Want to walk into (and away from) your first performance with a grin? Here’s how.
Onstage (It’s show time!)
Here you are, finally, with all those people looking at you. The number one thing to remember is that the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed.
Share your music despite your stage fright and other human foibles, and you’ll fill their hearts with joy. Which is, of course, exactly what you’re there for. If your mind hasn’t gone totally AWOL at this point, keep these show time tips in mind.
Take your time. Before you start playing, take 30 seconds to put on your capo, check your sound levels, and get focused. Don’t be afraid of the silence! Also, nerves have a tendency to make us rush through songs, so take time to hear grooves in your head before you start playing.
Cope gracefully with mistakes. There are many great ways to work with mistakes, but apologizing for them (or for your cold or your out-of-tune guitar) is not one of them. For the audience’s sake, fix what you can and glide (or laugh) past the unfixable.
If you forget a lyric, keep strumming while you try to remember it, skip it, or sing the first verse again. Believe it or not, mistakes can be your ally; once you—and the audience—know you can cope with them, everyone relaxes and the real show begins.
Let the room lean in. This is a phrase performers love to use. In a nutshell, it means don’t oversing or overplay. Let the sound system work for you, and make the audience lean into your space, not the other way around. It’s part volume and part psychology, and it’s very effective.
Enjoy yourself. Need we say more? Performing is an amazing gift, both to yourself and to the audience. Enjoy every minute of it!
I Survived My First Open Mic
I’ve been playing guitar for about four years and thought I was “ready for the big time” at our local Borders’ open mic. So, last August, I decided to do it. But when the evening came around, I chickened out. My wife kept saying “Just do it,” so I finally agreed to at least go and get the lay of the land, although I left my guitar in the trunk.
I spotted somebody with a clipboard signing people up and figured what the heck. I picked a slot, butterflies flying, went to the car and got my guitar and harmonica (which I’d only been playing for about a week—if I was going to make a fool of myself, may as well go all out, right?) and sat at a table to tune.
As the first performer recited poetry, I was nearly shaking. Then it was my turn. I plugged in my cable to a loud POP! (It was the first time I’d seen a PA up close, and I forgot to turn the volume down before plugging in.)
I mumbled an introduction and started my first song, an original. My mouth was completely dry, and I was startled by the sound of my voice through the speakers, but I kept going. I played a halfway decent harmonica riff and got through the song, aside from a couple of wrong chords that no one seemed to notice. Unbelievably, everyone clapped.
Then I introduced a Steve Earle song, and by this time I was less nervous and did better. I finished with a Bob Dylan song, accidentally skipping a verse that, again, no one noticed.
All in all it was a great experience. I’ve done two more open mics since, and they’re easier now. I’d encourage anyone to give it a try. It’s not as bad as it seems, and the audience really supports you. It’s nerve-racking at first, but halfway through your first song, the pressure’s off, and you can relax and have fun.