Getting on stage and performing is a difficult thing at the best of times. Getting in the zone and knowing how to deal with nerves is something I have learnt over the past 15 years of performing live. Playing drums on stage to a lot of people seems fun. I do agree, but to get to that point, there are a lot of processes/steps before fun is engaged, key elements here being routine and preparation. In my experience, most of the time these steps happen before I get up on stage and even hit the first note.
Firstly, I plan my day around the gig. I organise myself so that I arrive at the venue/stage on time. This is part of controlling my stress levels, which in turn brings a relaxed start before the performance. Also, if I have to bring a drum kit, I always double check, before leaving for the venue, that I have all the necessary equipment for myself to feel comfortable on stage. (Even double checking what sticks I have).
Secondly, if there’s a quick changeover time between bands, I always make sure I work out what I need on stage and then setup what I can off stage, eg. hardware stands, cymbals and alike. Being at the ready helps with my stress levels as there’s been times where I have had the sound tech death stare me or the stage manager.
Thirdly, I warm my hands up, which can simply be shaking them, stretching my wrists, and even swinging my arms in different directions/rotating the shoulders. This helps with circulation and loosens the tension I may have in those areas. I will also occasionally use a practice pad and some sticks to help the hand warm up process.
Next, I like to enjoy a beer (no I don’t get pissed) before I get on stage, this helps the nerves, I’ve noticed when I do get on stage, my concentration and focus on the songs I have to play last longer. Having a laugh and talking shit before I get on stage is always part of my routine as well, (whether that’s in my head or to people around me).
Now when I do get on stage, I never focus on the crowd first up (if there is a crowd, ha), this helps to calm my nerves and focus on the setlist and the songs I have to perform (especially the opening song) and then once I’ve hit my comfortable zone and I’m in control, that’s when the fun side comes out. It could take 30 seconds or it could take one song, it changes all the time, I never push my mind, it happens naturally.
Finally and a very important point for my performance is, if I fuck up or make a mistake, I avoid overthinking it! As soon as it’s happened, it’s already in the past and you can’t wind back time. What’s done is done so then I just focus on the upcoming parts and keep pushing on. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to get over mistakes, one mistake used to ruin the rest of my performance because I would replay that moment over and over. But now I make a joke out of it in my head or look at the band members around me to see if anyone picked up on it and then laugh it off.
Now after saying all this, I believe you shouldn’t be completely nerve free before you get up on stage, although stress is avoidable. I believe having slight butterflies or jitteriness is 100% normal. Having a little bit of adrenaline come through me when I get up on stage helps with my concentration and getting in the zone. Then once I’m happy with my focus then that’s when I start enjoying what I’m doing. This is only my experience and what I’ve either taught myself or taken from other drummers/performers that have helped me.
As I’ve said, it’s taken time and I’ve definitely used different routines and processes but these points are the ones that have been a bit more prominent in overcoming the hurdles of performing live. Also, don’t get me wrong here, music is bloody fun and I don’t know where I would be without it!! But there are factors for me and my make up to be able to have a fun performance.
And one last note before any of this routine, which plays over and over in my head. The 5 P’s were drilled into my head by my drum teacher before I experienced what it was like to be on stage. And for those who don’t know what the 5 P’s are then here you go.