I'm already imagining these people in their underwear...
August 19, 2011 6:19 PM   Subscribe

My band has a big gig tomorrow night and for the first time ever, I am a little anxious about performing. What are some simple ways to stay relaxed and have fun on stage?

(Asked anonymously because I didn't want to look like I was shamelessly plugging my own show.)

This is my current band's fifth show, and the biggest venue yet. I have performed publicly in one other band before so I don't historically have huge performance anxiety issues. We know our songs. I'm good friends with all three other guys. I am the singer/guitarist/front man which is sort of a new role for me, and the other guys have less performing experience than me.

There is a little bit of a buzz about us now and I expect higher attendance than previous shows and, perhaps most worrisome for me, is that a large contingent of people from my office are coming.

We're not greatly talented musicians, but we play for fun and write all our own material. I realize that playing at a night club/bar, it is more important to have fun than to play flawlessly with great technical proficiency and I'm worried that I'll over think this and sabotage myself.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1. Be ready, practice wise. Sounds like you have that down.

2. Take time to get the prep right. Make sure all gear is packed, where you can find it. Try to get everyone to the damn venue on time, or early since you will have to find a place to park and schlep gear.

3. If you have a sound guy, use your soundcheck! Work at it until everyone can hear each other! Don't be shy about asking for stuff!

4. Look pretty. I know, not a big emphasis on this if you are of the dude persuasion. But coming from a theater background, I found there was a ritual to stage preparation, a zen moment between performer and mirror, where exterior grooming interiorly turns on the sparkles and you become the xtra charismatic stage god you keep hidden irl. Carefully choose and clean your lucky shirt. Put some product in your hair (or have a friend do it).

5. Go with it. There's nothing really you can do with that extra edginess once you have it, besides treat it like some exotic drug. Once you get past that moment of 'Oh shit what've I done ???!1?' just roll with it. Drink your stimulants (red bulls, coffee) early enough beforehand so that it won't make you feel too amped. Avoid things that will impair your ablility to perform (alcohol, weed) until after your triumphant set.

Good luck!!!!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:35 PM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Drink a shot of your favorite liquor right before your show starts. I suggest whiskey. Then take a beer on stage with you. I am 100% serious.
posted by gnutron at 6:36 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

hah ... after much experimenting I've come to the conclusion I can't reasonably drink even a little bit and still play an instument with any sort of accuracy ... but if you can, more power to ya!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:38 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the long term, there's an excellent book called The Inner Game Of Music, which is all about the internal headgame of playing music to the best of your abilities and which I cannot recommend highly enough. It's written by a classical double bass player but the lessons in there apply to every musician across every genre. Do get hold of it and read it. That's no use for tomorrow night though.

In the short term, try to harness your anxiety to make sure it helps you do the best job you can at the gig. The fact that you are already aware that overthinking it will be sabotage and that it's more important to have fun than it is to play 'flawlessly' suggests to me that you are already most of the way there. Enjoy it. It's just a gig. Knock 'em dead and all that (and if you don't, it absolutely doesn't matter - there will be more gigs.)

You haven't said what kind of music you are playing, but unless you are playing really ridiculously super complex prog rock or something, there's no way you'll be able to play 'flawlessly' as far as the audience is concerned unless you are also demonstrably having fun.

Don't worry about being anxious. That's ok, and given the circumstances of the gig, quite normal. But for the duration of the time you are onstage, remember you are there to have fun and play the music you love with your friends. Be anxious beforehand and afterwards if necessary. Just not while you're playing.

It may not be appropriate for you, but this is *exactly* why I always wear a hat for gigs these days. I find it helps much more than it should do. I don't know if it will work for you to dress up in special gig clothes in some way; don't do it if it'll make you more anxious, and don't wear stuff that is uncomfortable; nevertheless, something as simple as a special gig hat can help put you in the right place for the duration of the performance, which is all you need.

Others have mentioned alcohol, but your existing relationship with alcohol is important here. If you do drink, be careful not to drink too much before you play. But also don't necessarily stick to coke until afterwards. Only you can know how much it can affect your performance. A beer beforehand and a beer to take onstage with you can often be the perfect way to take the edge off anxiety enough to let you just get on with playing as well as you can. If you don't drink normally, the situation might be different.

