NERVES… Making them work for you!

So FINALLY I’m back at college after Easter break, which apart from anything will prevent me from sitting in coffee shops all day and spontaneously seeing shows (and pretending that I can afford it).

The other day my year group and I had the opportunity to perform for some pretty top-level industry people. And what comes along with important moments like that? NERVES.

At least, they do for me. I probably don’t speak for everyone when I say that. Or maybe some people are just really good at hiding it. I, for one, have never been good at hiding it. Mainly because (until very recently) I used to break out in an unattractive blotchy heat rash when I got up to perform. Fingers crossed it seems to be under control now. Although I tend to get the same rash sometimes when I eat meals, so I don’t know what that says about my performance style. I digress.

There’s a very admirable art form of which I have witnessed many experts over the years, and this art form is called ‘blagging’. Sometimes also goes by the name of ‘winging it’. I know quite a few people who really are stellar at this. However, if you’re anything like me you’ll know that some people just aren’t cut out to be blag artists. Personally? I can’t do it to save my life.

Nerves do weird things to people. I’ve watched people forget the words to songs they’ve sung a thousand times. People’s voices give up on them. People get the shakes. Occasionally people completely fall apart. But I’ve also seen nerves give people the power to give stunning performances; performances they’ve never been able to pull off without that shot of adrenaline (not that you should ever rely on adrenaline to get you through. Big no-no.) So what’s the difference between the times when people fall apart, and the times when people soar? How do you make nerves work for you instead of against you if you’re one of the non-blagging species like me?

I’ve given this a lot of thought. I was intending to write this post as a list of tips on how to beat nerves. But after thinking about it for a long time I could literally only thing of one single thing that truly makes a huge difference.

Be prepared as hell.

Yep that’s it. When I think back over my own personal performing high points and disasters (there’s probably more of the latter than the former), it has always boiled down to how prepared I was feeling on that particular day. How much work I had put in. And as it turned out on this particular day, that extended way past being confident with your repertoire. People were asked to sing scales at the piano to check that the vocal ranges on their CVs were accurate. Which is kind of scary when you sit watching and wondering whether you can belt to G like you wrote on your CV. People were asked about the things that they’d written in their special skills, which made me feel quite relieved about the fact that I don’t really have any interesting skills to put on there. I know for a fact that my friend Shakira has ‘improv rap’ as a special skill on her CV.

So there you have it. Just prepare. Know your stuff. And that’ll serve you better than any kind of Rescue Remedy. For some people (myself included), nerves are inevitable. Think of your nerves as a squirming baby you have no choice but to hold while you’re performing your song. If you don’t bring your bag of nappies and toys and dummies along with you, that baby is gonna squeal and squirm and wail and do everything in it’s power to drown out your performance. However, if you come prepared, you will have a happy quiet baby, who might even throw in some harmonies to enhance your performance, and you’ll probably get a recall cos the panel will think your baby is proper cute.

This is where my Mum would say that that analogy is completely inaccurate and launch into a story about how I was a devil child for the first two years of my life. It’s a pretty terrible analogy. But you get the idea.

Oh. And there is one more thing you can do to control your nerves (aside from preparing to within an inch of your life)! Something I personally have had to work on a lot. Keep things in perspective. After all we’re just singing a song. We’re not saving lives or anything.

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