That’s what people tell me anyway. I’ve got them all fooled! 😉
The truth is, I am confident in certain, very noticeable, areas – performing live (at times), speaking in public, running meetings, meeting with clients, and writing & publishing content. I’m often far less confident in others. Because my confidence is in noticeable areas, I’m labeled as very confident. Others have confidence in less noticeable areas but are no less confident.
I believe this dichotomy of confidence and insecurity is true for 99.99% of the population. And that 0.01% – they’re lying or deranged – unable to connect with either confidence or insecurity. People have pockets of confidence and big holes of insecurity.
Songwriters and performance
I have a lot of conversations with songwriters and other performers – or aspiring performers. I enjoy helping them take first steps onto the stage.
I remember in Arizona at an open mic, when a woman approached me. She wanted to perform but felt very insecure. She had never performed live before and had watched me and another songwriter play first. Both he and I had played out quite a bit over the past couple of years. This was daunting to her because she didn’t feel she could match our playing or our delivery on stage.
Open mics are meant to be safe spaces for new performers and I encouraged her to try a couple songs.
She did and she was very good. Beautiful voice, competent player, and good lyrics. I was impressed and told her so. She and I have stayed in touch over the years and she has expressed gratitude for that early encouragement and several conversations since then.
I was chatting with her on Facebook recently. She’s been putting together a program of music and dialogue – an ambitious and professional product she can pitch to her audience. I’m excited to see what she does with it.
I want to share some of my ideas regarding confidence as it relates to songwriting, performance and taking your first steps on stage. It is both a reminder to me and, I hope, helpful to others.
This is my advice or an amalgamation of input I’ve received over the years. It isn’t a definitive guide and I may say something you disagree with. If you are being coached and you are making progress, and there is something I say that contradicts the coaching you’re receiving, ignore it. Or not.. It is up to you.
Avoid Critique Groups
I know I’m going to get push back on this. I know some great people and organizations that are specifically built around the public critique group model. And I think getting feedback/criticism can be very helpful.
However, I tend to approach people I respect, good songwriters, fans/listeners who I’ve come to know as honest. I have a circle of songwriting friends who I feel are better qualified to provide feedback than some people at an open songwriting critique group.
For instance, I’ve watched a songwriter receive lyrically feedback from someone I consider to be a horrific lyricist and the advice was just plain bad. However, the songwriter in question, because they lacked confidence, weighted all input with the same importance.
Public critique groups, whether for songwriting or writing, are often filled with people I do not consider to be the best at their craft. And the reason is pretty simple – those who have progressed and attained a level of success are often out performing and rarely attend those critique groups.
Find a couple songwriters you like and approach them. You will be surprised at how willing they are to give you some input.
A couple quick words about that.
If they are good at mentoring, they’ll let you know that their opinion is just their opinion. You don’t have to follow it. And, if you ask two good songwriters for input on the same song, you are likely to have one tell you they might change X line and the other tell you that they really love that very same line as you’ve written.
Guess what? It’s up to you in the end.
Preparation Is Critical
I cringe when at an open mic I see a performer get on stage with their lyrics in front of them. They apologize that they haven’t learned the song yet but want to try it.
I think this is a horrible strategy.
I’m all for taking that first frightening step onto the stage at an open mic. And open mics should be friendly places for the aspiring performer. BUT that doesn’t mean you should not approach it with a degree of professionalism.
Work on a single song if that is all you can do. But know it well enough NOT to use your lyrics on stage. I believe in many cases, the lyric sheets are something to hide behind. A way to look at your feet as it were and NOT engage or sing to those in attendance.
I used to joke that the first time I sang a new song live I would forget some of the lyrics. But the truth is, I would write a song, go through it once or twice, and then take it to the stage. I was being lazy and not preparing.
The Preparation to Confidence Path
Preparation -> Better Performance -> Better Feedback -> Confidence
Preparation leads to a better performance, which, in turn, leads to more confidence. Furthermore, better performance with better confidence (energy) leads to more sincere and better feedback. Because we all know when we’ve performed poorly and a friend says, “You did great!” That is soul-sucking when you know you didn’t do great.
Prepare! Practice. As I told the soccer teams I coached through the years, “The way you practice is the way you play!”
Perform Early & Often
The faster you bite the bullet, take that deep fearful breath, and get on stage, the faster it will become easier.
I speak in public a lot. People watch me do that and they can tell that I’m comfortable – that I’m enjoying myself. I’m good at it.
However, the first time I presented to a group I fainted. I was 15, taking an article writing class with my father, and had to pitch my article to a room of “old people” – I mean, they were 30 and 40 or above. Very old. 😉
I started to present, felt my face get warm, and suddenly my father and the teacher were catching me.
Hopefully, your first time on stage you won’t faint. But, if you think you might, make sure a friend is close by to catch you. It will get easier.
Also, preparation will help. And even if you have the chance to perform three songs, maybe just do one. Work on it enough to have it memorized and well-rehearsed. That will help.
I bet you will find that if you lower the expectation, planning only to do a single song, that when you finish that song you’ll be ready to do the second song.
You cannot think yourself into the confidence of performing. Performing is what helps you get the confidence to perform. Sorry, that is just the way it is.
So commit to that first song – just one – at that first open mic. Then go back and repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. And… you get the picture.
Confidence is not manufactured. It is developed! It takes work. And that is what is great about it. Because you DO NOT have to be born with it!
I’ve written this primarily to songwriters but it could apply to artists, dancers, photographers, technology professionals, accountants, athletes, etc.
It applies to you too!
A few years ago I wrote about the many things I don’t do well. You can find it somewhere on this site.
However, I figured I would let you know an area where I lack confidence.
Live streaming video.
I’ve done it and received some great feedback. But, it’s hard. Live on stage, there is an audience – you can see them, hear them, and engage with them.
Performing to a camera – particularly alone in my office, is challenging. Sure, people might click a like or a heart or comment but you can’t really pay attention to those. And if you are not careful, you start to watch yourself (front-facing camera) or you read a comment and lose focus.
And the technology isn’t always perfect. You don’t know if your stream is breaking up. Is the sound sycn’d with your properly or do you look like a bad over-dubbed movie.
and… and… and…
See, I make excuses too. And, if I were taking my own advice, I’d prepare and jump on that virtual stage.
Hmm… that’s a chin-tugger.