All the best for the gig. Knock 'em dead.
posted by motty at 6:43 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

You are rad. Being the frontman is so super freaking fucking cool.
Send me a message of where I can hear your music.
posted by carlh at 6:51 PM on August 19, 2011

I think people expect energy, rather than flawless technique from you, so be extroverted rather than introverted and you'll be fine. I think the advice to drink alcohol before you go on stage is entirely misguided.
posted by joannemullen at 6:52 PM on August 19, 2011

I agree about harnessing that nervous energy for powers of good. Practice til you feel comfortable, but I've found if I practice too much I tend to be too tired/stressed to perform well. Have fun and enjoy yourself. As the front man, be prepared to have some banter, but not too much, and at least 1 bad joke to tell if you have a tuning break. I played my first show in year last week, and I was so nervous/freaked out about messing up that I looked bored and miserable. I wasn't having fun. It was bad. Don't be like that.
posted by kendrak at 6:55 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"She asked me if I was nervous and I said, 'Yeah.' And she was like, 'That's good, because you get your adrenaline going, and it'll making your song better. It's a beautiful song.' Then she gave me a big hug. It was too much."

-Elliott Smith describing the advice that Céline Dion gave him backstage at the Oscars.
posted by umbú at 7:05 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps this is more of a drummer thing but I find jitters and adrenaline make every song want to go a bit faster than it should. Like I'm often shocked to hear recordings because the songs sound way faster than they felt playing them. Countering that just takes a simple extra five seconds of calm quietness before starting the song. So take your time finding the pocket before you get rolling.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:11 PM on August 19, 2011

I've performed before, and I've also acted in front of reasonably large crowds. It's okay to be nervous beforehand. My experience is that once you get started you will be just fine.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:21 PM on August 19, 2011

The last time I was waiting to speak to a room full of people, a thought popped into my head from who-knows-where: "The butterflies in my stomach aren't fear. They're here to help." And weirdly, they did.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 7:38 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

BACK IN MY DAY, in a local band, we had a roadie who was a really talented actor, going to drama classes, getting parts in town.

Once, I was feeling stressed and unready, before a big show, and this kid took me through some physical warm-ups that they do in theatre class. It was amazingly effective. I felt relaxed and energized, after an hour of this, and excited about playing
posted by thelonius at 8:26 PM on August 19, 2011

Just go out there and nail the first song in the set. Bring everything you've got, get the crowd on your side, then just ride it the rest of the way.

One thing you might try, if it's feasible for the type of music you play, is a little impromptu a cappella rendition of one of your songs with the rest of the band, just among yourselves out in the parking lot before the show. It sounds crazy, I know, especially if the other guys aren't really singers. But it's been a surprisingly effective trick for me in the past. Don't plan it, don't tell the other guys you're going to do it, just pick a song that might lend itself to that kind of interpretation and then spring it on them while you're waiting to go on. It puts everybody a little bit out of their comfort zone, but with the implicit understanding that there's no price to pay for screwing up. It also allows you to channel the nervous energy a little bit and gel as a band, and unless it ends up being a colossal clusterfuck everyone ends up feeling extra confident and hits the stage feeling like, "Wow, I didn't know we could do that! Now we're going to rock the hell out of the stuff we actually do know!"

Knock 'em dead. You'll be great!
posted by Balonious Assault at 8:57 PM on August 19, 2011

Go out to the back alley or something and do 2 minutes of sprints a half-hour before you go on. Get your heart rate up before you go on, so it's not an alien feeling.
posted by mannequito at 9:29 PM on August 19, 2011

You wait hours and hours, it seems like forever, to go on - then BOOM, it's all over & done, just like that. Once the show starts, you'll be too busy to worry.

As a guitar player (not a frontman/singer), the temptation is to focus inward & on playing, watching your hands, etc. & tune everyone else out. It's important to remember to look up, look at the crowd, look at the band, make eye contact, be engaged in what's happening around you.

Just relax & play & have fun. Kick some ass & knock 'em dead.
posted by and for no one at 11:20 PM on August 19, 2011

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