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Ways of Fighting Stage Fright

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

Stage fright happens to even the most successful and famous musicians. So, even if you are just a musician on the local level, you could take some comfort in that. I know knowledge of that in and of itself is probably not enough to calm your nerves before a show, but I just wanted to tell you that you are not alone.

In fact, I have had a problem with stage fright. It was more so in the past, but I still get nervous before a gig. I just don’t get as nervous as I used to and there are reasons for that. I have learned a few things over the years regarding the subject of stage fright, and I know now that there are some things that you can do to minimize it.

Anxiety Is Normal

The first thing that you need to realize is that anxiety prior to and during a public performance is normal. They say that the number one fear that most people have is the fear of public speaking. That is basically the fear of getting up in front of a group of people and doing something to express yourself. Speaking is a form of personal expression just like public artistic performances are. Someone acting in a play in front of an audience is expressing himself artistically, just as a musician is.

As have already stated above, even famous, successful performers experience anxiety prior to and during a performance. I have heard stories about Elvis pacing back and forth prior to performances. I don’t know if the story is true or not but I know that I myself have paced a bit prior to a performance. It’s all about the anticipation. In some cases it can be quite amazing how some performers can be so anxious prior to going on stage and then once they hit it, the magic happens. Sometimes it;s like they become different people entirely.

The Anticipation of an Event Is Usually Worse Than the Event

I have found that most of the nervousness I feel regarding playing in front of an audience is before I even get on stage to play. I generally calm down significantly after I play the first song or two. It’s the anticipation of the event that probably gets to me more than anything else. It could be ten minutes before it’s time for me to hit the stage and I will have butterflies in my stomach. Sometimes I start to feel nervous earlier in the day and that nervousness will stay with me until I hit the stage that night.

This all has to do with the anticipation of the event and the funny thing is that I have found that the nervousness experienced in the anticipation of the event is often worse than the anxiety I feel during it. Once I realized that one fact, I began to use that knowledge as a way to calm myself a bit prior to the actual performance. I think to myself “Bob, you know it’s not that bad once you get out there.”, and really, it’s not.

Preparation Helps a Lot

I served in the United States Army for three years. That obviously means that I had gone through boot camp. In boot camp they give you drills that you do over and over again until you get to the point where doing certain tasks become second nature and you can really start to do them without thinking at all. It all just starts to feel natural. In the military, you are drilled over and over again for one important reason. That is so that when you are under fire, the first thing you rely upon are those things that you have done over and over again to the point where it just feels like the natural thing to do. And those are the things that help to keep you alive on the battle field.

Well, a similar approach could be taken by someone who is a live performer on stage. I have found that when I am very well rehearsed, I can breeze through the songs with very little effort and not make any mistakes. Also, knowing that I am well rehearsed on the songs provides me with a considerable amount of comfort. Any songs that I feel I may need additional practice on, I practice on more often than the others. Sometimes I may just work on the difficult parts of those songs. It could be a song that has a difficult solo of some type. So I just might work on the solo part over and over again.

I have always been a stickler for rehearsing. I know that when I feel that I am not rehearsing enough, I don’t have as much confidence. So making sure that I am rehearsed well enough really reduces my anxiety before a performance.

It’s a good idea to really pay a lot of attention to your sound when you rehearse. Always try to get the best mix that you can when you practice. Then, when you are playing out, use the same basic settings on your equipment so that your live sound is just as good as your rehearsal sound. A bad mix can be a serious distraction when you are playing live and that also affects your confidence.

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Every room is different, so you may need to make some fine adjustments to make your sound more suitable to the room in which you are playing, and if you do, try to do as much as you can in the sound check prior to the gig. I always like to make sure I get everything set up well before the gig is scheduled to start so that I have more than enough time to set things up and make sure that all of the settings are right and if I can do a sound check, I do it. If any fine adjustments are needed, I will make them.

If I am there early enough prior to a show, I will be able to be more careful in setting things up. If you arrive late and have to rush setting up, you may miss something and your sound quality may suffer because of it. I usually show up early enough to where I have enough time to not only set things up but to also give everything a good look-over to double check if all of the settings on the mixer and other equipment are right. That helps to ease my mind some as I get closer to showtime.

