A couple of weeks ago, presenter, actor, dancer, director and choreographer, Laura Graham-May interviewed me about the Confident Performer Book and I have had a number of requests for the audio interview to be presented as a written transcript. So here it is! I reveal the inspiration behind the writing of the book and give some hope to the late starter.
Laura: so Clive Stocker, we’ve known each other as friends for some years now, I know that you are a music lecturer at City of Bath College
Clive: that’s right yeah.
Laura: but you’ve just done something rather exciting and written your own book, could you tell us a little about it?
Clive: well the book is called “How to become a Confident Performer” and it’s been 2 years in the writing or probably 12 years in the writing but 2 years with pen in hand. It all started from working with performance students who exhibit nerves and really the idea of the book is to give you quick fix things that will make a difference. There’s a lot of other books and this one is not really the same, other books tend to have long drawn out approaches and I think when you are working with teenagers it’s a different ball game, they want something that’s going to be quick and instant.
Clive: the people I work with are doing an Extended Diploma which is the equivalent to A levels, they are on a 2 year course and they go from very timid performers to, many of them, professional musicians by the end of the course, so I’ve learned a lot from them over the years definitely.
Laura: wow! So when you say professional musicians, have you had any that have gone on to a big worldwide success?
Clive: yeah we’ve had a number of artists, I mean, obviously the most famous is Gabrielle Aplin who’s doing very well as you’ve probably heard. Laura Doggett has been signed to Sony/ATV Pub UK and we’ve also worked with a guy called Max Goff who’s now playing bass for Tom Odell touring the world as we speak.
Clive: yeah, I think we’ve been blessed, we’ve done a lot of hard work with them as well.
Laura: yeah, I bet you have. Where does this book come in, so you were driven to write it because of your experience of auditioning students, watching students in rehearsals, what was it exactly that made you think this would be a good idea?
Clive: well initially it was working with students when they are performing but I do most of the auditions for the 16 to 18 year olds and I started to realize that you can make a difference to students doing auditions and I would try out various things to relax people, to get them to perform and get over their initial nerves and I learned many techniques and practiced different things with performers I’ve seen for the first time and I thought if I could make a difference with them then these techniques would work with other people as well, so I am very lucky to be able to be in that position I think.
Laura: sure, and presumably you’ve seen these techniques work on lots of students. What do the majority of them go on to do because there is only going to be a small percentage lucky enough or talented enough to have hits. Where do you see in the majority of students even if they don’t become musicians presumably these techniques can help them?
Clive: in every single job that you do, you have to interact with other people, you have to talk with them and many jobs have presentation or require presentation skills, there are many people I’ve met over the years who don’t go for promotion because they are too worried about presenting and standing up in front of a group of people and they would rather earn less and not have promotion because of that, so I think these skills are always relevant. I think if you remind yourself that you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone, you can achieve anything because that’s the only way you are going to move forward.
Laura: absolutely. Where did you get most of the ideas for the writing of the book, is it something you’ve struggled with in the past with your confidence or did you have to do a lot of research to write it?
Clive: both. For many years I used to be very nervous about performing and I wanted to be a classical concert pianist and really there was no way I was going to do it because I just used to have problems with circulation in my hands, my fingers would go cold, I couldn’t move my fingers even in the middle of summer, my fingers would freeze up and I just got into such negative cycles of telling myself I can’t do things, Henry Ford says if you say something isn’t going to happen, you’re right, it won’t and I told myself I wasn’t going to be a performer and I was right. Working with hypnotherapists and learning some techniques from an NLP practitioners and generally finding out from other musicians who had similar problems and just found ways around things really, because I think sometimes people think there is only one way to do things and there aren’t.
Laura: so have you used these techniques on yourself, do you think you’ve become a more confident performer musician as the years have gone on?
