Messed up a performance, but it's more than that.
June 6, 2013 11:00 PM   Subscribe

How to get over embarrassing performance?

For the past year, I've been pushing myself out of my comfort zone creatively. I've mostly been working on getting over my fear of stage fright in its many forms, and while not every time has worked out perfectly, things have gone well on that front generally. After the adrenaline wears off, I'm always proud of myself and feel a healthy sense of self-reliance. I've felt free of fear in the sense that I haven't let my fear hold me back.

So today I finally made the decision to sing at an open mic night. I know I have a good voice and I've been singing for myself privately for as long as I can remember. I was nervous beforehand but I felt good, like I could count on myself to not let me down. But I did and it was awful. I want to crawl under a rock. I'm so disappointed in myself, because music is very important to me. Besides relationships, it's the most powerful and meaningful outlet for the human experience. Music is universal. I spend most of my day listening to or singing one way or another.

My previous question mentioned growing pains and a big part of what makes that hard is that it's difficult to listen to music from my past without longing for it. So I've been working on that thanks to the great advice I got on that topic.

In addition I am awful at playing instruments. Guitar, piano, tambourine even, my rhythm is not great, except with singing. So I really, really want to make music. I have tons of lyrics but practically speaking, then what? I've met with probably 15 people in the past few years from Craigslist or through friends to make music and nothing has come of it. We're always mismatched in terms of skill or musical taste. Really, it can't be so difficult?

So basically I am asking two things: How can I get over this awful experience and not let it hinder me from continuing to face my fear and be courageous in my life? Because to be afraid keeps me reliant on other people and things outside myself. So it's really a deeper issue than just stage fright.

And secondly, how do I make music, finally, when I have the voice and lyrics but nothing else or the ability to perform, at least yet. (Here's hoping.)
posted by 2X2LcallingCQ to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How can I get over this awful experience and not let it hinder me from continuing to face my fear and be courageous in my life?

Just one performance? Get back on that horse. I was doing some stand-up a year or so ago, and I regret that I sort of stopped doing it after bombing once. I couldn't handle having to stay up late in comedy clubs during the week (too much of a morning person), but I was also chickenshit. So don't be a chickenshit like me.

And secondly, how do I make music, finally, when I have the voice and lyrics but nothing else or the ability to perform, at least yet.

Find someone to play with you.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:12 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Anything worth trying is worth trying twice. The first time I played a live show it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. But I tried it again. And now five years later I have a tour shirt with six weeks worth of dates and my name on it.
posted by Jairus at 11:16 PM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was nervous beforehand but I felt good, like I could count on myself to not let me down. But I did and it was awful.

Actually, not that big of a deal. Schedule yourself again for next week. This is the voice of experience. Also, perform for your Mom, your gf/bf, your cat, and the mirror. Repetition will move you forward in incremental measures that are best observed experientially, rather than yammered about.

In addition I am awful at playing instruments.

You need a teacher. And like finding a shrink, you may have to shop around before you find the right match. Be articulate and clear about your aims. For example, "I want to do this piece, in public, on guitar and vocal, in time, one year from today. Can you help?"

rhythm is not great

a learnable skill.

How can I...not let it hinder me from continuing courageous in my life?'s really a deeper issue than just stage fright.

some would agree

how do I make music...when I have the voice and lyrics but nothing else or the ability to perform



You'll need to either learn to perform (with an instrument if you like), or find collaborators.

This really never stops no matter what your level - the quality and type of performance you aspire to will change, so will the need for different flavors of collaborators.


Performance Woo:

Is it possible for you to be proud of what you achieved so far? If you 'brought all you could' to the performance, then there it is. That is a very real something to walk away from any performance with.

I think a grounding approach might be to 'Begin where you are' without judgement or history weighing you down.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:24 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

And secondly, how do I make music, finally, when I have the voice and lyrics but nothing else or the ability to perform, at least yet.

