Be it your first ever gig, or simply your first gig with a new project, first gig nerves are a very real thing. It’s important to keep in mind that nerves are a completely normal part of live performance and can not only be tamed, but also used to your advantage. Here are 14 essential tips on coping with first gig nerves:
1. Don’t Try To Resist Them
The symptoms of nerves can easily be prolonged or emphasized by attempting to suppress them. Constantly trying to suppress your nerves will only create a vicious cycle of anxiousness and prevent you from effectively dealing with the emotion. Instead, I’d strongly advocate that you simply allow the nerves to rein free for as long as they need to. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve found that I start to feel much better after thirty to sixty seconds. From my own experience, it’s much better to feel awful for sixty seconds rather than hours on end.
2. Understand That Being Nervous Is Completely Normal
Keep in mind that nerves are a completely normal response to the task at hand. Additionally, even the most experienced performers will often feel nervous before a show. Nerves are an evolutionary trait that’s often triggered due to ambiguity surrounding an upcoming event. It’s best to see nerves as a healthy, necessary and inevitable part of live performance instead of viewing them as something abnormal.
3. Stay In The Present Moment
As previously mentioned, nerves are often triggered by ambiguity towards an upcoming event. As a result, worrying about what might happen during your set will only intensify the nerves. Ultimately, asking ‘what if?’ type questions is an inherently pointless activity that ‘ll only draw away from your overall experience of the show. Here are a couple of pointers on staying in the present moment:
- Stay distracted: If you find yourself feeling nervous, distract yourself by having a conversation with someone or completing a simple task. This’ll bring you back to the present moment and allow you to focus on something other than your upcoming set.
- Practice diaphragmatic breathing: Slow, diaphragmatic breathing will not only enable oxygen saturation throughout the body, but also give you something to immediately focus on. One of my favorite diaphragmatic breathing exercises is to breathe in through the nose for four seconds and out through the mouth for five seconds.
4. Focus On The Positive Instead Of The Negative
When nerves are getting the better of you, you’re much more likely to focus on the potential negative outcomes of the performance. Focusing on negative outcomes will only heighten your vigilant state, which will make you feel even worse. If you encounter a negative thought, try turning it into a positive one. For example, “I’m going to mess up the first song” can be changed to “We’ve done as much preparation as possible for this show”. Positive thinking can be hugely beneficial in staying composed before a stressful event.
5. Minimize Stress Before The Performance
If you know you’re going to be nervous for the show, it’s in your best interest to keep your stress levels to a minimum during the day. If at all possible, try to avoid stress-inducing activities at work or school and set aside unrelated tasks for another day. In addition, the stress of the gig might negatively impact your ability to complete unrelated tasks to the best of your ability.
6. Don’t Expect Perfection
Absolute perfection is an unattainable and unrealistic expectation. You’re more or less guaranteed to make mistakes throughout your set, which is a completely normal aspect of performing live. Going into a performance expecting perfection means that mistakes will often catch you off-guard or make you feel that the set went worse than it actually did. If you play the set with the expectation of mistakes, it limits your potential to overreact or be caught off-guard when they inevitably happen.
7. Make The Most Of Your Soundcheck
If you’re offered a soundcheck, it’s important to make the most of it. Soundchecking will allow you to:
- Get comfortable on stage: If you’re completely new to live performance, your soundcheck offers a chance to get comfortable on stage without an audience present. Therefore, you’ll know what to expect once it comes to playing your set.
- Adjust your monitor mix: The purpose of a soundcheck isn’t only to dial in a great sound for the audience, but also for the band. If you want something turning up or down in your monitor mix, don’t be afraid to ask the engineer. Having a suitable monitor mix will boost your confidence by allowing you to hear everything you need to.
- Build rapport with the sound engineer: The sound engineer’s job is to showcase your band in the best light possible from a sonic perspective. If you’re nervous or unsure of what to do, don’t be afraid to tell them! They’ll almost certainly assure you that you’re in good hands and walk you through anything you need clarification or guidance on.
8. Limit Your Time At The Venue
Whilst you should be punctual and present for the entire show, spending an unnecessary amount of time at the venue will only heighten your nerves. If you’ve got an extended break in between soundcheck and the show, make sure you leave the venue and distract yourself with a separate activity (such as having a meal). This can help to take your mind off of the performance and avoid extensive performance anxiety.
9. Don’t Assume The Audience Views The Performance The Same Way You Do
When you’re playing a show, it’s important to remember that the audience:
- Doesn’t know the set as well as you: Whilst they’re of course paying attention to the performance, they haven’t spent weeks rehearsing and scrutinizing every small detail of the set. Additionally, if you’re performing original material, they most-likely won’t know it. If you miss a snare hit or play a bum note, they are not going to notice.
- Doesn’t care about the set as much as you: When you’ve put a lot of work into an upcoming performance from a project you care about, you’re obviously going to want it to go flawlessly. However, whilst the audience will be interested in your performance, they won’t care nearly as much as you. Even if something does go badly wrong, they are not going to care. This show won’t be the be-all and end-all of your music career, no matter how much it might feel like it is.
10. Accept It Probably Won’t Be The Best Show You’ll Ever Play
This is not at all to suggest that it won’t be a good show, but it’s likely that the best is yet to come. Live performance comes with a learning curve and requires hands-on experience to master. Additionally, it’s important to remember that even the most seasoned performers will have sub-standard shows from time to time. Your first few shows are the perfect opportunity to gain first-hand experience of what it means to perform live, from loading your gear in and out of the venue to playing in front of an audience.
11. Limit Caffeine & Sugar Intake
Both caffeine and sugar are stimulants, which can heighten your ‘flight or fight’ response. Extensive caffeine and/or sugar consumption will certainly trigger or amplify your nerves and therefore should be avoided on the day of the gig. Instead, I’d recommend sticking to water before your performance and eating a small meal three to four hours before you play.
12. Skip The Alcohol
Whilst you might think a couple of drinks will calm your nerves before a gig, it’s something I’d strongly discourage. Any amount of alcohol will slow your reaction times and take away from your performance. Nerves also make it all-too-easy for you to over-do the alcohol, which could seriously compromise your technical skills during the set. Furthermore, alcohol causes dry mouth, which could hinder your singing abilities. In my experience, the best bet is to simply stick to water before your set.
13. Consider All-Natural Supplements
If your nerves are significantly impacting your wellbeing before the performance, all-natural supplements are a great option. I’ve used Bach’s Rescue Remedy (link to Amazon) before several nerve-inducing events (including gigs, driving tests and presentations) and have always found it immensely beneficial. It’s best used in the few minutes before the show and produces a general feeling of relaxation and ease. Additionally, Kalms (link to Amazon) are a great option if you’d prefer something in pill form.
14. Channel Nerves Into Your Performance
Essentially, nerves are caused by adrenaline. Instead of viewing them as something to rid yourself of, they can actually be leveraged as a performance enhancer. Adrenaline will heighten your ability to focus, which will lead to a more convincing and technically-accomplished performance.