I’ve had my bouts of stage fright over the course of my career although I’ve never had it really bad. I’ve played with other musicians who were just overwhelmed with stage fright. I’ve played with guys that were throwing up before every gig because they got so nervous.
Let me start off with a little quote from The King himself, Mr. Elvis Presley: “I’ve never gotten over what they call stage–fright. I go through it every show. I’m pretty concerned, I’m pretty much thinking about the show. I never get completely comfortable with it, and I don’t let the people around me get comfortable with it, in that I remind them that it’s a new crowd out there, it’s a new audience, and they haven’t seen us before. So it’s got to be like the first time we go on.” – taken from http://quotations.about.com
The worst experience I ever had in a band due to stagefright happened way back in High School. Our band was going to play a couple of original songs in an assembly and we had a great keyboard player who was also the bands lyricist. We had no clue that he had such terrible stage fright because he was so excited about being in the band and writing music. Rehearsals went great and we were really sounding good. So the day of the gig comes and the keyboard player doesn’t show up. We were freaking out wondering where the heck he is and how are we going to play this gig without him. So, we sucked it up and went out played without the keyboard player. It went really well and we got a ton of compliments and were pretty popular around the school. The crowd didn’t know they had missed some great keyboard parts but we sure did. So being young and not very sympathetic we let our keyboard player know in no uncertain terms that it was totally uncool to let us down like that. We also kicked him out of the band.
I still feel bad about that after all these years. We should have been more understanding and nowadays I would handle it differently. I’ve learned to deal with stage fright a number of different ways and I’ve learned to help my bandmates if they’re struggling with it. The first and easiest way to deal with stage fright is to be prepared! Know your parts forward and backward. You should have everything memorized including what you’re going to say between songs. Leave as little to chance as possible. Get your songlist ready, double check your equipment, do a soundcheck and have your bandmates double check as well. Nothing is as comforting as being prepared for the show. Crazy things will happen and it’s a lot easier to deal with problems if you’re not worrying about remembering lyrics that you should have memorized.
The next thing you want to do is visualize. This goes right along with being prepared. You want to imagine everything that could possibly happen at a gig and then figure out how to deal with it in advance. Visualize how you’ll deal with equipment failure, or heckling and booing. Then visualize a perfect show from start to finish. Imagine everything going perfectly and then run that over and over in your mind.
When it comes to helping nervous band members, let them know they’re not alone. That’s the beautiful thing about being in a band is it’s a group experience. You’re not going to have to go through it by yourself. Your band really becomes your family in a lot of ways as you play together. Let your nervous bandmate know that you’re going to be standing right up there next to them and that you’ll be facing that crowd together.
Finally, remember that the worst that can happen is that you blow the gig. You could get booed off the stage, have things thrown at you and have all your equipment start on fire. If that happens, so what! That’s how we learn so the next time you play a gig you can know what you should or shouldn’t do. So hang in there people and don’t let a little stage fright keep you from playing in front of an audience. I guarantee you it’s one of the biggest thrills in the world to get up there and see and hear a crowd cheering for you!