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Prepping for a big music performance: Managing nerves and expectations

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Putting a big music performance in perspective is one way to manage your nerves, and here are a few other ideas to help you prepare to play your best.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

At key points in my career, I’ve found myself getting ready for an event that was at a higher level than any I’d ever experienced before. At times, “higher level” has meant recording live for a label, performing at a world-famous venue, or playing in front of a large crowd for the first time.

Whatever the circumstances, each big music performance brings a lot of excitement — as well as the potential for nerves that need to be managed.

Here are some strategies I’ve used over the years to help transform big-gig jitters into the sort of productive energy that helped me give a performance I was proud of. Maybe these tips will help prepare you for the next big gig around the corner.

Get organized

Especially when the stakes feel high, it can be nerve-wracking to not know what’s coming. Within reason, the more time you spend getting your logistical ducks in a row before your big gig, the more you’ll be able to focus on giving a great performance.

When I’m prepping for a big gig, I’ve found that reducing the amount of unknowns can help me approach the performance with a centered, positive mindset.

What gear will be on site and what do I need to bring? Do I need to source, program, or pack anything special for the show? What’s the transportation and lodging situation? Is there anything I need to book or verify ahead of time? What will the food be like, and do I need to plan to bring or source my own meals and snacks? Who are my contact people at the venue? When is sound check?

That’s a lot of questions, and they’re all practical and important. You don’t have to go crazy and figure out every tiny detail before your gig begins, just focus on taking as much logistical uncertainty out of the equation as possible so you can devote your focus and energy to delivering a great performance you’ll be proud of.

Use focused visualization

Many high-level athletes use focused visualizations to help them prepare for a big game, and the same can help musicians get ready. Take some deep breaths and imagine what it will be like setting up, getting on stage, making your music, and giving your audience a show they’ll never forget.

I’ve found that including visualizations in my practice routine leading up to a big music performance can help transform things from overwhelming and scary to manageable and exciting.

Spend time on other musical projects

If you’re feeling overly amped or anxious for a big upcoming gig, it can help to find unrelated ways to engage with music.

15 Music Promotions guideSometimes if I have a high-stakes performance coming up, amidst all my practicing and other prep work, I’ll make time to produce music for a completely different project. Or if my big gig calls for me to play rock piano and organ, I’ll spend some time clearing my head by working on classical voice technique instead.

The key here is to stay engaged with making music without burning yourself out and running your material for the big show into the ground. Peppering your prep routine with projects completely unrelated to your show can be a powerful and calming way to do that.

Eat, drink, and rest

Just like high-performing athletes put a lot of thought into preparing their bodies and minds for big competitions, music artists can benefit from proper self-care before a big gig. Time invested making sure you’re hydrated, well-fed, and well-rested before taking the stage is time well-spent.

Again, there’s no need to go crazy with this. I’ve just found that when I prioritize getting a good night’s sleep before a gig — and making sure my eating and drinking is healthy and consistent leading up to a big music performance — I’m able to lose myself in the experience of making and sharing music.

Look beyond the show

If I’m feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by an upcoming gig, I find it helpful to place the gig in context by thinking about everything that comes next.

What did I have to do to make this gig happen and how much hard work have I put in to get where I am now? What new doors will this performance open, and how will I take advantage of those new opportunities? What are the next five big music performances I’d like to play once this one is over? How does this gig fit into the career I’ve had up to this point and the career I want in the future?

The more I’m able to see an upcoming big gig as an exciting opportunity and important next step along a continuum — rather than an isolated make-or-break moment — the better I’m able to enjoy the (hopefully) amazing concert I’m about to be part of.

Connect with your mentors

Sometimes, when I have a big gig coming up, I make a point of calling older, more experienced musician friends who have dealt with many such big music performances themselves. Often, they have unexpected and useful advice; other times, it can just be fun and grounding to tell them about my upcoming show and talk music and life from there. Regardless of the details, I almost always leave these conversations feeling inspired, energized, and ready to put on a great show.

If you have a big music performance coming up and have experienced musical friends or colleagues you can turn to, make the connection and see what happens. You may find yourself preparing for your show in an effective way you’d never have otherwise thought of.

rock rewindMichael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and

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