I’m at the Chautauqua Institution today. Tonight I’m performing in the Amphitheatre with the Chautauqua Ballet. I play. They dance to my songs. I’ve been told there will be 5000 people.
It’s not the biggest audience I’ve ever played to. I opened for The Beach Boys in front of 14,000 people. Of those 14,000 people, approximately 13,978 didn’t even notice I was there. (My friend told me that she sat next to a group of high school girls who yelled, “You suck! Get off the stage!” at me. So apparently they noticed I was there.)
A guy named Jerry picked me up at the Buffalo airport yesterday. He told me about the audience size when he dropped me at my hotel here in Chautauqua, and he said, “Now don’t be nervous.”
I’m not nervous. But I will be. Right before I go on stage, I’ll have enough adrenaline rushing through me to light a city. And I’ll probably hear the, “Oh my God! What if tonight is the night they discover I’m a fraud?!” voice. (My personal favorite.) I will also probably hear the, “Who do you think you are?” voices as well. And then there will be the hysterical woman that keeps reminding me, “If you mess up, there’s no way to recover! They’re dancing to you. You’ll ruin everything! Don’t mess up! The audience will hate you forever!”
Indie Musicians and New Audiences
If you are, say, Jimmy Buffett, then you most likely don’t have to think about stepping out in front of an audience who has no idea who you are. But if you are an Independent Musician (or Indie artist of any kind), you might have a career of back and forths. You will be “famous” in one arena. There, you will experience the ease of an audience cheering and shouting even before you step onto the stage. They will sing along to all your songs, too. And, you will also regularly play in front of people who don’t wear hats with colorful birds on them to show their undying love for you. In fact, they might even be somewhat skeptical or have their hands crossed in front of their chests when you walk out onto the stage. What then?
Well, first you get to have five minutes of saying things like, “Why can’t it be easier for me? When will it be only audiences of adoring fans? How come no one wears colorful bird hats for my shows? Why didn’t I just get my MBA like my dad told me to?”
Go ahead. Have at it. I’ll wait.
Now, here’s six Performance Tips for when you are about to be in front of an audience that doesn’t have a clue who you are:
Performance Tip #1 – Have an “End-Obsess” Time
If you are nervous, then tell yourself that as of, say, 7pm you no longer get to have that luxury. Then at 7pm, step into confidence and simply say, “Nope” any time the nervousness tries to show up.
Performance Tip #2 – Step boldly into your own skin
Be boldly who you are. If you don’t know what that means, read this post and answer the question posed. Revel in your own voice and authenticity. Even if you mess up, you can recover more quickly when you’re standing boldly into your own skin. No one can be exactly who you are. That’s huge.
Performance Tip #3 – The audience is not your enemy
The audience is not the mean girls who wanted to kick your ass in high school. The audience is not your English prof who hated you. The audience is not rolling their eyes when you walk out on stage. The audience is not thinking, “Prove that you deserve to be on that stage.” The voices in your head are not the audience. The audience really really really wants you to do well. After all, they just want to be entertained and happy.
Performance Tip #4: Remember: If everyone is your audience…
…then no one is your audience. Face it, there will be people who aren’t that into you. But there will also be people who love you. And if you’ve done Step #2, and you are hugely you, then the ones who love you will love you that much more. You will speak to them and connect with them in a big way. Don’t miss that chance by shrinking.
Performance Tip #5: Remind yourself to have fun
This is your dream, right? You want to be doing this, don’t you? When I did my last tour with the ballet company, I made a deal with myself. First, I reminded myself that ten years ago, these shows would have blown me away. Then, I told myself to have fun and take in every minute of it. Before the curtains came up and the crew shuffled around me getting everything set, I took a moment to feel the spotlight and revel in “back stage nervousness.” I smelled that dry backstage smell and noticed the smoky glow under the spotlights. Then I felt the excited curtain-going-up feeling, etc. I even reveled in the occasional voice that showed up and said, “You don’t deserve this!” We can easily let our nervousness take us out of the present moment. And the present moment is all we have. This is it. Take it in. Even if you mess up, at least you made it here! Experience that.
Performance Tip #6: Be of service
Occasionally, I play in nursing homes. Or I play for free to an audience that could care the least who I am. Sometimes they even fall asleep right in front of me. But I don’t care because I’m in service. If I remember that every single show is an opportunity to be of service in the world, then the nervousness goes away instantly. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about the guy in the audience who has had an awful day and is moved by something I wrote. It’s about the woman who lets my music remind her how much she used to love painting and leaves my show and signs up for a class. Whatever. I don’t control that. But I do know that being of service changes every single situation where you find yourself all lost in your own stuff. When it’s not about me, it’s about you. And that’s enough reason to do anything.