Buy an ipad and learn how to use Garage Band (or if you want to invest more money, buy a laptop with Ableton Live). It really is that simple. You don't need to know how to perform at all. You can write everything with a mouse, and hit play and sing to it.
posted by empath at 11:46 PM on June 6, 2013

Been there, lots. Used to lose sleep over bad shows. Think long term. Seriously, it takes years to get good. Take some lessons from a bunch of different teachers, and find one that you like. Practice everyday. You'll improve and so will your confidence.
posted by way_out_west at 11:50 PM on June 6, 2013

Don't give up. What you are attempting is genuinely difficult, and people watching you automatically makes things more difficult. Seriously - there have been actual studies measuring this (not for singing, but for other activities that require your brain).

The people watching you skill is distinct from the singing skill. You have to treat it as a separate thing to master.

Which means - what happened is not a reflection on your talent.
posted by amtho at 11:54 PM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe think of it this way: you're now out of your comfort zone! Now you have a wider range of experience that will help you prepare and perform that much better next time. You're becoming more of an expert!
posted by rhizome at 12:49 AM on June 7, 2013

Something I've noticed in myself and try to combat (so hopefully it can apply to you): If you're going to learn to accompany yourself on something like guitar, mandolin, omnichord, autoharp, tambourine, whatever, then you don't need to know all the things of how to play it. You need to know enough just to do one thing, and then you do that thing. When you're good at that thing then you can do another thing and so on. It's a bit of a punk philosophy (here's three chords, etc) but it's also meant to combat the feeling that you're not good enough to do it.
posted by solarion at 1:16 AM on June 7, 2013

Bob Dylan wisdom: "All you need is three chords and the truth."

Additional Bob Dylan comfort: Listen to Bob Dylan. Voice? Puhleeeeze....

Music accommodates a wide range of qualities and it's still music. Personal performance consistency is what separates the truly great from the rest of the world, and is earned via practice, and nothing more.

Whatever you sound like is what you sound like NOW. Hate it? Change it.

As to instrument, I am biased, but find guitar intuitive. Playing poorly is accomplished in weeks. Play acceptably in a few months. Playing well enough, a year. Playing really well, several years.

Failing at a performance isn't a character flaw. Actively forget it. Replace the failure with a single success. You should be proud of yourself for putting it out there. Don't stop.
posted by FauxScot at 2:08 AM on June 7, 2013

You just need practice, and possibly lessons.

If you are in NYC, The Jam is a good way to connect with other musicians.
posted by bunderful at 3:04 AM on June 7, 2013

Oh, if there is karaoke around you, go and do that for the practice.
posted by bunderful at 3:09 AM on June 7, 2013

I know I have a good voice and I've been singing for myself privately for as long as I can remember.

Why do you think you have a good voice? Have you listened to your recorded voice? I have known several people who thought they could sing and who would sing at you at the drop of a hat but whose voices could strip the enamel off a chamber pot. If you haven't done so, I would record myself singing a lot and listen to the results with as honest an ear as I dared, and I would take real singing lessons from a real professional if I were still determined to be a singer.

Meanwhile, you could be a courageous songwriter with and for other performers. Do you have friends in a band that play original music? The world needs good songs much more than it needs another singer or another guitar player in another cover band. And when you write your songs, you could practice singing and playing by recording demos.
posted by pracowity at 3:29 AM on June 7, 2013

I think the answer to both of your questions is "singing lessons." Taking lessons will move you forward in continuing with music, and you'll also be taking steps to get over a bad performance with new skills to better help you face the next one.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:30 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Two questions:
1. how much time do you spend at open mics and other performances that don't involve you?
2. how much time have you invested in working with instructors?

You don't mention these things but they're really fundamental to building a network, getting objective feedback and advice, building your skills, etc.

You should be going to open mic nights all the time, watching and learning from other performers, seeing them reuse their material and improve over time, etc. That will get you out of your head and help you see that it's a process and sometimes a struggle for everyone. Right now you're comparing your stage performance with your much better performance in your head, and that will never compare well.

Going to open mics and small-club performances all the time gets you meeting people and talking with them, you meet a really good drummer who gets what you're trying to learn, wants to earn a few extra bucks, and gives you some lessons. Those kind of real-world connections will be much more fruitful than craigslist.
posted by headnsouth at 4:32 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You get over it by doing it again, honestly. (And you exacerbate your wake-up-in-bed-in-horror flashbacks by NOT doing it again.) You do indeed get back up on that horse or else.

I recently bombed a performance. OH MAN. I was going on after an EXTREMELY talented and well-regarded person in my field and I totally... fucking sucked. Suuuuuucked.

