Rock Any Audience You Encounter With These 9 Performance Tips
If you’re just starting to perform music live, you might be feeling a bit nervous about stepping into the spotlight. Fear not—even your favorite guitarist feels a stab of fear before strapping in and taking the stage.
Oh, sure, he seems confident. But that’s because he’s learned how to look bold on the outside even when he’s Jell-O on the inside. He’s learned to deal with the adrenaline. If he can manage it, so can you.
Stage fright is a perfectly normal, non-fatal, and predictable instinct—and unlike your drummer, it’ll always show up early.
No single trick prevents panic, but there are some good habits you can adopt to make the fear a little easier to deal with. Here are nine surefire performance tips that’ll help you survive and thrive in the spotlight.
1. Hit the open mics. Open mic events attract warm, supportive audiences. Check local newspapers, websites, and event calendars to find an open mic near you—they’re great for testing out new material, staying limber between gigs, and meeting local talent.
2. Scout the Venue. If you’re completely new to performing, try to attend an open mic as an audience member first. This should take away some of the scary unknowns and allow you to observe how open mics work. Seeing other people climb onstage, make mistakes, and have fun anyway is inspiring—if you’ve never performed live, watch from the stands first.
3. Prepare. Memorize your chosen songs until you know them better than you know your closest friends. Nail every chord change and solo part beyond a doubt. Remember: You might find yourself trying to play these songs with sweaty, shaking hands onstage, so learn the material better than “close enough.”
4. Mind your posture. The instinct onstage is to slouch, stare at the floor, and generally attempt to shrink from view of the audience. Don’t do this to yourself or them. Instead, straighten your back, face forward, and welcome the attention that’s focused on you. It’s amazing how much more engaging a performance can seem when the performer simply picks up his head and plays to the audience instead of his shoes. Regardless of your internal state, project outward confidence. You’ll feel stronger.
5. Bring supplies. Plan for every possible emergency and need: pack extra strings, a tuner, patch cables, batteries for stomp boxes, etc. The day before the gig, consider throwing a new set of strings on the guitar and breaking them in.
6. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. Every second onstage feels like ten minutes, and every tiny mistake feels amplified well past “11”… But to your audience, a second is still just a second and mistakes that seem enormous to you can actually go unnoticed by the audience. Make a mistake? Stay cool. Keep rolling like it never happened, and even if somebody did notice, they’ll forget all about it if you finish strong.
7. Don’t greet the audience with excuses. Over the past decade of playing gigs and attending open mics, I’ve seen dozens of musicians introduce themselves nervously and spend five painful minutes explaining why they’re going to suck: they’ll say they don’t know the material well, that they’ve had a cold all week and their voice is going to be a little off, that they didn’t get a chance to practice… Please don’t stand onstage trying to apologize for a performance you haven’t even given yet. For your introduction, take inspiration from a great performer: “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.” Simple, direct, and strong.
8. Earn confidence through practice. If you lack confidence, strengthen your weak points. Take guitar lessons from a trusted teacher. Read books on music theory. Learn every note on the fretboard. And play publicly as often as you can—nothing teaches better than actual experience. One night playing live can offer more lessons than ten nights practicing alone in your bedroom.
9. Record yourself rehearsing. To test whether you’re ready for the stage, simulate live conditions in front of a video recorder or webcam: play your chosen songs from start to finish without restarts. Watching the video will give you valuable insights into your own performance from the audience’s perspective—while you’re actually playing, it’s hard to tell what’s working and what isn’t.
Good luck out there!
Got a performance tip of your own to add? Got any war stories from the gigs of yesteryear? Let us know in the comments.