The truth is as a voice teacher, a huge part of my job is helping singers find the right headspace for their next performance.
And it doesn’t matter whether you’re playing sold-out shows or you’re just starting out, you can improve your vocal performance with the right mindset.
Singing is also psychological.
Let me give you an example: Every student that signs up for my email list gets a message asking what they want to learn about singing. I always respond with a few exercises they can try. Here’s a pretty typical response that I get from a student:
Now this is actually a pretty common problem. Here’s a student that has a hard time getting into the “zone” when singing on stage. She even mentions that she struggles with notes in front of her teacher that she can easily get on her own.
And this student has been singing for YEARS!
Think about that! Can you imagine another job where all your experience dissolves the moment you do it in front of another person?
You don’t find many mechanics who are amazing at working on their own cars but panic as soon as they clock in at the car shop.
But this performance anxiety is very common with singers. In fact, many singers notice that there are huge gaps between what they can do on stage and what they can do at home.
So why is singing so different when you add in an audience?
The voice is the most vulnerable instrument because it’s the only instrument that comes directly from your body.
You’ve probably been there: As soon as you open your mouth to sing, you can instantly feel the world judging you.
Think about how different that is from other instruments. You don’t find many guitarists that forget how to play high notes the moment they strap on a guitar. But with singing, notes that are totally comfortable in the shower feel like they’re on the moon when you’re on stage.
And that’s not true just for beginners: Even some professional singers need encouragement that they actually CAN sing.
So how do you overcome this intense stage fright when you sing?
It all comes down to mindset. So today, I want to discuss my 5 favorite tips for improving your vocal performance by improving your mindset. Along the way, you’ll see why so many people think that they’re prepared for their vocal performance, when they’re actually preparing to fail.
And I promise, if you practice these mindset tips daily, your next performance will sound and feel amazing. Ready to get started? Let’s do it…
Mindset Tip #1: Sing with Good Vocal Technique
Singing with good technique is the best thing you can do to improve your confidence when you perform.
In fact, I just wrote a beginner’s guide to vocal technique that you can download here:
So if you haven’t worked with singing exercises before, start there. That’s because if you know your vocal range and how to sing, you will have a better idea of what you’re capable of on stage. And this mindset shift will make your confidence skyrocket.
Now here’s where most performers go wrong: Many singers get panicked a week before the gig and they book a lesson with a voice teacher or sign up for online singing lessons. But that’s the worst time to do vocal training! That’s because when the pressure is on, you’re more likely to make mistakes. And if you feel anxious when you’re in a lesson, you’ll feel way more nervous when you’re on stage.
Instead, start vocal training well before your next performance. And work with a voice teacher who knows what they’re doing. If you trust your teacher can take you where you want to go, you will progress much faster. Because we don’t learn very well when we’re in fight or flight mode.
Unfortunately, too many singers are scared to work on their vocal technique because they think that their talent should speak for itself. But here’s the ugly truth: When the pressure is on, talent likes to take the night off.
So if you haven’t taken private or online singing lessons yet, consider getting started. Then once you’ve worked with a few exercises to improve your voice, you’ll be amazed at how much more confident you feel!
Mindset Tip #2: Be Prepared (a.k.a The “Don’t Wing It” Approach)
I know this sounds silly: But very few performers have a solid plan for their performance.
Many artists fail to answer simple questions like how to get to the gig, what equipment to bring and how they’re getting paid with enough time to feel prepared. Don’t make this mistake! If you leave these questions unanswered for too long, you’re way more likely to feel anxious the night of the gig.
So why do some artists fail to plan well for their next show?
I believe many musicians are afraid to treat their music like a business.
Instead, treat your next show like your first day at a new job. The first day of a new job, you know exactly where you have to be, what time to be there and what you’ll need to do your job. Why would you treat a gig (paying or not) any differently?
And with this simple mindset shift, you’ll immediately feel less anxious about the show.
In addition to knowing where the gig is and what you’ll need, it’s also important that you have a plan for how you perform. Having an airtight setlist is one of the best ways to be prepared for your next gig.
A setlist, in case you’re not familiar, is the list of songs that you plan on performing for a show. Like a battle plan, the setlist is your outline for performing every song and the order you’re going to do them in.
Most groups write their setlist 5 minutes before they perform!
But think about how crazy this is: You would never take a trip across the country without the GPS on your phone right?
But this is exactly what many performers do before a gig. They make a last minute roadmap of how the show is going to go. Sometimes this works. But other times, not so much!
We’ve all seen vocalists who forget what the next song is or secretly ask the bass player “how does that song go again?” But just imagine how confident you would feel if you knew exactly what songs you were going to do and when. And again, this simple mindset shift will help you feel way more confident when you’re actually play the show.
Now, don’t get me wrong, venues and promoters will always make last minute changes. And it pays to be prepared for those also, which brings us to mindset tip #3:
Mindset Tip #3: Be Ready to Work Through Mistakes
As a performer, you will make mistakes.
