By Lis Lewis
I’ve gotten a lot of emails recently about overcoming stage fright. Here are some ideas that may help. First of all, experience is a great teacher. The more you perform in front of an audience the less frightening it is. Second, stage fright has less to do with what your audience thinks of you and more to do with what you think of your performance. The audience wants you to succeed. You are afraid you will fail. Third, the best performance you can give is one where you are connected to the emotion in the songs, not where you’re thinking about vocal problems, choreography, or whether the new bass player will remember what key you’re in.
When I ask singers what they’re afraid of when they perform they usually give me a list: missing the high note, tripping on the stage or forgetting the lyrics. It’s absolutely normal to not want to look foolish onstage. But, honestly, none of those things matters. You’ve seen major artists trip and fall even on television. Jennifer Lopez and Adam Lambert each had incidents recently. What matters is that you recover and keep going. Of course you should be able to sing all the notes well and remember the lyrics. That comes from practice. Michael Stipe always has a lyric sheet with him so he won’t forget the words to his own songs. But missing a note or forgetting the words is trivial if you are connected to the story and the music. The audience isn’t there to analyze you; they are there to feel what you’re feeling. One of my favorite records (before electronic pitch correction became mandatory in recordings) is Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club. Her vocals are pretty pitchy but I don’t care. I didn’t even notice it the first million times I listened to it because her singing is so heartfelt.
When you perform, you get nervous. That will probably always happen because you care about doing well and that causes a surge in adrenaline. Stage fright is a more extreme reaction. Your heart beats hard, your breathing becomes short, your voice shaky and you are too self-conscious to have any comfort or freedom. Almost all of those symptoms are related to shallow breathing. Sit in a quiet place and focus on breathing low into your stomach and lower back. Close your eyes, relax your shoulders and breath slowly and deeply. Remember how much you love to sing and how good it feels. Right before your performance, sit down and do it again.
The more you perform the more you gain confidence. When you rehearse, imagine an audience is listening to you and loving what you do. Then play for a few people in a small club and after a while that will get easy. Next it’s a bigger club and more people. As your audience gets bigger you might get nervous again; but then, as you conquer each new situation, you will become more self-assured. Singing for one hundred people isn’t so hard when you sang for three hundred last week.