Your first gig starts in an hour. You start to feel those pesky butterflies flitting around in your stomach. You abruptly can’t remember how your first song starts. You start to realize that people are WATCHING you….
Don’t Worry – Be Prepared
You may have your very first gig coming up or your 100th. Our individual levels of nervousness all vary. I used to get really nervous before a show but now, after over ten years of playing live on stage (sometimes not on a stage), I don’t even notice it. I have a friend, though, who never got over being nervous. He vomits before every gig…seriously. But that doesn’t stop him.
The key to having a successful live gig is to be PREPARED. And I’m not just talking about knowing your music. A band can do a lot in practice to prepare for situations that can really stress you out. Here’s one that happened to me.
Our band was playing at an outdoor city bandshell. We have two front-line monitors that are shared between four members. The bass from the signal coming through the monitors was making them slide around on the smooth concrete of the stage. Needless to say, the members couldn’t hear the monitors because they were turning themselves around and pointing away and pulling themselves out from the cables. We had to keep stopping after songs to move them back and plug them back in. We tried to wedge them with towels, bags, and even put down duct tape. It took about 7 songs before we got them to stay.
THAT was nerve-racking and embarrassing. But, you know how we handled it? We joked with the crowd and maintained our confidence.
Confidence Live On Stage
Confidence on stage might come naturally (ego can sometimes be mistaken for confidence) or it comes from external sources. Preparation is the KEY to confidence. If you know what your going to do in any particular situation, you’re confident that you can make something work.
You can’t plan for every contingency, obviously, but you can have general plans. For example, say you’re a guitar player. You are nervous that you might break a string during a song. How do you become more confident? Bring a spare guitar. No matter if the worry comes true or not, you have a Plan B and will not be worried at the gig.
Bringing extra cabling, light bulbs, strings, microphones, even extra printed setlists can all improve your confidence level. But what if your worry is what you will do in between songs?
Band Protocol & Banter
All bands have a designated singer. This person is generally the ‘frontman’ for the band. But that doesn’t mean he or she has to do all the talking (unless they love it and are good at it). Bands can interact with the crowd. Never be rude to your crowd. What are some ways to interact with a live audience?
- Tell a story
- Tell a joke
- Talk about the band
- Get the crowd to clap or chant along
- Use a T-shirt gun (well, maybe not this one…)
Prepared crowd banter can help alleviate anxiety as to what you’ll mention on stage. Mentally link prepared comments/jokes to the songs they go with and you won’t have to rely on pure, unreliable spontaneity. Being rehearsed and prepared doesn’t mess up being spontaneous. Some people feel that if you’re too prepared you can’t be spontaneous. That’s simply not true. In fact, the more comfortable and prepared you are, the more likely you’re going to be spontaneous.
The band will also benefit from banter between members. Applauding and drawing attention to a great solo or sung line can go over really well after a song. It gives you an opportunity to ellicite some love from the crowd. And they give generously if you ask for it. I’ve never seen a crowd refuse to clap along when asked to. I doubt you have either.
You Screwed Up! Now What? (Time to panic?)
You just sang the same verse twice!!! You just went into the solo early!!!
You can’t prepare for mistakes, you simply must deal with them in the moment. But preparing your disposition and realizing that mistakes are always going to be part of a live on stage show can go a long, long way in helping you and the band to not freak out and alert the audience to a problem.
I learned a long time ago, as a contractor, that if you don’t draw attention to a mistake, very few will notice and you may even get a chance to fix it with everyone none-the-wiser if you’re fast enough. Small messups by band members may only be noticeable to your group. You may even laugh to each other about it. What all members want to completely avoid is the tendency to make a funny face or get exasperated when an error or mistake happens. Play it cool, try to read the situation, and adjust accordingly.
What We Learned…
Preparation cancels out anxiety. You may still experience jitters and butterflies but you won’t experience any overwhelming worry–IF you’ve anticipated potential problems and prepared for them.
Playing live on stage is an exhilarating experience! Don’t let a lack of confidence be a problem for you. Think about what to do between songs, things you can say to the audience, and ways the band can interact together while playing live. Roll with mistakes and learn from them for next time.
If you keep your sense of humor and maintain your ability to have fun, you’ll keep the friction down and the band (and audience) will enjoy a great show!