I learned some things from my bombing! I know a bunch of things not to do now. Fortunately I had another terrifying engagement not long after and I prepared MY ASS OFF, like really, really worked on what I needed for it, and I actually pretty much objectively killed it. So now I don't have the REGRET/HORROR nightmares about my recent bombing anymore.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:49 AM on June 7, 2013

Hee hee.. moar open mics! Everyone forgets their song (or poem if it's a slam venue) halfway through, and starts over, or moves on to the next one after dithering a bit. Learning to deal with performance anxiety and honing your stage presence is what the open mic night is all about... mistakes and risk-taking encouraged. Get back on that horse and ride!
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:57 AM on June 7, 2013

you have to accept that you will fail, a lot, before you will get anywhere. so in the meantime you need to focus on your flaws. not in a "oh god i totally messed up this is so embarrassing" kind of way, but in a constructive way that will help you get ready for next time. did you fumble on a few chords in a song? practice that section until you know it by heart. do you find the audience of open mic too intimidating? have a few friends over to perform in front of until you are comfortable and ready for a bigger crowd. also, learn to laugh at yourself. we are human, we make mistakes.. but it can take a thousand strokes before you can hit that one stroke of genius. be prepared to work for it.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 5:34 AM on June 7, 2013

I've totally been there. It may sound stupid (heck, it may BE stupid for all I know), but what works for me is to just pull a Don Draper and pretend the bad performance didn't happen.

And if you're anything like most performers I know, you're your own worst critic and it probably wasn't as bad as you think.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:42 AM on June 7, 2013

I try to tell myself that truly embarrassing moments come infrequently, so when I have one I'm not due for another for a long time....better get back out there NOW before you ARE due :)
posted by SarahBellum at 6:32 AM on June 7, 2013

I feel like you need music to be a little less important to you, so that performing isn't such a gigantic huge deal and so that a bad performance is something that you can get past. Music is often a huge, moving, universal experience that expresses deep truths about the human condition, it's true, but for a working musician it's also a job, with all the banality a job has. I think a lot of artists hamstring their development by viewing their work as Art, treating it as something that must flow naturally from an inner wellspring. Most people are better-served if they can view their work as craft, something you work hard at to improve at technically and something that you do day in and day out as a job. For example, I think the best way for writers to get over themselves and get past all their paralyzing ideas of writing-as-art and all their procrastination, is to write for a daily newspaper, where you're on a deadline, good enough is good enough, you work with editors who don't have time to coddle you and are good at their job of improving your writing, and whenever you fail it's gone and forgotten in 24 hours and you have a brand new deadline.

So I would suggest, first, that you find a teacher to work with to help you with the technical aspects of singing and give you systematic daily exercises and help you with all the CRAFT parts. If there's a college nearby you with a music school or education school, there will be students studying to be music teachers, who LOVE the opportunity to practice teaching students and who are cheap. You can e-mail the department and ask.

Second, find a choir of some sort (church choir, community chorus, adult glee club, whatever). There are plenty of options for amateurs who just like to sing, and even more for talented people with a bit of training. You learn a lot by being in rehearsal with other musicians (you learn from their mistakes, their strategies, the conductor's choices, etc.). But you'll also have a chance for performances to get a little less high-stakes, as you'll be in a group, and you'll have several opportunities to perform every year (every week, even, if you're in a church choir). Stage fright gets better when you have some experience performing, though it may or may not go away. You'll at least learn how to cope with it, even if you keep suffering from it. You'll learn through experience that sometimes performances suck no matter how prepared you are, and it's not a moral judgment on you or on the art; all you can do is go on to the next one and try again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Bad Performance: singing into a mic on a stage is a very different thing than singing at home; I mean it's technically and factually very different, not emotionally (although, that too).

There are two main things making it different - 1 - it's not your voice, it's an amplified version of your voice that is being picked up by the microphone. And 2 - you can't hear your voice properly over the music and other noise and the voice you can hear is probably a bit distorted because it's coming back through a speaker instead of through bone conduction.

So, tips for getting over these two particular issues?

1 - practice at home with a mic, record yourself singing, listen to it, be horrified, rinse and repeat. There are a bunch of tips on voice projection for mic singing online, read them and experiment with what works for you.

