Editor Note: Hi guys, today we've something a bit different. Cynthia Brando has kindly agreed to share her story with you, specifically looking at why she feels she got stage fright, and some of the things she did to better manage that as a performing musician. It's our hope that if you also suffer with stage fright, you might be able to find some answers in her story. With that, here's Cynthia:
I never had stage fright before-I started performing music at 17, and when I moved out of my parents house soon after, I performed regularly at small coffeehouses and other venues with much encouragement. I moved away from my family and had a job in the theater while I played music, but it was hard being on my own. I had little help, and had to make it in the world away from what was familiar. I didn’t have much money, and to sustain myself, I ate potatoes, rice, and stole peanut butter from my landlords, who I rented a room from in Southern California. It was far away from the small Northern California town I had lived in, with its rustic nature and small population. I had my first experiences of the stresses of reality, and had no real coping skills. Life was hard, but I didn’t know any better. I performed my music without any self-consciousness, and did what I could to survive, but emotionally, I discovered that I couldn’t handle the harsh realities of life.
I developed anxiety, and for years I did not know what it was (internet wasn’t really happening then). I also started to have really bad depression, which got worse and worse until I was angry and cried a lot. I started experimenting with self medicating. Undoubtedly, this effected my music. After a few years I found myself unable to perform in front of a crowd, and after a couple of bad experiences on the stage, I quit. I still played music, but in private. I suffered for over a decade with depression, until I made some important steps towards recovery. After a lot of personal and hard work, I was FINALLY able to hold down a day job, and started making positive changes in my life. I also started to think more about music. At that point, performing seemed like a dream of long ago, and a huge challenge to begin again, specifically because of stage fright. I was already familiar with the symptoms of anxiety disorder-heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, body numbness, facial tics, and temperature and digestive malfunctions. They were uncomfortable, to say the least. I hadn’t yet made the connection between anxiety and stage fright being interconnected before; I always thought they were separate entities. It took me a long time to make the connection, but I can see now that I avoided performing because it mimicked anxiety.
Not all musicians with stage fright can necessarily say that it is related to anxiety or depression, but I invite the musician with any level of performance anxiety, to begin to look deep within. Even musicians who are actively performing might be more uncomfortable than they wish to be on stage. Feelings of nervousness about performing is natural, but there is a big difference between some nerves, and fright-or feeling REALLY uncomfortable, and these feelings come from our unique emotional experiences that we tend to overlook for various reasons. I know now that if I didn’t take those years to work through my depression, and take my health seriously, that I would not have been able to begin to take the stage again; and even if I had managed somehow to push through, I would not have been fully present. I look back at all the excuses I gave to people that wanted me to perform; about why I wouldn’t, and the complete denial that my stage fright was part of a larger issue that I needed to deal with.
I see a lot of information online about tips to overcome stage fright, like deep breathing, visualization, etc, and I use these tips at the place I am at now; where I have worked through the bigger issues of why I have stage fright-but none of those things would have worked for me if I hadn’t looked deeper at why I was experiencing this. So what can you do to begin to look at your own stage fright in a more profound way? I recommend lots of emotional support-groups and counseling, talking to understanding people; and going on retreats to get away and focus on personal healing. Writing can also be helpful, to honestly voice how you feel and then read it back. Anything that focuses and calms the mind and gets you in touch with your body-like yoga, meditation or walking, can help you start to get more in tune to your emotions and what is going on inside.
Part of my ongoing nervousness about performing is the idea of perfection and rejection. There are all sorts of things that can happen with music that can shake your confidence. I used to be terrified of making a mistake. If I made one, I would obsess over it for months, or even years; but if you are now performing fairly regularly, you have to look at your performances as a WHOLE. Recently, I have been working on adding falsetto to my alto voice, when I got asked to perform a holiday showcase. I was to perform three originals, and one holiday tune. I chose Joni Mitchell’s “River”, which would have me moving from my comfort zone, to my not so confident falsetto.
I was nervous.
I performed my three originals without any problems, and then the Mitchell tune. I did not go as well as I expected-my voice didn’t crack, but it was a very weak falsetto compared to my strong and loud chest voice. I was disappointed, and a little embarrassed, but people came up to me and said they liked my music, and even if they were just being nice and somehow really didn’t really feel that way; I was confident about my performance as whole, that it was strong. I also look at all the performances I have done, and take comfort in my accomplishments. Soon after my falsetto experience, I wrote an original tune for a storytelling event that I was opening for on the theme of forgiveness. I usually would not unveil a new tune for some time, but this event was short notice, and I wanted to challenge myself-I opened with my brand new tune and completely forgot the second verse, but I didn’t stop, and just sang whatever words came to my head, which was not as bad as “salad falls from the sky and touches my brain”, but I think it was pretty close. I explained to the audience that it was a new tune using some humor, even though I was secretly horrified. I then performed a 20-minute flawless set, and concentrated on that success, which made my ten second mess up pale in comparison.
Spending some focused attention on the positive has helped me gain the confidence I had lost from years of depression. Over time, your body-brain will become more accustomed to positive focus, thus decreasing feelings of fear and anxiety about performing. You can check out tips on how to develop more appreciation for accomplishments from a piece I wrote on developing an appreciation practice.
Stage fright can be debilitating and scary, but it CAN be dealt with to become less of a struggle. Exploring yourself and getting to the root of the reasons why you are fearful, can be a very exciting journey of self discovery. It’s hard to take the first step and really put yourself out there, but this important work can transform your whole being, and take your music to beautiful new heights.
About the Author: Cynthia Brando lives in Los Angeles and is pursuing professional performing and songwriting. She has received Honorable Mentions in SongDoor’s International Songwriting Contest in the country music category, and has recently signed to Los Angeles based Dirtshack Records, where she is working on a full length album. Her music has been featured on the popular online radio station Women of Substance Radio, and her writings about her experiences in the music industry have been featured on the music resource site Music Clout. You can check out her music and find out more at www.cynthiabrando.com