picture the worst thing that can happen. You mess up? The audience walks away? Sure, something like that could happen, but unless it’s a make-or-break gig, life goes on. There will be other shows and plenty of chances to redeem yourself.
Get Over Yourself: if you think about it, being overly focused on your performance is kind of self-centered. For one, it’s likely you’re not the only one up there. You have your whole band to think about.
You should also consider that members of the audience aren’t thinking about you that much. Sure, they may have not been that impressed with your performance (in a worse case scenario) but they have their own lives to reflect on. It’s likely they are not focusing too much on your band and they are likely to forget a less than stellar performance within a few days.
Get Through the First Five Minutes: For many musicians, the first five minutes on stage is the most stressful. After that, they begin to warm up on their instrument and get more comfortable with the audience. If you picture yourself getting through that first five minutes and assure yourself things will get better, they probably will.
Never Apologize for Being Nervous: Most of the time, no one will notice that you are nervous. If you apologize for being nervous, or admit that you are nervous in any way, it will show that you aren’t as confident as you seem. It will draw attention to your flaws and cause the audience to concentrate on them which can take away from their enjoyment of the show.
Don’t Share Your Mistakes: If you are nervous onstage, you will be more likely to make mistakes. The important thing is to never let the audience know you have made a mistake. Similar to apologizing for being nervous, this will draw attention to a flaw that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. It will also make the audience focus on future errors, so they don’t enjoy the show as much.
Be Ready for the Show: If you are running late or think you might forget something, or end up actually forgetting something, it will make you more nervous than you already are. You can keep your cool by preparing everything you need well in advance of the show and double checking to make sure you didn’t leave anything out. It’s also best to arrive early to the gig so you have plenty of time to load in and make sure everything is going according to plan.
Keep Doing It: Stage fright may get the best of you sometimes, and you may even be tempted not to go on. But the more you perform, the more you will get used to playing in front of an audience. Your stage fright will begin to diminish, and you will become a seasoned performer.
How Famous Musicians Deal with Stage Fright
If you deal with stage fright, it may help you to know that you’re not alone. In fact, there are many very famous musicians who deal with anxiety before they go on stage. Here a few that are noteworthy.
Barbra Streisand has been performing for decades so it may surprise you to find out the famous songstress struggles with stage fright, but it’s true.
It seems that Streisand was performing in Central Park back in 1966 when she forgot her lyrics. She was so traumatized by her experience that she didn’t perform again for 27 years. She returned to the stage in 1994, but she never makes an appearance without a teleprompter.
She uses the teleprompter not only to remind her of her lyrics, but to dictate any dialogue she has with the audience. This helps her avoid any awkward moments.
Adele has sold more records than most artists, but that doesn’t keep her anxiety at bay. She is another star that suffers from stage fright. The stage fright is not caused by any one incident but is generally always with her.
For her, it’s just a matter of getting used to her audience. She says her anxiety generally melts away after her second or third song.
Katy Perry seems absolutely fearless when she performs on stage, but she has had her share of stage fright experiences. Most of them came about when she was very young and used to do gospel performances for her church. She also mentioned times when she froze when staring at the audience or fell and messed up her choreography.
Perry used to take anti-anxiety medications to calm her down. But now that she’s been performing for so many years, it’s barely an issue.
Rihanna’s fierce stage image comes across loud and clear. You may never guess she is suffering from stage fright, but she is.
Rihanna came from the Barbados and led a hard life before embracing her music career. It may be coming from meager beginnings that makes her less than 100% confident, but she knows that if she wants to succeed, she needs to put her anxiety behind her. Her courageous attitude helps her make it through.
Rod Stewart has a career that spans decades. He is known for strutting his stuff across the stage with the utmost confidence. But he was so nervous during his first U.S. performance that he sung the entire score hiding behind speakers.
Ozzy Osbourne is known to be a heavy metal madman. He has performed many a wild on-stage antics in his lifetime ranging from picking up his lead guitarist while soloing to biting the heads off bats.
His stage fright was a secret to many, but he admitted his problem in his autobiography, “I Am Ozzie’.
It may be worth it to mention that Ozzy has a long history of doing drugs and alcohol and his habit may have formed in part to deal with his stage fright. This way of rock stars treating onstage anxiety is likely to be common, but it’s not the way to go.
Not only can drugs and alcohol negatively affect your ability to play, but it can also cause health issues, financial issues, troubled relations and more. Suffice it to say, drugs are bad, m’kay?
Pavarotti was a great opera singer with a beautiful voice and extensive range. His career spanned decades. He came from a long line of performers and was a glamorous showman as well as a great talent.
But, like the others on the list, Pavarotti also suffered from stage fright. He was in constant fear of hitting the wrong note and was known to mutter to himself that he was walking to his death every time he took the stage.
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen was known as a masterful and flashy guitarist. But his shy nature came through. He may be the only person on this list I’m not surprised to find had stage fright.
Unfortunately, like Ozzy Osbourne, Eddie turned to alcohol to manage his anxiety, a strategy he was taught by his father at an early age. He ended up spending a good portion of his life battling addiction.
No relation to Ozzy, Steven Osbourne is a prolific classical music soloist that is very much in demand. He has performed with all the best orchestras in every major city. He openly talks about his stage fright but feels that a healthy dose can do more good than harm.
Carly Simon was a natural musician. She began performing at the age of 7 and followed that path her entire life.
Unfortunately, Simon was sexually abused at a young age which weighed heavily on her development of stage fright. She often said that she would prefer to have been a backup singer than a lead singer. In fact, she reportedly collapsed before going on stage on various occasions.
So how does Simon manage her stage fright? The singer keeps performances to a minimum and stays away from the spotlight as much as possible.
Stage fright is common, but if it is excessive, it will end up hurting your career. The tips in this article will help you keep it under control so you can move forward with your endeavors. How do you minimize anxiety before you go on stage?