2 - this is personal but I always, always wear ear plugs when I perform. Not to save my eardrums (although I should) but so that I can hear myself sing. That's why you see singers stick their fingers in their ear. I use those wax balls that they sell for swimmers, one in my left ear and that usually does the trick.

Getting going in music is hard, keep at it. Good luck!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:57 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whenever I feel bad after something "embarrassing," I remind myself that everyone does stupid shit sometimes, or does less than their personal best, and that these bad feelings are not from "others" judging me, it is my own low self esteem coming out. Let me repeat: bad feelings about the self is low self esteem, nothing else. No one can make you feel bad about yourself, even when you're making a "mistake." It's kind of mind over matter, but when I think of it that way it really helps me be lighthearted and keep trying at the real goal (in your case, the mastery of music), as opposed to getting blocked by feeling bad (by making mistakes along the way to mastery).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:19 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

From your perspective, your performance was a big deal because it was your first time singing in front of people; from the audience's perspective, you were just one of several people who sang that night at varying levels of success - not That One Singer Who Killed Open Mic Night Forever. Nobody outside your head knows exactly how you expected your performance to go, so for all they know, your main goal was just to get up there and try it out - in which case, you succeeded! And really, I think you should give yourself credit for that because getting up and performing in front of people for the first time takes courage.

Another thing that helps me when I'm feeling like a clod is to remember that few people are paying as close attention to you as you might think. Unless you, I don't know, forgot your pants or accidentally ate someone's baby on stage, most people have already forgotten any of the specifics of your performance that you're probably torturing yourself with right now.

So as everyone else is saying, learn what you can from this and then move on - and get right back up there at the next open mic night. Tongues are not wagging over you, and the next time you get up to sing people will be just as receptive as they were this past time.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:28 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

For most of my life I've had an artistic pursuit (writing, so it's not performance-based) that I worked on privately and sensitively and kind of mentally hoarded because I was too scared to find out if I was actually any good. Like, the idea of being secretly brilliant at something was worth more to me than the slight possibility of actually succeeding at it. Unsurprisingly, I was insanely sensitive to criticism and my work didn't make it out into the world all that much.

Recently, I had a sort of post-30 epiphany that if I didn't get off my ass and make this happen, it never would - the Genius Scouts were not going to knock on my door and be like, hey, pretentiousilliterate, we see you have some truly excellent half-finished drafts saved on your computer, would you like a book contract and world-wide acclaim? And that kickstarted something in me that I can only really describe as ambition. My writing stopped being as much about private, squishy rewards of the ego (I love this so much! It's so meaningful to me!) and became something more public and outward-oriented. I wanted it to succeed in the world.

Think of it this way: if you believe you are a secret musical genius and you're looking to the world for approval and acknowledgment of your talent, then tonight was a real setback. You might not be as good as you thought you were! Oh, horrors. You may as well crawl back into your room and write a sad song about it that no one will ever hear. But if what you want is to succeed at making music then tonight was one step on a long, long path towards getting what you want. You are now closer to success than you have ever been in your life, because you did this thing that frightened you. In fact, if you had gone up there and it had gone swimmingly and you could tell yourself - oh, I actually am basically perfect at this and I don't need to change anything about myself because I am a genius - then the performance would have been useless. If you do something and all you get is praise, then you aimed too low. The moment you get unconditional acceptance at open-mic night means it's time to move on from open-mic nights.

Every open mic night - and every music lesson and every jam session and every show - isn't a chance to be evaluated and to learn whether or not you're good at something - compared to actual musicians, you're terrible at everything. Great. Accept it. That should be your baseline. You get better by showing up, looking pitilessly at your mistakes, and working hard to fix them. Any tiny modicum of talent you started out with is irrelevant compared to the amount of hunger you have to improve.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:31 AM on June 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think it was Chris Rock I heard tell an anecdote about his first time on stage. He bombed hard. Booed off stage and everything. He walked off stage and noticed he was still alive. After that he never worried about it again because he'd already done as badly as he possibly could and walked away to perform again.
posted by cmoj at 9:00 AM on June 7, 2013

Long story short(ish), when I was younger, I wanted to be a poet, but knew few people who liked/read poetry beside myself. I heard Bob Dylan and realized music was the poetry people paid attention to. My mom had a crappy acoustic guitar her brother had gotten for her in college. It was missing two strings. I found a Mel Bay chord book in the garage, and from that taught myself G, C, D, Am, Em, etc., all the basic, easy chords. I strummed. I tried to learn a few Bob Dylan songs, but it was easier to just make things up on my own. I put the poetry to the strumming and had a song, and there was no one who could tell me it was wrong. I learned no theory, no scales, no fingerpicking.

