Friday, April 10, 2009

Stage Fright - Possession Of A Mind

Ok, I'll admit it. I've had stage fright now and again, and as a matter of fact I've just overcome a recent bout. I think everyone has at least a case of the jitters once in a while. It's not that burst of adrenalin before you hit the stage, stage fright is different... it's evil. People forget that performers are alone onstage while it's the audience who are part of a crowd. If the performer loses sight of the role they play, their thoughts will creep up like a Nazi saboteur and shoot them in the head, exploding brain goo across the stage and into the mouths of the audience.

Stage fright is a mental "psych out", which can come in many forms, lately mine hit as a state of panic. While playing the song Voice of the Dead I hit a wrong note during the chorus, instead of just correcting myself (and forgetting about it) my mind raced at hurricane speeds at the error. Instead of moving forward I started to worry that I was going to screw up the next time we hit the chorus and sure enough I looked down at my fingers and fret board and didn't recognize them. I had no clue what I was doing, my mind was blank, nothing sounded right, I felt I had amnesia. For the longest time I'd keep asking myself "Why is this happening?" I'd worry: "Will I remember all the notes I'm supposed to play?" and "How will my mind keep track of all the harmonies and melodies?" This kind of thinking spiraled like blood down the shower drain, my fear of playing the wrong note gave me anxiety about going blank, which made me dread going on stage.

While pondering my dilemma I was helped by a blog post from Seth Godin, here's a section of that post...

"The first group sang a note-for-note rendition of a song by the Stones. The notes were right, but nothing else was. The singer didn't know what the song meant. And the musicians, they just stood there. No energy, no smiles, no connection. It could have been a funeral with a great soundtrack. A concert isn't about the music, is it? "

What the hell? Why did I forget this? Why am I striving for perfection when the bands I love are punk bands? Who gives a shit if Johnny Ramone ever played one wrong note? I love music for it's energy, emotion, and power, our live shows should reflect that. It's not "Guitar Hero" where every note counts, it's a mathematical equation where the show is greater than the parts.

What finally set my mind straight was a book called "Write Is A Verb". There is a chapter in the book where the author talked about when he first started giving speeches, he said " If you are nervous during a speech your focus is at the wrong place. If you are focusing on how you look or on your heartbeat you aren't paying attention to the audience".

That passage made sense. I needed to put my focus back on the audience and not on myself. The role of the audience is to be entertained and to root for the performer. It's not a battle with the audience, it's give and take. If I'm thinking then I can't focus on just playing music.

So I tested these ideas during the last few shows and they worked, I felt relaxed, confident and had a blast. Instead of struggling and fighting myself for perfection I just let go of my ego and like a young Jedi, I found the Force within me. I'm a strong believer in the power of the mind and of positive thinking - It's not always easy to practice.



  1. Stage fright is the entire reason I became a stage manager and did not pursue a life on the stage. Its terrifying to be up there, I respect anyone who can do it.

    Kurt Cobain also had stage fright, and I know he messed up his songs on stage sometimes, there are complicated as shit at times.

    Good work man.

  2. As a performer, I TOTALLY know what you are talking about. I've been onstage and forgotten lyrics, or lines if I was in a play, and it is a damned terrifying feeling that just feeds on itself. Your advice rings true with me, as the times I've managed to get back on track have been when I've just gone with the flow and allowed my band or fellow actors to steer me back the right way. It is hard, at times, to improvise, but that is exactly what you have to do.

    GREAT blog entry!

  3. I thought someone might relate, thanks.

  4. Great entry! Especially the part about focusing on the audience. That's everything.

    I am a speech coach and just published a small - but very useful - tip about overcoming stagefright. I would appreciate your feedback!