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How to Deal with Stage Fright

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Man seated on bed playing guitar
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For musicians, stage fright comes with the territory. Rare is the performer who doesn't experience ANY pre-show butterflies, no matter how old hat performing has become. For some musicians, though, stage fright can be career ending. Playing live is part of the job description in the music industry, and being too scared to take to the stage could mean your career is over before it ever really begins. Whether your stage fright is a small case of the heebie-jeebies or full blown panic, these tips will help musicians deal with stage fright.

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Here's How:

  1. Admit It

    The thought of getting up on stage terrifies you. It may seem that if you could just convince yourself that you're not scared, all of those feelings would go away. Well, maybe you can pull it off once - but what about the next show? If you're serious about being a musician - which does involve performing live - then your show experiences will become a lot more comfortable if you admit that the whole thing makes you a little nervous, so you can develop ways of coping with it. Getting over stage fright doesn't mean that you'll never feel those butterflies before a performance - it just means that you know you have the power to control those feelings when they do come up. Face the problem head on before it REALLY gets out of control.

  2. Get Physical

    Fear often manifests itself in physical symptoms, and figuring out ways to cope with these can be a massive boost in your fight against stage fright. If your breathing gets a little out of control in your panic, focus on deep breaths. It may sound a little hokey, but yoga and/or meditation can help you learn to get control of your breathing and to breathe in a way that calms you, even in the face of stress. Ginger and peppermint both soothe a queasy tummy - sip some tea, chew some gum, suck on a mint - these things can help you stomach calm down.

    There are no rules here. You may find that a walk around the block away from the venue helps you get some peace and re-center. Maybe you need silence before a show. The trick is to try something - and keep trying until you find what works. You'll be amazed at how much more confident you'll feel when you know you can control these symptoms.

  3. Practice

    Controlling your symptoms will give you confidence, and so will knowing that you are ready to rock it on stage. Practice a lot - enough to be totally comfortable with the set and to know exactly how the show is going to go. It is easier to walk on stage knowing that you're ready to do your job than to walk out there crossing your fingers and hoping things will fall into place.

    If stage banter is your fear, it is absolutely OK to think of a few things to say before your set. If you ever see a band on more than one date on a tour, you'll see that many of them say the same exact thing every night. Nothing wrong with that at all if that makes you comfortable.

  4. Own the Stage

    I'm not going to lie to you - some genres of music place more emphasis on being an "entertainer" than others. If you've got pop ambitions, for instance, then you're going to have to get comfortable with dancing and lots of audience involvement.

    However - not every genre is like that. Look at the so-called "shoegazer" indie rock genre - where it is not only acceptable, but encouraged, to be as shy and retiring as you like on stage. The point is - this is YOUR show, and you have the ability to create the kind of show you're comfortable performing. When you're comfortable, you'll deliver better music - and your fans will sense your comfort on stage and respond to it, whether it manifests itself like Lady Gaga or My Bloody Valentine.

  5. Talk It Out

    You are absolutely not the only musician struggling with this problem, so why suffer alone? Ask your fellow musicians how they cope. They may have some tricks to share with you, and they can certainly be of support to you. Musicians' organizations may also be able to point you in the direction of people who can help, like counselors and therapists who specialize in working with musicians with extreme stage fright.

    Talking to a counselor might sound extreme, but did you know stage fright is a real phobia? Visit About.com's Phobia site to learn more about dealing with extreme cases of stage fear.

Tips:

  1. Have Realistic Goals

    It may not be possible to completely get rid of stage fright. Almost every musician feels butterflies before performing. Don't focus on having no fear - just focus on managing your fear.

  2. Stay on the Horse

    Playing live often is one of the best ways to make it feel routine. Play in front of audiences as much as you can - and that goes double after one of those inevitable less than stellar shows.

  3. Beware the Booze

    A few drinks might help with the nervousness, but beware leaning on the bottle to soothe your stage fears. It's not a plan for coping long term, plus, it could set you up for having a really bad show. Your fans will forgive your nervousness. They will be less forgiving of you delivering a sloppy set because you partied too hard before the gig.

  4. Share Your Stories

    Do you have an experience with stage fright you want to share? Share your stories about stage fright and get advice from your fellow musicians about coping here.

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