How to Make Any Musical Performance Horribly Awkward

perf anxiety by sashaw

photo by sashaw

“Uh, so this is my song. It’s kinda boring I guess, and I don’t really know what it’s about. The chorus is just kind of thrown in there and the whole thing is just stupid. I think my guitar’s out of tune, and I’ve had a cold so I’m not singing too well tonight…”

Nobody hears the above and thinks Oh boy, sounds like my kind of performer!

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched somebody mumble that string of excuses into a microphone at an open mic. Every once in a while, I still catch myself doing it. Here’s the lesson I’ve (mostly) succeeded in teaching myself about that:

Don’t Try to Warm any Audience Up with Excuses.

It immediately marks you as an amateur. It signals that you’re out looking for an audience that’ll say “No, no, you’re great! We love you and yes, you really are good at this and should continue and you’ll be big-time in, like, ten minutes if you keep it up.”

That’s natural enough. Everybody needs affirmation and support. And though we try to be cool and philosophical about bombing, most of us are affected when a song falls flat on the floor in front of an audience.

Warming up with excuses and apologies is defensive and self-protective behavior. But rattling on about how bad your performance is going to be will actually make you more nervous and doubting, and leave you in a terrible mental state for handling any actual challenges or mistakes that might arise while you’re onstage.

The core problem: You’ve already decided that you’re going to fail, so you’re preparing yourself and diverting your energy into escaping with lesser injuries.

Try this Instead

Smile, say hello, tell everyone your name, and tell them the name of the song. Take a deep breath and begin.

Don’t tell me I’m going to hate your music. I’d prefer to hear it for myself.  FAVICON

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Posted on November 4, 2010

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14 Responses to How to Make Any Musical Performance Horribly Awkward

  1. Matt Blick November 4, 2010 at 18:48 #

    Brilliant! You must have been at my open mic on Tues!

    One guy did just this, then followed it up by mumbling at the end of the song (thus killing any applause he might have got) looked like he was going for his drink, but then stepped down off the stage, ensuring he finished his set to complete silence (he’s previously warned us he didn’t know how many songs he was going to do).

    His name was Dave. Just Dave.

    A masterclass.

    • Nicholas Tozier November 4, 2010 at 22:37 #

      Poor Dave.

      Next time he takes the stage, he’s going to feel anxious again. More so.

      We can only hope that Dave isn’t trapped in a terrible endless cycle of mumbling and shuffling, until he either gives up or finds new strength.

  2. Ruth Greenwood November 8, 2010 at 14:18 #

    You nailed it again. I loved this, and put in on my Facebook wall. So true.

    I should know better. But sometimes I forget to say my name. Probably because I already know it…

    One thing I loved in Jana Stanfield’s book for indie singer-songwriters was her reminder that you can use warmup, mic check times to sing or say something funny or interesting…it doesn’t have to be “one two”…we forget that it’s ALL performance…your hello, your songs, and, if you make ’em, your excuses. Yes, your excuses are part of your show. Doesn’t that make them sound even more pitiful ;)???

  3. Nicholas Tozier November 8, 2010 at 21:41 #

    If I had a big damn band, I’d let them vamp on two or three chords while I delivered bad jokes. 😉

    That’s a really helpful way of looking at it: a constant performance mindset. The strange thing is that it can take so much work and conscious effort to appear normal and relaxed.

    I NEVER tell anyone my name. Then again, I never play out…

  4. Muse-in-Despair January 2, 2011 at 06:27 #

    I remember starting a song with a joke about goths being in a goth band. That was inappropriate but very funny.

    • Nicholas Tozier January 3, 2011 at 01:06 #

      What was the joke? Did the room feel awkward afterward? 😛

  5. Muse-in-Despair January 3, 2011 at 13:55 #

    It was in Russian and i don’t quite remember how it goes, but surprisingly most of the people were laughing. )))

    • Nicholas Tozier January 3, 2011 at 17:10 #

      I guess you pulled it off, then! 🙂

      Russian! Really! What’s the musical tradition like over there? I’ve heard that Russian singer-songwriters have a long history, and that it’s more like poetry rehearsed with a few chords. Is that true?

  6. Muse-in-Despair April 7, 2011 at 06:34 #

    Sorry, just saw your comment. Well, Russian classical music derives much of its base from Western classics and the folk music is like any other. But, yes much of the poetry has been used together with the chords and tunes to make a song. Some singers did that. There is also a tradition of classic love songs that are being presented as a separate genre.

    The pop music is kinda bad but there are some great alternative performers with great lyrics and music like ##### (Belorussian band) and Психея (Russians) in case you’re interested, but they are kinda heavy.

    • Nicholas Tozier May 19, 2011 at 21:06 #

      I don’t mind heavy. Not at all. 😀

  7. skip May 19, 2011 at 13:13 #

    my best performances at OMN are when I don’t care what they (the audience) think. That’s when I’m able to really just *go for it.* when I do that, I forget to be nervous, and I play and sign much more expressively.

    One of the things that I like about playing originals is that no one else knows how the song goes, so if I fuck it up *but keep playing* nobody knows! forgot the lyrics? sing another chorus. (yes, I forget the lyrics to my own songs all the time, but once I get the first few words, I remember it all…)

    One of my first times at an OMN I was *super* nervous, and my leg was shaking. I was seated, so it kind of looked like I was keeping time – in 64th notes. :~)

    • Nicholas Tozier May 19, 2011 at 21:15 #

      I hear you about the first few words! If I can just remember the first few words of every verse, no problem. But if I forget those first few words…

  8. Al Berman November 3, 2011 at 12:16 #

    I was listening to an album of Weird Al cover songs, and one of the artists on the album did this before he started singing his song. It made me think of this post.

    • Nicholas Tozier November 3, 2011 at 12:53 #

      It’s such a peeve of mine. I’ve been guilty of it a few times I’m sure, but I vowed a few years ago to stop wasting the audience’s time. Nowadays, I leave it up to the audience to decide whether I succeeded or failed. Feels much better that way.