Does stage fright tend to sneak up on you once you're already on stage? If stage fright is a problem for you, you're not alone. Many - most - musicians experience some degree of stage fright, from pre-show butterflies to on-stage freezes. Some cases of pre-show or mid-show jitters are mild, but for other musicians, they can be enough to make them give up playing live at all.
Don't let your stage fright control you. If you tend to freeze up on stage - and if your fear of getting too jittery on stage is keeping you from even trying to play live - then try these five tips for tackling stage fright.
1. Just Breathe
Controlling your breathing can be enormously helpful in dealing with all kinds of panic, including stage fright. Focus on taking long, deep breaths through your nose (or inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth). The practice will help you regain control of you emotions while giving you something to concentrate on beside your nervousness.
If a few simple breaths just isn't cutting it, consider trying yoga, meditation or another activity that teaches you how to control your breathing. Just knowing that you have the ability to calm yourself down in the face of panic is a poweful tool you can use to trump stage fright. Once you learn how to manage your nervousness, you might be surprised to discover just how much of your stage fright was actually the panicking about the fact that you might panic.
This is YOUR show, and this is YOUR stage. Don't worry about sticking to some "entertainment" or "stage presence" rule book. There are no rules. The best shows are the ones at which the performers are being natural and comfortable on stage, and natural and comfortable are not the same for everyone. Perform your show the way that feels right to you. Your audience will respond to your authenticity.
Take a look at some of the most successful musicians throughout history. Examine their stage shows. You'll find some of them are on-stage schmoozers, some of them are really rather shy on stage, and some are in the middle. Find the style you're most comfortable with and embrace it. It will take an enormous amount of pressure off you, and it will actually make your shows better.
3. Pass the Buck
If you're in a band, you don't have to be the person who does the bulk of the audience interaction - even if you are the "front person." Even if you're the singer, there's nothing wrong with passing the job of between song banter to the guitarist, for instance. Everyone in a band should play to their talents, and the person who is the most comfortable with audience chit-chat should be the one to do the job.
Being well rehearsed will give you the confidence that you can go out on stage and rock it. Don't slack off on show preparation. Get the songs as tight as you want them, figure out the set list and generally make sure you have a firm grasp on how the show will go.
There's also nothing wrong with figuring out some things you might say on stage. You don't need a full script, but if you have ever checked out one of your favorite bands on a few shows of a tour, you no doubt figured out that their stage banter was largely recycled. It will help you feel more confident if you have a few lines of chat in mind, even if you actually end up winging it once you're out there.
5. Give Yourself a Break
The percentage of musicians of musicians who will make a mistake on stage? 100%. A missed note, a missed intro, an unfunny joke, dropping something, tripping, forgetting the words - these things are part and parcel of being a musician. Do everything you can to prepare for a show, be professional about how much you drink before you hit the stage - and then roll with the punches and move on.
Think about it from a fan's perspective. When you go to see a band you like, do you stop liking them if someone on stage flubs something? Of course not. In fact, at most, you may laugh with them and consider it a part of their charm - a shared experience that sometimes is even endearing. And that is if you remember it all. The vast majority of time musician thinks they've made an unforgiveable error, the audience doesn't even know it happened.
Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Put the small stuff in its place and enjoy the massive achievement of getting on stage and playing your music to a room full of people who love what you're doing.