I remember a couple of years ago when I took a few months break from performing to focus on other aspects of my music career.
When I got back on stage again, something surprised me. I felt a real scare. I was nervous as hell.
Pre stage nerves are normal of course. But this felt stronger, and it took me back to my beginnings of getting on stage for the first time, with all the fear of judgement or getting it “wrong” that comes with it.
It was really useful for me though, because even normal pre stage nerves can stymie a show – and so it resulted in me building a strategy for dealing with them.
When Shows Go Bad – And Why
I have realised in my own gig analysis that the shows that went bad for me were also the shows that I was most nervous about for some reason.
I recall the show where I wasn’t sure if this was the right crowd for me, so I got focused on that rather than just enjoying sharing my music.
Or the show where the sound system was poor (well, pretty much non existent) and so my focus was on that and I was all angsty.
Now I know that a non existent sound system and a poorly matched audience are both great reasons for a show going wrong, so it could seem that I’m barking up the wrong tree by pinning it on pre show anxiety – but while I felt I had a bad show on both nights, other acts did really well.
So no excuses. This was on me.
If they could do well in those circumstances, so could I. I know that the reason I did less well was because I was in the grip of anxiety.
I was telling myself things like “this will go poorly because….” or “these people won’t like you because…..”
Not helpful at all. And of course, a complete fiction. It’s a fiction because it’s not a fact. There are no future facts. Only speculation.
I feared it would go poorly, and I feared the crowd wouldn’t like my stuff. But I was telling myself that this WOULD happen, for sure! And that’s just not true. I was treating an unknown like it was a certainty!
The fear amongst performers that a crowd will judge us as “no good” is a really common one.
But it’s also massively unhelpful.
If we can cling to unhelpful fictions before a show, why not change that around and choose what I call Helpful Fictions instead.
After all, the negative voices are just stories that we invent in our minds that scare us and put us off. So let’s tell ourselves Helpful Fictions instead, stories that propel us forward into our best selves.
My 3 Steps
So when I go on stage I do 3 things.
1. I laugh. This converts nerves to positive energy. Any excuse to laugh and smile is good enough. Even a lame joke to someone near the stage or the MC as you are about to go on is enough to get a laugh out of yourself. It helps hugely.
2. I tell myself this story: “This crowd will LOVE me!!” I even visualise it – seeing individual members of the audience in my minds eye just really loving my show. I even imagine their thoughts. “Wow, this is great. I love this guy!” The more senses you can engage in picturing that story, the better.
3. I also tell myself this: “I am already more than enough. I can simply relax and enjoy sharing my skills and abilities.” This reframes it in my mind as something pleasurable with little pressure. Something I do for my own joy, that I can share with others for their joy too.
See, we have no way of predicting if the crowd will love us or not. But we can choose a story that will help us, or a story that will hinder us. I decide to say yeah, this crowd will LOVE me.
It also helps my rapport with the crowd.
It’s the same as a one to one relationship. If you fear a person doesn’t like you, it changes how we relate to them. We are that bit more awkward with them. A bit less giving.
Yet when we are with someone who we know likes us, there’s no awkwardness, we are relaxed, we are giving and open, and we are our best self.
So by assuming the crowd loves us, it makes it more likely that it will happen, because we will be our best self with them.
And by being your best self on stage, you make it more likely to get a great performance from yourself, and a great rapport with the crowd.
Rapport is a big part of a great show. It relaxes you and it builds a relationship with your audience. It’s almost impossible to build a rapport with anyone while you are telling yourself “they don’t like me.”
Your Show As A Shop Window
So stick to HELPFUL fictions, and use my 3 steps at any point you feel a bit wobbly – whether that is before or during a show.
Remember that your audience is not just your crowd, but the people most likely to buy your CDs that night.
People won’t be so keen to get on over to your merch table to buy CDs and chat with a performer who they had no rapport with.
Once you are your own record label, every show is a shop window.
The biggest barrier to a great show is the story you tell yourself. By turning it into a love-in in your mind, you’ll make it far more likely to happen in reality.