Sing More, Stress Less: Getting a Handle on Performance Anxiety

If you’re scared to perform your own music, good—it means you care. What do you do if you’re too fearful?

Ideally, you don’t stop playing music altogether. But performance anxiety is a serious obstacle for many musicians, especially when performing their own songs. How can you get more comfortable on stage and get back to connecting with your fans?

1. Skip the autobiography

Contrary to what the last fifty years of singer-songwriter lore might have you believe, not every song you write has to be a confessional outpouring of your innermost thoughts. Try your hand at other topics so you feel less exposed when you go to perform. Taylor Swift won Album of the Year for Folklore, an album built on fictionalized narratives. Before her, Mitski was praised for her set of character studies on 2018’s Be the Cowboy. Half of Bon Iver’s lyrics read as literal nonsense. Ditch the autobiography until you’re more comfortable on stage.

2. Play other people’s music

Performing your own music is twofold terrifying. Not only are you singing in front of strangers, but you’re singing music you wrote—two opportunities for rejection. Cut one of these out of the equation by sticking to other people’s music. Covers are one way to do this, but so is joining a band. Hone your performer chops as a backup singer, rhythm guitarist, or synth player for someone else. Once you’re more comfortable on stage, add your own songs to the mix.

3. Gig in neighboring towns or cities

If you’re able, find an open mic one town over. Playing for an audience of strangers who you won’t bump into at the grocery store can help relieve the pressure of performance. If you do completely bomb, at least you won’t have to relive it when someone recognizes you at Starbucks. Plus, it’s a great way to expand your regional following.

4. Take advantage of livestreams

Singing for your phone can be far less daunting than singing for people. Demo some songs on Instagram Live or stream a set on Facebook. Consider not streaming with the front-facing camera so you can’t see (an aren’t worried by) your viewers. This is also a great way to share music in a low-pressure environment while engaging with your followers.

5. Just do it

The Ariana Grandes of the world are lying to you and themselves if they say they’ve never been fearful or anxious in a show. Instead of trying to conquer or erase that anxiety, learn to perform with it. A great way to reframe this can be “Yes, I’m anxious, and I’m going to play this gig,” rather than “I want to play this gig, but I’m too anxious.” At the end of the day, though, the only way to get more comfortable playing your own music is through practice. Sometimes this means getting up on stage and just going for it, fear and all. Fail, learn, succeed, repeat.

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By Mike Powers

Mike is a composer, arranger, and artist manager who writes for Tonic Audio.

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