Author: Campbell, Bruce

Do You Have a Lot of Nerve?

This past weekend, I was preparing for a show. The sound check was done, and all the band members were hanging out in courtyard behind the club, going over some last minute changes to the setlist or arrangements, and generally getting prepared to take the stage in a few minutes. As it turned out, all 6 members of the band were gathered around in a circle, and I heard the emcee giving the introduction, so, as a joke I interrupted everyone and said Ok, folks, hands in the middle lets DO this thing!

Nobody hesitated we put our hands in the middle and I said, Lets have a great show! and we all said Yeah and pulled our hands quickly out of the middle at once, just like weve all seen in a thousand cheesy movies. Only problem is, in the motion of pulling our hands out, the pedal steel player had some picks fly off his fingers, and we had to scramble around in the damp yard looking for them before we could burst onto the stage. So much for inspiration!

I think all performers, in sports and in music, have to do something prior to taking the field (or hitting the stage) to get their mind right to focus on the task at hand. I have watched hundreds of musicians do this over the years, and the ritual differs wildly depending on the person or the band. Some bands have some things they do together to prepare, and some folks prefer to psych up alone.

One of the bands Im in will always have one of the band members say to the others OK, boys, remember the first rule: DONT SUCK! Of course we all crack up, but it serves to simultaneously focus us on the show thats to come, while at the same time, reminding us to not take it too seriously. And thats the key to having your mind right for a show the combination of relaxation and focus. It sounds contradictory, but its not.

This applies to any presentation, whether its a sporting event, playing a concert or doing a big sales presentation. You owe it to your audience to be prepared, to be focused on the job at hand, and to not let worrying about what might go wrong prevent you from giving your best.

Those of you who are making the transition to from jamming to performing need to understand this process, and find the way to achieve the state of mind that will consistently allow you to give your best. And its different for everyone. I have seen some people really tortured by this process, fretting by themselves before a show, probably playing over in their minds every possible negative scenario to push those demons back to the troubled recesses of their minds. Other folks seem very relaxed, but the banter is their readiness ritual.

My ritual is in preparation and the bigger the show, the earlier it begins. For a big show, Ill be studying the setlist the night before, visualizing my parts on each song, how each song begins, what twists and turns itll take, and what the lyrics are. Then in the green room, I make sure I have my instruments ready ensuring I have the stands, straps, capos and whatnot the little things that can crash a show. I powwow with the other band members and talk about songs that maybe went a little rough at the last rehearsal, and we often go over those parts to warm up. I warm up my voice so my throat know what it feels like to sing in A, and B, and G and Bb whatever the setlist calls for.

Finally - and this is my favorite part I scope out where Ill be playing. I take a peek at the stage from the wings or through the curtains, and note the size of the stage, where the monitors are, how the lights look. Usually, another band is performing when I take this peek, and I visualize myself standing in my spot, and where my bandmates will be. And I get a little thrill knowing that in a few minutes, I will be exactly where I want to be in this world, and all thats really required of me, is not to suck too badly. Why would anyone get nervous about that?

Posted:  12/15/2010

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