Growing up, my parents had told me time and again that I couldn't sing (they said I sounded like a dying cat), so I hid my songwriting from them. But I kept at it, because I enjoyed it. Several years later, I worked up the nerve to play for my best friend. He supported me, we supported each other. Several years after that, I met my current boyfriend. He told me my rhythm was terrible, terrible, terrible but he liked that I strummed aggressively, wrote unusual songs and he liked my voice. We started a band.

For the first couple years of playing live, I would get nervous for weeks leading up to shows. I would mess up, embarrass myself, spend the weeks after the shows crying and berating myself. No one would like us, I told myself. No one would respect us. But then we were asked to play another show. And then asked to play another. And then I would repeat the cycle. Over and over and over. Doubting my talent, my voice, my playing, all of it, but continuing to play, forcing myself up to that mic.

I've now been playing in a band for almost five years, and have been playing guitar for thirteen. I no longer get nervous before or during shows. If I mess up, I laugh it off. No one's perfect! It's music. It's supposed to be fun! I'm still just a strummer, but people have complimented me both on my playing, and on my voice.

You don't need to have innate musical talent to play an instrument or be a musician. You just have to play around and practice and, most importantly, keep at it! You will get less nervous, more confident, more skilled.

Don't let one bad show stop you. Don't let one hundred bad shows stop you.
posted by dearwassily at 10:30 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

How can I get over this awful experience and not let it hinder me from continuing to face my fear and be courageous in my life? Because to be afraid keeps me reliant on other people and things outside myself. So it's really a deeper issue than just stage fright.

Accept that you will start out terrible and get better the more you do it. It's more than stage fright but it's of a piece with it - you were out of your comfort zone. The trick is to expand your comfort zone so that the performance is part of that zone. The only way to do that is keep at it. Everyone sucks the first time. You'll probably suck next time, too. But sooner or later you'll have a moment when you realize the last few times did not suck, and there's no feeling like it.

And secondly, how do I make music, finally, when I have the voice and lyrics but nothing else or the ability to perform, at least yet. (Here's hoping.)

Practice. As mentioned above, there's software out there that'll go a long way towards helping, but basically it's a thing that gets easier with practice.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:33 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Obligatory hipster answer: Get a ukelele. Easier to play than a guitar, and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment faster. I feel you on the rhythm thing, since I've always had issues with that too. Metronomes can be frustrating as hell, but if you practice with one consistently you'll notice improvement fairly soon. (Playing along with recordings is helpful for the same reason, namely that you have something else to lean on for the tempo.) The karaoke suggestion above was really good too.
posted by the_bone at 10:43 AM on June 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the responses, a lot of good advice. As to whether or not I can sing, which was brought up a couple of times, well I suppose that's sticking out in my mind now and I'm second guessing myself even more, but I thought I could sing because I've recorded in a studio and people have told me I have a beautiful and powerful voice, good tone, pitch, etc. But I guess text can't prove that. My nerves made my voice waver and I messed up the harmonies, ending up off key.
posted by 2X2LcallingCQ at 11:14 AM on June 7, 2013

I think somebody else mentioned choral performances, and I will suggest that, too. I went to a performing arts high school for choral. We had to give solo performances every semester and I always got so nervous and sometimes would even end up crying through what I was doing! There's something about stage fright that does the opposite of what you need when it comes to good singing--it tightens up your vocal chords and just wreaks havoc!

