Singing is like acting naked. It turns you inside-out; it feels like there’s more of you out there than you could ever show in casual conversation, more vulnerability than you would ever care to admit. But that’s one of the beautiful things about singing; it really is that intimate and powerful, and when the music really communicates, the audience feels something of their own vulnerability and the power of being human.
If only you could get the butterflies in your stomach to calm down!
To that end, I have some helpful ideas:
1. Let the audience be there. There are lots of tricks that performers use to try to block out their audience: they pretend that everybody’s naked, or their heads have been replaced with cabbages, or they simply ignore them and stare at the back wall or the lighted “exit” sign. Many of us also have the habit of closing our eyes while singing. But that doesn’t make the audience go away, and what’s more, you’re leaving them out of the experience. So instead of trying to block them out, let them be there. Acknowledge them and include them in your aura; they belong there, too. Having said that…
2. It’s not the audience’s job to make you feel comfortable. It’s YOUR job to make THEM feel comfortable. You are the one giving the audience the experience they came for. You are the service provider; you need to create the space of love and acceptance that’s necessary for music. They might be bent over their drinks and having conversations with each other the whole time. That’s okay; you have to let it be perfectly okay for everyone to be exactly however they are. If you go out on stage with the expectation that everyone else has to make you feel comfortable or be a certain way, you will never be comfortable singing! Besides, your discomfort will make the audience nervous, and you don’t want that.
3. You have to intend to sing. You have to consciously make the decision to sing, right down to the root of your being, when you go out there. If you open your mouth to sing and the first note cracks or doesn’t even come out at all, that’s a sign that your subconscious has changed its mind. Don’t let it! You can tell it, “thank you for sharing,” and then just settle in, let the breath drop in, and sing.
4. You will feel all of it: The butterflies, the dry mouth, the shaky breath, and all those things you experience when you’re nervous on stage. As many times as I’ve tried to prevent or tamp down those sensations, they always come. A fabulous maestra told me that when I’m rehearsing, I should imagine every possible detail of the performance and actively call up those sensations so that when the moment comes to perform, I will not be surprised by those feelings. I can say, “thank you for sharing,” let the breath drop in, and just go.
5. Practice performing. A lot. Get in front of people as often as possible to rehearse and perform. If it pushes your buttons, keep doing it, because eventually those buttons will break.
With all these suggestions, it’s really about accepting the experience, butterflies and all. If you resist the audience or entertain the thought of “this shouldn’t be happening,” the overwhelm will throw you off your game. You will get a lot more emotional stamina out of dancing with the dragon than with trying to slay it.