Clive: absolutely. I realized that I could step outside my comfort zone much more quickly and have strategies to breach the gap, so if I’m doing a solo performance, which I wouldn’t have done 5 years ago, I would never have done a solo performance with just me on the piano but I would do that now because I know there are ways that I can cover up the mistakes and there are ways in which I can present things so that it’s not a problem, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to get better, it just means I’m comfortable with not being the best I can be when I performed something for this first time.
Laura: so do you think that performers generally learn these things, or do they start out with the conviction and confidence first?
Clive: Good question, isn’t it? I mean, one of my friends says being a musician is a
‘managed mental condition’, so I think anybody who is a performer has some of that about them. There has got to be something wrong with you that you need to stand up in front of hundreds or thousands of people and do the thing that’s quite nerve racking. They are not necessarily naturally confident, many of the performers I know struggled with that, very few of them are naturally confident, I think they all struggled and sometimes the people who I thought were very confident, if you ask them to do something outside of their normal comfort zone they go red in the face, they shake and everything. Ok, normally they look confident because they always stay within their comfort zones.
Laura: why do you think we are so worried about what other people think of us because that’s a lot of it, isn’t it? Personally I think confidence is a fluctuating state, so it’s not like you were saying I don’t think its static, I don’t think it’s the same in every situation but a lot of it I think has to do with our fear, our fear of how other people judge us, so why do you think we care about that so much?
Clive: I talked about it, it’s in the book really, at some point in our life we lose the ability to play, not in terms of music but in terms of having fun and trying something out, you know, you are an actor and you do improvisation and you know that unless you’re willing to play, you don’t have a show. At some point we unlearn the fact that it’s good to play and I think when you play music, if you lose that, I think sometimes classical musicians lose it because every time you play you have to play exactly the same and that can take some of the spontaneity out of it and the fun out of it and I think if you try and keep everything the same, that’s not human nature I think, I don’t know if I would go and see a performance if it was the same every time I went to see it. It was generally the fun, we lose that ability to try things out and not fail but we lose the ability to be willing to let something go wrong and I think that’s a really sad thing.
Laura: so what’s the next move now, once you’ve written something like this how do you get it out there, how do you tell people it’s there? Marketing is a tricky thing, even the days of twitter and everything we’ve got available to us, I think getting the word out is tricky, how are you going to do that?
Clive: well that’s the area I haven’t had 15 years experience in, so things like twitter and facebook I’m learning how to use in a promotional sense and I think many people in our age group are. It’s been around for a long time but it seems alien to promote yourself through that way especially as a performer, it doesn’t feel very excited to stand up in front of a computer and press send, that’s the area which is new to me. Also thinking about workshops, book launches, coaching, all of these different areas because it’s not about writing a book and wanting to sell it, it’s about wanting to help people and hopefully to make that even more of my career.
Laura: and finally, because we have to finish, what would you say to other people thinking of maybe taking up and instrument or starting to perform again or learn to perform who have never done it before, what would you get from being a musician or from performing that maybe people are missing out on if they don’t try, if they don’t take that risk?
Clive: oh well, where do I start? It’s never too late to start, you’re never too old, there’s people who have arthritis start to play an instrument and their arthritis improves because the body and the mind tends to do what you ask of it, it’s actually good for us socially, it’s really good for you, you get to meet other musicians, you can learn with other people, you can join a choir, so even if you have limited mobility you can sing with other people, you’ve done shows, you know what it’s like. Nothing pulls people together more closely than being in a show or putting on a performance I think. There is nothing better than doing a performance and rehearsing towards a performance. I’ve sung with people who are in their 90s, I’ve sung with kids and everyone all the way through and you always learn something new from people who are just starting out or people who have been doing it 70 years, you know, and everyone should do it, it’s what I think.
Laura: great, well that’s a brilliant message, thank you very much. Good luck with your book, it’s an amazing achievement especially if you are still teaching which I know you are; you have enough on your plate, so congratulations and all the best of luck. Thank you very much.
Clive: thank you.
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Listen to the original interview here on