But with choral music, you are one part of many. Even if you feel like you can't sing at the moment, you can mouth along without ruining the performance. And it's much, much less nerve wracking because you are part of a group. Despite my problems doing solo performances, in the choir I was solid. There's also something wonderfully enveloping about singing in a choir, too, and I really miss it. It's like being suspended inside of the music and really being a part of it, the voices are all around you and yours is a part of it and you can feel how your voice is working with the other voices.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:01 PM on June 7, 2013

Performing on a mike is really, really different from not. I sing unamplified all the time, like for money, and I can't sing on a mike for beans. It's its own skill, and unfamiliarity with it may well be what screwed you up.
posted by KathrynT at 12:51 PM on June 7, 2013

Why would you be good in your first attempt? I see this attitude a lot, and still have parts of it in myself. It’s a fantasy involving suddenly unleashing genius on the world. It has nothing to do with reality. In reality if you want to do something well you start out being bad and get better.

Do you want to nourish the fantasy or actually learn to perform well? I’m not trying to be rude, I think that is literally the choice most people have to make.

If everyone who had a decent voice and little musical experience could just get up on stage and put on a great show the first time they tried the world would be overflowing with amazing performers. I haven’t noticed that to be the case.
posted by bongo_x at 1:08 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

What HopStopDon'tShop said:

1 - practice at home with a mic, record yourself singing, listen to it, be horrified, rinse and repeat. There are a bunch of tips on voice projection for mic singing online, read them and experiment with what works for you.

And, then you need to desensitize your stagefright reaction. One way to do this which is very effective is to invite 2 friends or acquaintances over to your living room, or somewhere suitable, and a sing a few songs for them, mimicking the open mic situation as much as possible.. Come out from another room, applause, bow.. the whole thing.

Then do it again and again adding more people as you feel comfortable. Do this as many times as you need to (10-20) and you should lick the stage fright... the idea is to lose the fear response not to reinforce it, so being comfortable is key.... if that does not work try beta blockers. Get a prescription from your doctor.. explain the situate to her or him. Try a the smallest dosage first to see how you feel, then hit the open mic.
posted by snaparapans at 1:35 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think maybe this is one of those moments where attempting to see yourself from another perspective may be helpful. I attend some open mics in my area and I don't go there to hear perfect, pristine performances. I go there to have fun, and to create a fun environment for the performers. If I don't like someone's performance, it's usually 'well, on to the next one' and I promptly forget about it. But you know...sometimes it's 'well, they seemed kind of nervous/not quite together - I hope they come back next week because this material has SO MUCH POTENTIAL'.

That's what open mics are for. Trying things out. Previewing new songs. Getting used to playing live. Figuring out what works and what doesn't. Everyone in the audience knows that you aren't going to give a polished, perfect performance.

Unlike in War Games, it's the only losing move that is not to play. You are not a failure because you have already succeeded.

And secondly, how do I make music, finally, when I have the voice and lyrics but nothing else or the ability to perform, at least yet. (Here's hoping.)

Just keep doing it. Go up there and try to remind yourself that an imperfect performance is not a failure. It's a first step. I struggle with anxiety myself and it really helped to realize that doing a thing that makes me anxious, while still being anxious about it, is okay. And eventually the anxiety wears off.
posted by capricorn at 1:42 PM on June 7, 2013

I sing in public a lot. Weddings... funerals... Christmas... Easter. Why do I do it? Because I like to sing. People tell me I can sing. I don't see it, but hey, they keep asking...

Anyway, I also like to sound as good as I can. I like it when other people like what I do, but pleasing others is not the main reason I do what I do. When you mess up, smile and keep going. Learn from the experience. Get better at it. Keep going. No matter what.
posted by brownrd at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2013

It's open mic night; it's okay to have a bad or even really bad night. Ask friends to listen to you sing, as practice. Go back to open mic night. Join a community chorus. Take voice lessons. Voice lessons will help you achieve better control over your voice and to use it effectively.

You can sing. That's pretty terrific. Keep singing.

playing instruments. Guitar, piano, tambourine even, my rhythm is not great, except with singing. Take guitar lessons. That way, you can learn to accompany yourself. Learn popular holiday songs and play at parties.
posted by theora55 at 3:23 PM on June 7, 2013

Best answer: This is a good thing. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. Here's why: you have stage fright, which means that you're afraid of a performance going badly. A performance did go badly - the thing you were afraid of happened. And nothing bad happened as a result.

