“ROCK CONNECTION” by david leprince is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0
Your heart starts racing, a lump forms in your throat, your palms begin to sweat and your stomach is in knots. These are all symptoms of anxiety and very common. Musicians, actors and public speakers face these challenges regularly. Often, even the reassuring words of your friends, family or band members aren’t enough to squash these feelings. In this guide, we dive into why you get pre-gig nerves and offer you some helpful tips to deal with this inconvenient aspect of performing.
Why You Get Performance Anxiety
Before we get to the tips, it’s important to understand why you get performance anxiety. The human brain is a complicated and wonderous thing. It has pushed humanity to amazing achievements but it also has a funny way of messing with us. ▼ Article continues below ▼
To put it in simple terms, our brain has two main areas of processing. The left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere handles logic, planning, numbers, and judgment. The right handles creativity, emotions and sensory inputs like sound.
When you go to perform your left hemisphere kicks into high gear. It floods you with critical thinking, preoccupation with details and criticism. This leads to a rush of chemicals that trigger the symptoms of anxiety. This “paralysis through analysis” can be debilitating and will impact your performance. If your right hemisphere is in control you’ll get that “in the zone” feeling. This leads to a more relaxed and expressive performance.
The trick is to minimize your left brain from dominating your thoughts before going on stage. This will reduce anxiety and increase the chances of a less stressful performance.
How To Handle Pre-Gig Nerves
Now onto the tips to help you banish those nerves — there are two areas we’ll cover. The first is general advice on how to feel more confident and prepared. The second round of tips will give you some things you can do in those final moments before getting on stage.
Taking charge of your day-to-day life is a big step towards reducing performance anxiety. As a musician, you need to continually grow and evolve. Here are some things you can do to help you prepare to tackle pre-gig nerves.
- Practice – The most important tip is to practice and practice often. One of the reasons you’ll get anxious before a gig is because somewhere deep inside you don’t believe you are good enough. If you have practiced and rehearsed you’ll be more confident in your skills. This confidence helps to minimize the self-criticism before a gig.
- Preparation – There are times where you are confident in your skills but other things get you stressed. For example, you may show up to a gig and realize one of your speakers is not working. Or you may have left some critical cables at home. For a DJ you may arrive at a club and face DJ equipment that is different from the DJ equipment you have at home. These last-minute issues can ramp up your stress levels and bring on anxiety. Double-check your gear or have a checklist you follow before you set out. You can also get in contact with the venue or booker for any information you need. By taking the time to prepare before gigs you can prevent unexpected issues. This minimizes the potential of extra stress and anxiety.
- Meditation – We live in a busy and hectic world. Taking time out of your schedule to practice meditating is a fantastic way to deal with stress. Finding your center and learning to control your thoughts is a tool everyone should learn. These skills translate to handling performance anxiety. There are many different ways to meditate. Take some time to find a way that suits your lifestyle and incorporate it into your daily routine.
Before Your Gig
These tips will help you tackle the nerves you get right before going on stage. These nerves can come on suddenly and without warning. Having these tricks up your sleeve can help you get refocused.
- Don’t Arrive Too Early – You don’t want to arrive late but you also don’t want to arrive too early. If you get to the venue too early you’ll get too much time to think. If you do arrive early you can meet the person that booked you. You can even run some pre-show checks. Then I suggest you get out of the venue and find somewhere that you can relax. Have a light bite to eat or anything that helps get your mind off the performance. Trust in your preparation and practice.
- Avoid Alcohol – Some people may recommend you have a drink to take the edge off. While this may work for some it will backfire for most. Firstly, you want to be a professional. This will lead to further bookings and you’ll establish a positive reputation. Secondly, while alcohol can lower your inhibitions it can also impact your cognitive skills. This will result in you not delivering your 100% best. It can also establish a negative routine that you’ll end up relying on. Save the drink for after the show to celebrate your successful gig.
- Breathing Exercises – Deep mindful breathing is a great way to tackle stress and anxiety. This is why I recommended meditation. Breathing exercises are a big part of meditation that you can incorporate into your pre-gig routine. When faced with stress your body reverts to short and shallow breathing. This triggers the fight or flight body response. By using deep diaphragmatic breathing, you help calm your heart rate and avoid that natural biological response.
There is a wealth of information out there on ways to handle stress. By using the tips above you can establish a foundation that you can build on.
Keep in mind that nervous energy is not always a bad thing. If you feel nervous, it’s because you are taking your gig seriously. That healthy level of nerves is something to embrace as a part of your musical career. Even established artists who have been touring for years still get pre-show jitters. The difference is not letting those nerves overtake your ability to perform. Take some time to put in place the tips in this guide and you’ll be well on your way to less stressful gigs.