Singing in Public: Learn to Manage and Control Stage Fright
Stage fright. Just thinking of it makes me nauseous. I’ve been there. Some of you have as well. That’s one of the reasons why a bathroom singer and a professional performer are in a league of their own. It is the first major roadblock to being denied of progressing one’s heart’s desire to sing your heart out in front of other people, right? If you fervently avoid singing in public because of it, say goodbye to your dreams. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Hope is coming your way.
Whether you want to make it big in Hollywood or just want to become a part of your church’s choir, stage fright can make those dreams become impossibilities. It’s paralyzing at times regardless of your talent, skill, and passion. The good news is it’s manageable
If that’s been you, who sings or loves to sing but can’t sing in front of a crowd, basically you’re like a surgeon who is afraid of blood. If you have stage fright, remember these words, you’re not alone.
Hold your breath, this is why I’m here to help you out. Let’s take a look at simple things we can do. Let’s start with the basics first, shall we?
Knowing and Acknowledging Stage Fright
We can loosely define stage fright as a form of performance anxiety. It can make you perform poorly on stage. In severe cases I’ve seen, it can trigger a fight or flight response. Regardless of experience and skill level, this can happen to anyone. Some of the well-known singers who experienced stage fright are:
- Barbra Streisand,
- Mariah Carey,
- And even the bold and daring, Lady Gaga.
It’s important to differentiate it from a phobia. Some aspiring student I knew thought she was only having stage fright to find out it was actually social phobia after working with her a bit.
Social phobia is a common mental disorder. It’s typical for a person afflicted with it and the ones around him to not notice. The stigma associated with it and their tendency to actively avoid crowds make it difficult for them to accept that they have it until they’re in the spotlight. Please, seek professional help if this is you.
On the other hand, there’s the uncommon glossophobia. It’s the fear of public speaking or speech anxiety. Similar to social anxiety or phobia. Again, seek professional help if you believe that you have this.
Moving forward, if you think what you have isn’t a phobia, rest assured that you can overcome stage fright and perform your best when singing in public. I’ll tell you about the practices and exercises you can do in the following sections.
Stress Level Management
The first exercise you need to learn is stress management. How do we do this? There are many unique ways and techniques to do this and you’re free to integrate them in during your practice sessions and gigs.
Stress is one of the root causes of performance anxiety. The more stressed you are, the more anxious you’ll become. And with enough stress, your body responds with a fight or flight reaction.
The fight or flight response isn’t solely about choosing to perform or cancel at the last minute. It can happen during a performance, too. For example, if the next section of a song will have a note half an octave higher than the current one, a fight or flight response can either make you sing it as it is or make you chicken out and sing it a few tones down.
Aside from that, high levels of stress make you sweat a lot. I swear, singing while sweating buckets is annoying and distracting. Stress also makes you breathe harder and faster, which can easily make you sing notes flat. At worst, it can make you puke on stage.
To manage your stress levels, you must become conscious of how much stress you accumulate. If the accumulation is above the optimum level, you must take it down a notch.
In my experience, doing it off stage is easy. Doing it on stage is a skill to master. Follow along in the next paragraph and see what I mean.
Lowering Stress Levels With Breathing Exercises
One of the ways I deal with stress or jitters (a fancy term I use for it to make it sound less stressful to deal with) when I have to sing somewhere is to do breathing exercises. Remember that as you lower your stress levels, you also lower your anxiety—the lesser the impact of stage fright.
As a singer or an aspiring one, you might have some familiar breathing exercises that you already know. Here are a simple set of steps like this:
- Find a quiet place with fewer people or noise.
- Relax and make sure your posture is proper.
- Loosen up. Don’t make a fist, hold on to anything, bend your knees or elbows, or constrict your abdomen.
- Close your eyes.
- Start breathing slowly through your nose.
- Focus your mind on the air you breathe.
- Follow the sensation that the air is creating on its path to and from your lungs.
- Open your eyes and stretch a bit.
- There’s no time limit. Repeat everything if necessary.
If you’re doing multiple sets or songs in front of an audience, make sure to take advantage of the breaks you have. Use those breaks as a breather. If there’s an emcee involved, talk to him or her beforehand. Ask for additional time for you to breathe during the intervals.
If you’re already an experienced performer, there are multiple ways you can do to sneak in a breather to lower down your stress. The first way is to find familiar or friendly faces in the audience and talk to them. The second way is to talk to the other people present on the set, like your band members if you’re in one.
Create A Pre-Performance Ritual
Before anything else, you should know by now that you can overcome stage fright but there’s no guarantee that you can completely get rid of it. We might say it’s part of human instinct.
Prepare yourself for the fact that it might even get worse. The more you become a prolific performer and become in demand, the crowds you have will also grow. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the challenge and pressure.
But again, you can manage it. I did, and so do others.
Your ritual can be as simple as warming up your voice or doing things to get yourself psyched up. Rihanna, for one, huddles up with her backup dancers and starts praying. Beyonce spends at least an hour in a massaging chair while listening to a playlist she loves. This might come as weird or surprising, but Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards requires and eats a shepherd’s pie before he can perform.
You’re free to do or include anything you want for your pre-performance ritual. The important thing is that those activities should calm you down or toughen your guts out before you face your audience.
Sing Together with Others
If you’re completely new and you don’t have any live performance lined up yet, you should start getting yourself used to an audience right away to prevent stage fright from holding you back.
But you don’t have to start singing in public space out of nowhere. You can start by getting comfortable singing with other people.
It doesn’t matter who or how good they are. As long as they’ll agree with it and will have a good time singing with you. A good way to do that is to host a karaoke singing session.
The intensity level of your singing doesn’t need to be so serious. You don’t have to push yourself to perform. The goal is for you to be comfortable with having someone around you while singing.