"But wait," you say, "something bad did happen! It was terrible! I felt awful and I want to run and hide and never sing again!" Those are not things that happened. Those are feelings that you felt. And while your feelings are obviously important, they are not automatically true. They cannot necessarily be trusted to tell you something about the world. In other words, just because you feel bad doesn't mean that a bad thing happened. Here's how you know: try to think of any way in which your life is worse as a result of this performance. Answers about how you feel don't count - is there anything about your life that another person could see that is worse because of this performance? I'd be shocked if the answer is yes. So you know something now - you can bomb and it's not the end of the world. In fact, it doesn't have any material negative consequences at all. This is a great thing to know because I don't care who you are - you were going to bomb at some point anyway (spoiler alert - you'll probably do it again).

So now that you know this, it's time to stop beating yourself up. All of the negative consequences that you're experiencing are self-imposed, and they'd stop if you'd just give yourself a break. Why should you give yourself a break? It's right there in what you have to say about why this makes you feel so bad:

I'm so disappointed in myself, because music is very important to me. Besides relationships, it's the most powerful and meaningful outlet for the human experience. Music is universal.

If music is universal then people have a right to sing imperfectly. If music is the most powerful outlet for the human experience, then I'm sure you don't mean to suggest that only people who are very good at it should have access to that. You sang your own experience, and even if it was terrible (and I really doubt it was as bad as you think) it still counts as music, and it's still a part of everything you value about music.
posted by Ragged Richard at 4:58 PM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

I went to my first open mike session a month ago and bombed. Recovered, finished the set. I got smiles, applause, pats on the back. Someone even made a point of asking me to return next session.

I'm gonna try again this month. I will know I've failed when they drag me off the stage in mid-twang.

Good advice in this thread so far. Rehearsing isn't the same as plunking around in the living room. I've set my camera up on a tripod, and now I work at not letting my fantods scream when I watch the results. (This is harder than performing on stage.)

Hang in there. Keep singing. Don't give up on learning an instrument, even if it's just to amuse yourself. Be receptive to a few lessons. All that was said above.
posted by mule98J at 6:41 PM on June 7, 2013

I'm gonna just quote ira glassin full on this one:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
posted by Freen at 7:15 PM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

A couple of things you can remind yourself of.

There are only a tiny number of people, an almost as tiny percentage of creative artists, who produce good work on a first attempt. (Here I am talking about, for example, someone on the level of the early Barbra Streisand, who bewildered the world with the idea that a teenage girl had both the voice and the artistry of a vocalist in mid-career.)

The first story almost every writer writes is pretty dreadful as a story, and the first time an actor acts is almost certain to be sloppy or stiff or some other wrong thing. And the first time most every singer sings is going to be awful.

Performing is a very different sort of discipline from singing for yourself, and one major difference here is that to perform you have to have an audience present. But the only way to learn that "performing" discipline is to perform, which almost necessarily means that you have to be willing to go out there and be awful for at least a while.

The trick, I think, is in choosing situations in which "being awful" is neither prohibitively expensive nor mortifyingly embarrassing. An open mike night seems like a fairly reasonable compromise: there is always enough bad singing at such an event that even your worst will not stand out like a sore thumb, and all you have to pay for is drinks.

If you need a less high-profile (while still economical) solution, you can follow some of the advice given elsewhere in this thread: join a choir, sign up for voice lessons. Or throw an informal karaoke party and work out your awfulness that way.
posted by La Cieca at 11:54 PM on June 7, 2013

Oh, looking back I saw one further thing: going off pitch and "losing" the harmonies, voice quavering, etc. because of nerves. For this there is something very concrete you can do, which is to build a singing technique: learn to breathe properly and how to place the voice, and then practice these techniques until they become like reflexes. That way, when you panic (and all singers do panic at one time or other) your body will go on autopilot and just naturally "sing" correctly from muscle memory.

Again, there are a few singers whose technique seems more or less inborn: they never have to learn how to sing, and their voices always seem to work. But they are the tiniest of minorities.
posted by La Cieca at 12:02 AM on June 8, 2013

What about making your voice your entire band? I'm thinking of the sort of thing that Petra Hayden did on Petra Hayden Sings The Who Sell Out or the Comedian Harmonists did back in the 1930s.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:26 AM on June 8, 2013

« Older Kitty towers and outdoor tents for two?   |   UK MMR Vaccination? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.