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The Stage: Fright or FIGHT?

The Stage: Fright or FIGHT?For the vocalist it’s the ultimate “getting back on the horse” experience: the return to the stage. Mary Beth Felker shares how she faced it…and prevailed.

Let’s face it, the stage can be a scary place, especially if you’ve been away from it for a while.

Any honest vocal coach has to admit that it’s one thing to teach the theory of performance skills but it’s another thing to actually stand up and perform in front of a live audience.

I had coached many vocalists as they faced the stage and now I felt that, in order to maintain my edge, it was absolutely necessary for me to return to center stage.

I woke up the morning after my “return” literally bouncing up and down in bed, grinning from ear-to-ear saying: “I did it, I did it, I did it!”

And I did it without getting freaked out, without forgetting my words, without embarrassing myself (too much) and without letting myself down.

Here are the steps which were essential to pulling off this feat – The 5 R’s:


This might sound self evident, but I’ll say it anyway: pull together all the relevant charts and lyrics sheets for yourself and your band and make a CD of the songs that you intend to play (in the order in which you’ll be playing them).

Time the sets and give your band members new CD’s if you make any significant changes. This allows you to hold everyone accountable, while giving those supporting you all the tools they need to be successful.

Go even further than this in your research: create play-lists and listen to the flow, the tempo, the key, and the mood.I needed that preparation to help calm my nerves!

Go online and view performance coaching and artist videos, or watch some of your favorite performers in action and figure out what you can learn from them.

My band said I was the most prepared they had ever seen – I needed that preparation to help calm my nerves!


Do not trust your own ears; record EVERYTHING and LISTEN to it with a critical ear. It does take a lot of time but it’s worth it.

This analysis takes a certain amount of courage as you are listening to yourself as you really are; however, this self-scrutiny is the most accurate way to regain trust in yourself and in your instrument.

Recording also allows you to remember what adjustments were made during rehearsal for form and tempo, and to listen to your band to see if everyone is on the same page. Don’t forget to share the recordings with your band.

You will find that this process will begin to give you confidence and with this confidence, you will begin to take musical risks.


Everything changes once you’re on stage – and you really don’t want to be taken off guard. This is why rehearsing in an environment that is as close as possible to your performance set-up is essential.

Firstly, there are the artistic considerations, such as creating a stage map for every song.

Practice how you are going to move, what you are going to do with the mic stand early on, for example, and make notes for the sound engineer, so they know exactly what to expect.

The key is to practice being the person you intend to be on stage, before you actually get there.

Then, there are the technical details of rehearsal: if you have your own microphone, use it exclusively – this also applies to any pedals, monitors or other equipment you will be relying upon during the performance.

MB Felker On Stage

Mary Beth Felker on stage

Your ability to hear yourself accurately, as well as being familiar with how you sound, is essential to maintaining your confidence and singing to the best of your ability.

(On that note, use one rehearsal to have your band overplay everything – tempo, volume etc. Since this is likely to happen once the adrenaline begins pumping, it’s best for everyone to experience it during rehearsal and have a game plan for how to counteract it).


Once you’ve found your safe zone and the band is coming together, forget it all and take some risks.

After all, being safe is neither interesting nor compelling; being safe does not create memorable moments.

Start testing the boundaries of your safety zone: how much emotion can I show? How can I tweak a word here, raise an eyebrow there or just plain rock out on stage?

You will be amazed at how much more you are capable of: I was.

Turn off the worried looks and the fear of possible memory lapses; turn off the “nay-sayers” in your head. No one came to hear a flawless performance and no one (but you) expects it.

‘Rap’ Up

The performance went far better than I had hoped but I’m still on this journey of self-exploration and self-observation; I’ve now entered a new post-performance ‘stage’ as I’m listening to the live recording.