Perform in Front of Someone
The next step is to perform alone with a sole “audience”. If you’ve done the previous step, transitioning into this one is a breeze.
If you’re being coached, the default and first audience you should have is your teacher which is not a big deal since you should have already been singing to him/her. Let him/her know that you want to overcome stage fright and ask to provide you with constructive feedback and be able to manage your issues with it.
For those who don’t have a coach, it doesn’t matter who it is. You just need to make sure they are willing to pay attention. A close friend I’d say. It would be preferable to get the same friend who you happen to sing with frequently if possible. When you do your thing, maintain eye contact. That might get too awkward though but keep it there, don’t let go. It’s your friend after all.
Also, try to feel the song and not just sing. Sing as if you’re in a musical or a Disney film. Don’t worry about the performance, at least for this purpose. It’s more about your stress levels and anxiety. See if you’re feeling comfortable or if your feet are itching to run away. Regardless of what you feel, it’s crucial to finish the song ‘til the end.
This exercise’s goal is to loosen your inhibitions and reservations. One of the biggest sources of stage fright is self-consciousness. Too much self-awareness can lead to many negative emotions against yourself. Skip that, if you’re going to be a performer on stage.
Too much self-consciousness can trap you in with irrational thoughts, pessimism, and distrust. You can become too sensitive to unwarranted opinions and unfound criticisms. All of that can lead you to underperform and consequently run away from your dreams.
Simplifying Your Mindset
Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety. It gets tiring to deal with at times. But it doesn’t get tired dealing with you. Anxiety is a deep-rooted problem for all of us. I still get anxious whenever it’s time for me to sing anywhere. Whether you’re a singer, performer, or just a regular dude living paycheck to paycheck, anxiety is there to eat you up alive.
Anxiety and its causes come in many forms. For singers, the most common cause is their tendency to put singing into a pedestal. They act as if singing is the holy grail of entertainment. I love singing, and I’ll tell you this: It isn’t complicated.
They fiercely believe that talent is the most important element to be a good singer. And it’s everything you need to entertain people.
Not sure about that. Even a tone-deaf singer can make people smile if they try to sing Sesame Street’s theme song. The most important thing in entertaining people through singing is actually singing for them.
Get rid of mindsets that make you overthink too much and making things even more complicated. That’s how anxiety is born and how it feeds you, pushing you down to being terrified of the “stage”.
Singing is talking with added effort. If you can talk and you can put the right amount of effort to modulate, hit pitches, and enunciate, then that’s singing. Just mere singing for people is good enough to entertain, good or bad is a different story. Not everyone in your audience will be Simon Cowell that will criticize and shame you if you make mistakes.
You can also look at it this way: To sing is to be merry. You cry when you’re sad. You sing when you’re happy. Singing is an expression of joy.
On one end, if you’re getting paid to sing and perform, higher expectations are required of you. That’s when you need to have all the tools needed to get it all down under your belt.
If all the tips mentioned here don’t work for you and you don’t have any real phobia, then you might be dead set on believing that you’re not good enough to perform, which I doubt is true.
Do you give up and say you’re done with it even if your heart says, you love to sing? Or would you rather find a way out and get to work. There’s always a way for anything. If you can believe that, that’s a humongous start. Check this for example. Something like it would add to your confidence.
Get some kind of assistance, don’t just rely on your own eyes and ears to judge how you’re doing. Help to monitor your progress whether it’s through the form of a mentor, colleague, or even a pitch checking smartphone app.
You got this far, and I don’t personally know you, but I’d still want to say, “you can do this, I know you can”. You’ve heard that phrase many times before, but it will happen again, through you.
I saw your post and I feel I should share my simple way of managing my stage fright. I am a public speaker and I know that I undergo stage fright when I am hungry or stressed. One of those things I have learnt to do is to eat well before any performance. Not heavy meal, but I consciously stay away from hunger before mounting any stage
It’s great to know you have your own way of handling this condition. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Richard, Thanks for sharing your story and offering tips on how to overcome fear of singing in public. I do love to sing but am not blessed with a great voice. This is probably an understatement! In fact, most of my singing is done in the car with the windows up lol. I think a lot of people suffer from social anxiety and agree with you that some of them do a really good job of hiding it. I may even have a mild case of it. I’m going to try some of things you suggest here in the hopes of being comfortable singing in public.
I’m glad you find this helpful, Lynn. I do a lot of singing in the car myself and it’s one way of letting go of any emotion you might have for the moment, whether you perform to an audience or otherwise or simply to set your mood for the day. It’s powerful.
Performing in public can be a frightening experience. It’s easy for some but not for all.
I used to be scared of singing or just speaking out in public. I think it’s normal to some extent. We’re not all the same after all. What really helped me was practicing breathing techniques to relax. Yoga and meditation really help in this regard.
Another option can be drinking a glass of wine, but not if you’re going to sing! LOL
I remember when I was in college. We had to expose an investigation or something and I hated having to speak out in public. But it eventually became second nature.
Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad you found your own way to relaxation, especially the option of drinking a glass of wine before singing. My thought on that is you’re probably be singing already even before you actually think of singing. LOL.
I was wondering how it is determined if it is social anxiety, glossophobia, or just stage fright?
If it is not just stage fright will these tips help?
I think this is a great article.
I am going to try and implement some of these tips like creating a ritual before performance to see if that helps. *
Social anxiety (or Social phobia) is the fear of social situations caused by a perceived or actual view of others, while Glossophobia, on the other hand, pertains mainly to public speaking. Lastly, stage fright is triggered by having to perform in front of an audience. They don’t necessarily have the distinction of the other two.
Good question, Derek. Thank you.