From cracking on high notes to tube amps shorting out, live performances are always unpredictable. I don’t care if you’ve sung the song hundreds of times, we are all human and make mistakes.
But the real difference between an amateur and a professional is that the pro has the experience to know that they can work through ANYTHING! This very simple mindset adjustment will keep you flexible enough that you can work through any mistakes that may happen on stage.
I can’t tell you how many artists get this wrong: We’ve all been to shows where the lead singer forgets one line and the band has to start the song over. But that’s like trying to stop a moving train! The audience is going to feel everything come screeching to a halt. Not only does this ruin your confidence, but it also makes your audience think you don’t know what you’re doing.
So when you’re singing at home, in the practice room, or even in a voice lesson, practice working through mistakes. Have a plan for what happens when you forget the next verse, or the guitar player breaks a string, or the backup forgets their harmony. Think of it like a dress rehearsal. Everyone should know their lines, but if someone forgets one, the show must go on!
For a great example of this, listen to what happened when the guitarist for the Dead Kennedys broke his guitar in the middle of the live recording for their album:
Notice how the whole band springs into action the moment they know a band mate is in trouble. And they created a great story out of it!
You can see how adapting to these changes is invaluable. So practice working through these mistakes and you’ll be amazed at how few people notice. You may even be able to get a cool story out of it!
Mindset Tip #4: Be Yourself
Unless you’re in a cover band, nobody’s paying to see your best John Legend, Freddie Mercury, P!nk or Sia impression.
People are paying to see you! So be yourself when you’re on stage.
What do I mean by “be yourself”?
Being yourself means feeling free to express yourself authentically when you’re on stage.
Yeah, yeah that sounds nice. But how do you actually feel “free to be yourself on stage?”
Being authentic as an artist comes from a rock-solid confidence that you know the material and how to perform it (see Mindset Tips #1 and #2).
Now here’s where most singers go wrong: Too many beginning performers just imitate their favorite artists when they perform.
I get it! We all have to start somewhere. And the truth is that most people begin by imitating their favorite artists.
But it takes confidence to be yourself. And this confidence comes from feeling prepared that you can ace your performance no matter what happens.
This simple mindset shift will help you feel way more confident to express yourself on stage. But if you’re nervous or unprepared, you’re more likely to panic. And when you panic, you’ll probably fall back on imitating your favorite singers. After all, we’ve all seen performers who try to imitate the swagger of Axl Rose or the raw energy of Kurt Cobain. But if those performers don’t actually have the chops or experience to really sell it, the audience can tell that it’s forced.
The truth is that Axl and Cobain were such great showmen because they had been playing those same songs for years! They knew every inch of their live show and how to work through mistakes.
So if you’re not sure how to express yourself authentically on stage, start off by really knowing your vocal technique, material and how you’re going to perform it. You’ll be amazed at how much more comfortable you feel in your own skin when you know the show by heart.
Mindset Tip #5: Be Present
Stage fright is one of the biggest problems that my students face. Many experts estimate that about 75% of the population has some anxiety about public performance. Even hugely successful artists still get nervous before they perform.
In fact, here’s a video where Ringo talks about how he still gets nervous before every gig:
But even though you may not eliminate your anxiety, you can learn to manage it better.
So how do you reduce this stage fright so you can actually be present for your performance?
Although feeling nervous is perfectly normal, the trick is to realize that eventually the nervousness will pass.
Here’s what I mean: Think back to the last big test you had to take in school, even if it was a long time ago. Odds are you can remember feeling super anxious about the test beforehand.
But the minute that you started the test, the anxiety was gone. Why? Because as soon as you focused on actually taking the test, you stopped being nervous.
For a musical example: Have you ever been super nervous about a gig right up until the moment you walked on stage? Then as soon as you started singing, you felt the anxiety disappear right? That’s because as soon as you actually started to sing, you were present in the moment.
Do you see how feeling nervous is just another passing feeling? The fact is that no matter how stressed you are about a gig, eventually it will end. And when you’re done, you may even be sad that it’s over. So rather than getting too excited OR stressed about your next performance, remember that those feelings will eventually pass.
And then the real trick is to be present and enjoy the time that you have on stage! Just this simple mindset shift can really help you reduce your nervousness for the next show. And you’ll be amazed at how much better the crowd responds to you!
By now you’ve seen why having the right mindset is an incredibly important part of a great vocal performance. You’ve also learned the 5 most ways to adjust your mindset when preparing for the gig.
But if you’re still nervous before your show, don’t worry. You’re not a robot! And your emotions are the essential fuel for your art.
But if you practice these mindset tips, you’ll see that you don’t have to let the fear take control of you. Instead, if you learn to sing, have a plan to perform, practice working through mistakes, express yourself authentically and are in the moment, you’ll feel and sound amazing. Now get out there and rock the stage!