The sounds of cheering fans, thumping bass, thunderous riffs, and crashing drums. That’s what we envision our first gig as. While that may be a reality for some, for many of us, our first time on stage is vastly different. People who haven’t experienced playing in front of a live crowd tend to forget about a huge factor until they’re the ones about to step out on the stage. That factor is anxiety.
More professional bands, bands that have touring experience, are less prone to experience pre-show jitters. However, experienced players face anxiety before shows on a regular basis. Unlike those playing live for the first time, experienced musicians have the cushion of knowing that it won’t be the end of the world if something goes wrong up on stage. For the inexperienced musicians, stepping on stage and playing in front of people for the first time is a void.
I recall my first time playing in front of a crowd. It was nerve-racking. My band had last minute lineup changes, setlist complications, and a lack of rehearsal time. In fact, before our show, my band’s line-up was never even in the same room together. I’m sure one can imagine how nervous I was.
I practiced the setlist three hours each day up until the show. Yet, no matter how much I practiced, my anxiety was crippling that day. When I arrived at the location and unloaded my gear, my hands were shaking uncontrollably. That hour before we took the stage was the longest hour of my life. I kept thinking about how I was going to screw up.
Finally, it was time. We took the stage and there was over two-hundred people, all staring at us. I took a deep breath and began my count in. Song after song, we played without a hitch. We may not have played flawlessly, but we powered through. When it was over and the last chord was struck, everyone in the band turned to face each other, relief on all of our faces. Dripping sweat, I felt weak and exhausted, but also so alive.
It may seem like playing live for the first time is the end of the world. It is not. It is terrifying at times and it probably will always be scary. However, there is no feeling like it in the world. When you go to a concert and see a band walk out on stage, you can’t always see the fear and anxiety that lurks inside. That masking of the anxiety is what makes a musician a good performer. Hiding your anxieties when in front of a crowd helps them to have fun. It sells this misconception of performers being confident all the time which allows to the audience to be in the moment and enjoy the music and the concert environment. The jitters never fully leave. A truly great performer uses them to their advantage. They channel it, directing that energy into their show.