I’m a Jazz singer who hasn’t gigged for a while, though I do studio work frequently and continue to hone my craft. I have a good day job but the fact I am not performing live is nagging at me. When I’ve sung on stage, I have thoroughly enjoyed the singing aspect, but have felt incredibly awkward and fearful when I am not singing. I’m afraid this fear has overcome me and is stopping me from reaching out to venues. My mantra is ‘I’m not confident’.
Many professional singers come to me with the same question and burden. In fact, I was teaching a lovely singer this morning, who has sung in a dozen professional musical theatre shows, had a baby a year ago, and now cannot get up in auditions without nerves getting the better of her. It has become such a problem that the anticipation of failure makes failure inevitable – a slippery slope.
The first thing to remember is that although you probably feel alone in this, and as if you are the only one with this problem, it is in fact incredibly common amongst professional singers who have had a little bit of time out. This can be a matter of a few months without performing. Performing takes practice. The simple answer is that you need to get your confidence back by performing in any way that you can, live.
You also need to remember what you love about music and performing, and remember the time when you were a beginner and allowed to fail. A professional performer can only survive if they allow themselves to fail. However, allow yourself to fail in situations that do not really affect your career. Take any opportunity. Best of all, make any opportunity: if there is a church, a nursery, an old people’s home near you, organize a gig there.
In the 19th Century, people had soirees on weekends: organize a dinner party and a small concert at home, buy a camera and record yourself performing and look at it, criticize yourself and do it again until you like what you see. What else can you do? Make sure your voice is in good shape. If vocal technique is holding you back, that can be easily sorted with regular singing lessons.
Ask yourself whether you would rather fail three times and then perform brilliantly again, or never perform out of fear again. We will all be gone one day; when that happens, will it matter that you sang a few gigs below par? Or is it more important that you dared to fail a few times in order to get back into shape?
My advice is to build a few bridges with venues such as restaurants, where you can use the evening’s gig to actually get a bit of practice and performing practice in. As long as you are practicing singing regularly, I used to find it took me about three gigs to feel confident again. The first one is a nightmare, the second one also pretty awful, by the third gig you start to relax, by the fourth gig you start to play and feel free again – all of a sudden, you are actually enjoying it. Have a sense of humor about it! Don’t take yourself too seriously and try not to worry too much about criticism. You are the one up there, not them.
Good luck Jenny. You cannot conquer what you are not willing to lose. It is your choice in the end.
Leontine Hass is an internationally renowned Vocal & Performance coach. She works with singers in commercial recorded music including pop, rock, jazz, soul and R&B. She also works with performers in the world of musical theatre and opera. Her large international client list includes chart recording artists, most recently Shakira, as well as West End leads and swings, opera singers with technical challenges and singing teachers. She has served as vocal consultant to major West End shows. See https://leontinehass.com/