Start the Performance With Something Simple

Another thing that helps me when I first get out on stage is not playing my most difficult songs first. I start out with one of the easier songs but I make sure it’s an upbeat one. It’s a good combination. If it’s a somewhat easy song, it’s less likely that you will screw it up. Getting that first song behind you without screwing up is a big deal. That helps to build confidence. If the song is upbeat, it is more likely to grab the audience’s attention. It can be a bit of a distraction if you feel your audience is not paying attention. That affects your confidence and your confidence effects how nervous you get.

I have started out shows with some difficult pieces every now and then but I always made sure I was so rehearsed on them that they actually became so much easier to play over time. So, in a sense I was still playing something easy for me as an opener. I have found, though, that once you get that first song or two out there, the rest is so much easier.

I have also done a number of open mics throughout the years. I have used them as opportunities to try out new material for the first time before an audience. I have done the open mics at various venues. If you do the same one all of the time, it’s not as good as trying out different venues. It keeps you on your toes trying to play on different sound systems at different venues before different crowds. You usually only get a few songs so I generally start out with one I am very confident with and then do a couple of difficult songs to show my capabilities. Also, the first song usually does not sound as good because they haven’t yet tweaked your sound. So you don’t wan to do your best song first. You let them make the adjustments they need to make to your sound and then once your sound is good, you do your better, more difficult and more impressive stuff.

Take Notice of Your Mistakes

I recently made a couple of mistakes on a gig. I sit when I do my solo gigs and I have my pedal board on the floor right in front of me. I went to shift my leg and my foot accidentally hit the button on one of my effects units and the distortion effect came on, ruining the song. I did that twice during the evening. Each time it happened, it kind of threw me off a bit. I was wondering how I ended up doing that twice in the same night when I had never done it at all before. I noticed that I had my pedal board closer to me than usual. So the next time I made sure it was the usual distance from me so that I could prevent the same mistake from happening again.

It’s important to try to reduce the likelihood of certain mistakes happening again. That’s because if you fear making them, then it increases the anxiety you may have before a performance. So just make sure that you keep track of the mistakes you make in a performance and then work on ways to prevent them from happening again. The knowledge that you are unlikely to make those mistakes again can bring some serious peace of mind.

Shrug Off Your Mistakes and Move On

Speaking of mistakes, if you do happen to make them, try to move on and don’t let it distract you. Mistakes happen and we all make them. There might be a time where you accidentally hit the wrong chord or forget the lyrics to a song. There are ways of recovering from those mistakes. I have had times when I accidentally sang the third verse of a song when I should have been singing the second verse. So when it came time to sing the third verse, I sang the second one. I just kept on going and, believe it or not, sometimes people don’t notice those sort of mistakes.

When I accidentally hit the button on my effects unit and the distortion came on, I blamed it on technical difficulties. It was an equipment failure. I blamed it on my effects unit. It was his fault, not mine. So I sat there and played with a few knobs to make it look like I was fixing an equipment failure when it was my big old clumsy foot that was at fault for accidentally hitting the button. The crowd was very forgiving. You can’t let the mistakes eat at you. Because you will be distracted by them and be more likely to make more mistakes. Yes, you do what you can to minimize the likelihood of mistakes but when they occur, move on. don’t dwell on them.

Become a Different Person

It’s amazing how some famous performers are actually shy when they are not on stage. Yet, once they get up on stage it’s like they are a totally different person. That is what you call their stage persona. If worse comes to worse, pretend to be a different person while you are on stage. You could have a certain catch phrase that this persona uses or some jokes or one liners you could use to lighten things up. Become that interesting person you'd never thought you'd be.

I am probably not the most personable guy on the planet but I play one on stage. When I don’t allow myself to be distracted too much, I kind of hide behind the person I want to be. When I get off the stage, I go back to being the jerk I usually am. Just kidding there, but when I get off stage and people approach me, I am generally your average Joe. Then after my break, I go back on stage and become that other, more interesting person again.

Confidence Is the Key

Remaining calm prior to a show as well as during the show has a lot to do with confidence. When you are new at public performance, you are not as confident as you would be if you were more experienced. With experience comes confidence. With preparation comes more confidence. Making sure you are well rehearsed and making sure that your sound equipment is properly set up with the right settings continue to add to your confidence. Just don’t be over confident.

Over confident would be thinking that you are more prepared than what you really are. In my opinion, you could never be too prepared. So going the extra mile to make sure that you are doesn’t hurt. But thinking you are adequately prepared when you are not is not a good thing. It leads to mistakes and problems. Just learn from those mistakes, though, if they do occur. Stay confident, stay prepared and it should help with the stage fright.

© 2018 Bob Craypoe

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