Here are some key points of my learning journey:

  1. Stage volume and being able to hear yourself is EVERYTHING! Do NOT oversing and do insist that your band controls their volume – even if you have to stop a rehearsal or a performance to remind them. Remember, everyone will naturally play louder and faster during the performance than during rehearsal.
  2. DO NOT OVERSING – my best songs occurred during the acoustic set. It had everything to do with my ability to hear myself. EVERYTHING. Do as much as possible to control your environment by using your own microphone, pedals, and monitor.
  3. Be curious vocally. I am curious as a musician, a singer and as a teacher. I feel like I’m once again a student of my voice and I’m anxious to explore more sounds, more genres and to see how far I can push myself.I'm anxious to explore more sounds
  4. Be a control freak. Yup, I said it. YOU are on stage, YOU are fronting the band; it really is all about YOU up there. Everyone else is there to support you in achieving that goal, so be clear in what you expect from them while remaining firm and polite. I surrendered (or perhaps shared) control of some areas and the entire band suffered as a result.
  5. LET GO and give all of yourself. Be authentic.

Remember, the power of your personality on stage really covers a multitude of sins and also creates a multitude of memorable moments for the audience.

Perhaps personality and authenticity are the miracles of live performance; that’s why being authentic is my mantra for the moment…at least after I’ve done the five ‘R’s!

Read more about Performance Anxiety.

Mary Beth Felker

Mary Beth Felker is founder of the Voice Project Studios and known for her ability to quickly produce healthy, marketable results while on the road or in the studio. She is author of TVP’s ‘Elements of Warming up Series’ and is in high demand as a vocal expert.

  • Lovely article. Any suggestion for going on stage after some months away due to a severe decease? My self-confidence seems to be far behind what it used to be. Thanks.

  • Here here, mb! It was a great performance that night and you did a wonderful job back on stage. It was a crazy, ambitious set full of difficult songs and hard genres. You rocked it.

  • Thanks Shawna……I couldn't have done it without you!

  • Rehearsal my friend…..record yourself on video and audio. See if you can't find some small, unthreatening performance opportunities before attempting the big one.

  • Paco,

    Turn that frown upsidedown Charlie Brown :)

    Why, because you totally rawk?! Sorry, being a feeble minded American…I only speak English…sooo, I'm not able to decipher a lot on your band's website.

    However the look and feel of it is good! Also, I thought it was brave to put your music out there for free download. You have a great rock voice and it really comes through and lends itelf well to your music.

    Just wanted to send a little love, after reading this comment, and tell you that you are the man my friend! I'm sorry for your loss…I recommend digging deeply into it your pain and putting it on paper.

    Write songs about what you've recently been through…I know that you are a true hearted person by the myriad comments you've left. Brush off the pain, fall in love with your scars, and put them in their place…your music!!! Nothin' but love for ya' bro!!!



  • Hi, Brian. These words are really appreciated, much more coming from such a huge singer as you are (I have been digging your Erotica vids!!!!). It's almost 4 months since this post, and I have done three performances in this period, which have given me some confidence again (although I am still far away from the days before radiation). The point is that my singing is very breath demanding and this makes me terribly dizzy. I am afraid about falling to the floor in the middle of a show. Anyway, your kind and friendly words are balsamic. You are a nive guy. Thank you.

    By the way, my band´s site has an English flag at the bottom of the menu to switch from Spanish. The recordings you have heard where registered back in 2007, though not released until 2008. In this three years I have been working on my voice, trying hard with the exercises proposed in Jaime Vendera's “Raise your voice”, as well as many info I have collected in this site. In a couple of weeks (not more than 5 or 6) we will be releasing a new CD which is already recorded and almost mixed and ready for mastering. I do hope that some vocal improvement is recognised in these new songs.

    And regarding writing about my experience, remember I won a contest here for my “new year's resolution”. Mine was to compose, record and self-edit a CD on my own and outside my band. I will start recording in my home studio inmediately after releasing my band's CD. In a certain way, my experience with my “alien” has make me impatient and anxious to do many things.

    I do not deserve your namaste. It's me who bows to you.

  • Thank you, Mary. I have read once again your entire article. I really like it.

  • Hannah Marie

    Great article, thank you!

  • Freaked

    I just found out im the only one singing solo in a concert tonight at college. wish me luck :(

  • Powllm289

    I spent 25 years away from performing live. I eased my way back in doing karaoke, and small gigs. Except for my voice not being in great shape (from lack of exercising it), I’m singing as well as I ever have.
    Have no fears..pump yourself up by listening to your favorites artists just before your performance, then go out and give it all ya got!