Performance Anxiety

I've never been what you would call a born "performer". I consider myself more of a musician, and contrary to popular belief, the two don't necessarily always go hand-in-hand. I love playing music, I love making and writing music, and I love recording music. But one thing that I've still not gotten the knack of over the years that I've been a musician, is being the center of attention. Before I started making music under the moniker of The High Cell, I was in a number of bands in more of a secondary capacity. I've played the bass in bands, been the rhythm guitarist, dabbled in being a drummer here and there, sang a song or two to switch things up, etc... But never before I started recording as The High Cell was I playing the part of a true "front-man". And I don't know if I truly am yet.
It's a role that, quite frankly, still intimidates me. I'd even venture to say that my somewhat irrational (but inherent) lack of confidence in my natural ability as an entertainer significantly hinders the growth of my career in music. Part of the reason I decided to release music under a band name instead of just my given name was so that I could continue to write and record independently but also put together a band for live shows (much in the way that Trent Reznor or Dave Grohl started Nine Inch Nails and The Foo Fighters, respectively, as one-man DIY bands). As of this post, I still don't have a steady lineup in place. Why? As many of you may know, it can be hard to effectively and rationally explain self-doubt.

I've never been a band leader in the traditional sense, I've always been the rather introspective member that adds color and shading to the outline that someone else has drawn. Would someone who may be a better musician than myself even be interested in catering to my musical whims? Contributing to my musical vision when they might have one of their own?

Some might call my paranoia about performing a borderline "social anxiety disorder", and some might simply label it as "stage fright". Both are probably accurate to a certain extent. The way I see it from the perspective of objective psychological self-analysis, there are three avenues to get past such a veritable road block of a mental condition, and I think this applies to anyone with a general phobia of vulnerability... Not just musicians;

1 - You can avoid the problem. Honestly, this what I've been doing. It just simply isn't productive, and it leads to a lack of fulfillment. In today's landscape of the entertainment business (or any business or any personal goal for that matter), it's obviously important to put yourself out there. There's nothing that creates a hole in your soul quite like knowing that you are holding yourself back. Knowing that you are capable of so much more than what you are doing, but allowing the grip of fear to keep you from embracing your potential.

2 - You can try to mask the problem. Most commonly, this is done with drugs or alcohol, and I've definitely been guilty of using the latter as a synthetic form of confidence at times throughout my adult years. "Liquid Courage" (or "Chemical Courage") is not only a fleeting fix, but it can also be a detriment that creates new hurdles in your endeavors. I'm reminded when considering this option, of the last time I sang Karaoke for "fun". Now here's a guy who has sang in front of decent sized crowds, a guy who spends a good deal of time singing and honestly enjoys it as a creative outlet. A fella who has has released music that has been heard globally by a lot of people over the last year. But it was a guy who on this particular day, built his own impassable hurdle and put a mask over his eyes before trying to jump over it. Family and friends were in attendance, and this marked the first time that my mother would ever see me sing anything live. To put it bluntly, I kind of sucked ass. I turned to liquid courage to build up my confidence and I essentially ended up vocally pooping my proverbial musical pants.This was supposed to be FUN, and it was anything but for me when all was said and done. I actually wish my personal saga that fateful night would have been documented on video so I could add a commentary and use it as a Public Service Announcement to highlight the dangers of drinking yourself into near oblivion in order to subdue the demons of self-doubt within. It was a tale reminiscent of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads only to be swindled and get cut down in his prime... only I was singing into a cheap halitosis-ridden microphone at a beach bar and I turned to cheap swill for help as opposed to Satan. I sang two songs that I had literally performed hundreds of time before ("If You Could Only See" by Tonic and "Bubble Toes" by Jack Johnson if you were wondering, both of which were songs that I had covered on demos in the past), and I can only surmise from what I remember that the performance smelled like exceptionally hot garbage and some of the people in attendance probably got the impression that I had never even heard these songs before I sang them that night. If I had just done it and had fun without working myself into an emotional frenzy before-hand, it would have been a fun, fond memory. But as it stands, I created a rift between myself and something I enjoyed doing, with a good gallon of watered-down drinks that I paid entirely too much for. :) And last but not least...

3 - Just put your head down, and systematically plow through your road blocks one at a time. No matter how slow you have to go, whether you feel that you've created the obstacles yourself or whether you believe that the cosmic hand you've been dealt has laid them out before you. As human beings, what builds the confidence we might lack is the confrontation of that which we are afraid of. I just made that up, and I like it.
Of course this is much easier said than done, and of course the trials and tribulations of life will continue to make it an ongoing challenge. But from my simple philosophical point of view, I truly don't believe it's supposed to be easy. If video games were always easy, kids (or adults) wouldn't feel a sense of accomplishment for making progress. If being a musical virtuoso was simple, novice musicians wouldn't feel rewarded by learning new things. Whatever your hurdles might be, there is no greater disappointment than not knowing if you could jump them. And as the old saying goes, "there is no greater failure than not trying".
One of my favorite NFL players ever, was Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders. He is considered one of the best and most prolific running backs in the history of the sport, and he still holds a good handful of NFL rushing records today. One of the records that he holds, is the most negative rushing yards in history... See what I did there?

I'm realistic. I know this is all going to be a matter of taking baby-steps sometimes. But the important thing is that I'll be moving forward toward my dreams instead of standing still. You should do the same.

I want to go sing some karaoke.

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