One of the key principles of NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming, is that if you desire to get better, find the people who are already doing what you want to do and work out from them what YOU need to do. Lee Risdale is one of those singers who is always incredibly busy gigging with his Soul/Function band, ‘Souled Out’ and I have a great deal of respect for him because of his vocal approach and his positive attitude towards trying new things. Quite often, musicians and singers do not like being put on the spot but Lee embraces the opportunity and in the featured Youtube Video with me on keyboards, Rob Wilson on Guitar, Tom Gardiner on Drums, Duncan Kingston on Bass and of course, Lee Risdale on Vocals, you can see what I mean. This was the result no rehearsal but just one run-through before a student audience entered the room. For me, there is no better sign of confidence than when somebody is so at ease with performing, that they will get up on stage at a moment’s notice and make a performance from little or no rehearsal. I am always eager to talk to these people about HOW they approach music and performance to see WHAT we can learn from their approach. So I sent Lee a list of questions, which I would later discuss in an interview with him. In true confident performer style, Lee responded with full answers to these questions which are insightful and shows a complete focus for the music and audience. This seems to be a familiar theme with successful confident performers who enjoy performing so I asked Lee if he was happy with me posting his answers directly.
In essence, this week’s post is a completely unedited copy of these answers to the questions Lee sent to me. I know you will find the answers stimulating and incredibly useful.
Have you always been a confident performer?
No. I was shy about performing at first. The music itself was the one thing that almost completely changed me. It was simply a real love and fascination for music that grew into a deep passion and this became a desire to be a musician/performer. This desire removed the focus from any self-conscious feelings I had about performing or singing to an audience and shifted it to ‘giving a good musical performance.’
How did nerves show themselves?
Just before a gig, right before the band started playing I would get the ‘butterflies’ in my stomach as we walked out on stage. As soon as the music started though I was ‘in the zone’ and any nerves were replaced by adrenalin. Both my band mates and I had a lot of nervous energy so we moved a lot on stage. We even choreographed some of it, which put the focus on making a show.
At what point did you notice that nerves no longer troubled you?
As we began to get a great audience response and played regularly it became clearer that any nerves were simply nervous energy waiting to get into action. We were rehearsed enough that we barely had to think about what we were playing and the music was received so well that the mere idea of being nervous seemed wrong. The attitude of Rock n’ Roll music was all about confidence and swagger. I would listen to and watch the best artistes and figure out what I could take from them to come across better. We were booked at an International Festival at the age of sixteen and there were thousands in the audience. After getting a great reception at that, everything felt much easier and smaller by comparison. I saw that the most successful performers displayed great confidence onstage and decided I would go about projecting that.
What strategies have you put in place to deal with potentially nerve-wracking experiences?
Warming up my voice really helps because at the back of a musicians mind there is a concern that for some reason your technique might be compromised, especially if you’re a singer. It’s a delicate and widely misunderstood instrument in the wrong hands. A singer’s worst nightmare is in losing their voice onstage. This has happened to me and it is very embarrassing.
As well as ‘warming up’ the vocals cords and support muscles a warmup re-instils a confidence that your instrument is in good working order and mentally this boosts confidence.
It’s the same with any instrument. The best guitar playing I know walk around backstage playing his guitar constantly before the gig.
If it’s a large audience, that’s when nerves are most likely to reappear. In this situation I try to find a quiet place if possible (not always easy) or go outside and make time to be quiet. In the same way an athlete prepares mentally for a race or a sporting event, I try to use the same process. I run the gig in my mind and the audience’s response, like a movie. Or I remember a previous successful gig. Any doubt, gets replaced by determination to make this happen.
‘Acting’ is to some extent what many performers do to overcome nerves onstage. I guess you can ‘act’ confident’ until eventually you ‘become confident’ onstage, but ultimately ‘being yourself’ in confidence is earned through rehearsal and experience.
How do you practice and does this help with being confident on stage?
If I’m learning a song I like to play it over and over on repeat until the ‘feel’ tempo, rhythm, phrasing and melody are clear in my mind. I’ll sing or play along with it in on my guitar till I’m sure of my parts and the Key. Then in a band rehearsal we’ll go in with a plan and run the songs, making any adjustments until we’re happy it’ll work live. Beginnings, cues, and endings get settled so the band is in agreement. Good communication and getting feedback from others in rehearsal is really important as I find that if all of the band are reasonably happy, there is less room for error. I like to listen to others and try to compromise to make a happy band. A happy band is a confident band. Also, if they can trust me to deliver and give good cues, it’ll run effortlessly. If I write a song to play live, I record it first, play it to the band, get some feedback, make adjustments, re-record, make copies and organise a rehearsal to check it works as a band before trying it live.
If you’re unrehearsed or are playing with unrehearsed dep musicians, you just don’t know what to expect next and it can affect everybody’s confidence. It’s ‘on the edge’ and although sometimes this can keep the music fresh, there’s a feeling that at any moment something will go wrong and you’re always on the back foot, hoping to recover from a potential musical ‘car crash.’
What is a good mindset for soloing?
My experience is that if you are well rehearsed enough in technique and practiced in improvisation the best mind-set is to completely ‘let go’ of any pre-conceived ideas and your solo will practically play itself. As long as you are reasonably well-rehearsed or have enough experience of improvising and know the structure of changes you are working with, some of the best solos are felt more so than contrived. Some solos are well structured in recording sessions and rehearsals and this is a good idea as a general guide so that you’re not completely in the dark. This can form the basis of a good solo but ultimately knowledge and experience just lend to an ‘in the moment’ creative and dynamic live solo.
How do you prepare for recording?
I warm-up my voice lightly at first using a ‘lip roll’ technique which get’s get my vocal cords warm without any undue tension and then use series of scales and techniques to prepare it. I refresh myself with the structure and get a copy of the chords and the lyrics ready for back-up. Then I focus on what I want to produce. I usually have a pretty clear idea of how I want it to sound in my head and then I go about making it sound like that. Sometimes something might happen and it changes for the better so I find it’s healthy to be prepared to let go of some of your pre-conceived ideas as other musicians often bring their own unique stamp to a recording.
What top tips would you give a drummer or other performer about coping with nerves?
- Focus on what you want. Listen to some of the best professionals.
- Have a good routine that you do to ‘stay loose’ before you need to perform.
- Make sure you have somewhere you can rehearse regularly and ‘practice, practice, practice.
- Don’t do it because you ‘have to’…..but because you’ll be much more confident as a performer if you do.
- A happy band is a confident band.
- Focus on beginnings, cues, and endings so that they are solid.