There I was standing in front of a live studio audience of hundreds of people waiting to either be impressed with me or feel sorry for me. Tightly gripping the microphone in hopes of finding any kind of stability, I waited for the band (with whom I had limited prior practice) to begin my tune. Cameras rolling! The band started, I started, everyone was listening. As I sang, what came out was unfamiliar, I felt unstable and out of body. I tried to focus and sing what I had practiced, but all I could think about was why not a single one of the four chairs in front of me had turned. My song came to a close and a once cheering crowd turned to an empathetic halt. I received my feedback and the one consistent response from all four of them was “I could tell you were NERVOUS.” Me? Nervous? No way! I had practiced for months. I had been waiting and preparing for this moment and opportunity my entire life. How could I be nervous?
It took me a lot of hard work in the years after this experience to come to terms with my nerves as a performer. This moment was truly an intervention for how I approach being on stage. What I thought I had mastered in years past, I had only just scratched the surface. Nerves are not only a natural human condition, but they can open the door for further self exploration. You know, the whole “do what scares you” sentiment. I do agree, however, here are some tips I’ve learned to limit nerves to nerves of excitement and create a head space that will allow you to perform to the best of your abilities!
If you’re a hands on learner, the best tip I can give you is this: practice in an environment as close to the actual performance setting as you can multiple times. Why do we get nervous? We fear the unknown of never having sung this specific song in this specific environment. To counteract this, learn and rehearse the tune; know it like the back of your hand. Having a vocal coach, someone with a trained ear, helps immensely with this step. Get in front of people like friends or family and practice for them for a live audience feel. Practice the way you would perform because ultimately the more you do this, the less “unknown” variables there are and the more prepared you will feel. Use a microphone if you have one.
If your nerves come from a fear of what others will think or say of you my best tip is this: You and everyone else in this world has a gift to share. Think of it as a birthday present. When you perform, you are simply giving the most unique and special gift you can give because it is coming from you. But how the audience receives it doesn’t define your identity. I challenge you, when listening to others, to embrace and celebrate your differences and this in turn will calm a lot of those fears.
My final tip if you are afraid of crashing and burning is to remember to stay humble. No one is perfect, but that’s what makes following our dreams so worth it. Every performance brings a new understanding and the more we perform, the better each time will get. Mistakes are a part of life itself and there will always be room for improvement no matter how practiced we think we are. Neither Rome -nor Beyoncé- were built in a day!