When I was a kid I loved to sing… in the shower. I would sing Billy Joel songs I heard from my sister Renee’s tape collection at the top of my lungs. I’m sure my parents got a kick out of it. Back then I didn’t really know how well sound traveled through walls! At that point in my life I just enjoyed singing. I didn’t know if other people would like my voice, and I really never even thought about singing for others. At church I sang in our youth choir and decided that I would try out for a solo. The song that I auditioned to sing was “His Strength is Perfect” by Steven Curtis Chapman. I’ll never forget how much I trembled and shook as I sang it for our minister of music Allan Case. I’ll never forget the wondering in my mind. What was he going to think? What was he going to say? Am I good enough? I honestly had no idea. An ok we’ll see, or good job would’ve been more than I’d hoped for, but when I finished singing he literally said that I had a future in music and to stay at it. He gave me the part on the spot. For better or for worse, I don’t really think I ever looked back after that. As I’ve journeyed I’ve had many days where I’ve struggled with confidence. The question, “Am I good enough,” continues to pop in my brain from time to time. Especially when I know I’m performing in front of other artists!
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about finding places to play, but I thought I would add one post to this series to address building your confidence to play in front of people. I believe this post is great for beginners, but I also hope it will give some of you seasoned artists some much needed reminders or new insight to help overcome some nagging fears. Here are some thoughts that have helped me continue to stay the course over the years, and I hope they help you navigate your path as an artist. I hope it helps you continue to have faith in your journey and avoid having your calling shipwrecked.
Building Confidence in Your Calling
Note: Calling is a word that has lots of meanings for different Christians. This is my definition for this post. I believe we are all called to love God, to love others, and to make Him known to others. I believe He uses each of us as He created us to help us accomplish those three things and that He will reveal the specific ways we will accomplish them only as we follow and journey with Him. We fulfill our calling by offering all He has given us back to Him.
Mr. Rogers said it, but God said it first. There is no one like you. Ephesians 2:10 says that you are God’s handiwork or workmanship. You were created in Christ for good works that God prepared in advance for you to accomplish. This means that as a person in Christ, God has specific things planned for you to do. But in order for these things to come to pass you have to take hold of them by faith. If artistry is a part of your life it only makes sense that there would be specific things you are called to do through your art as part of that plan. If this is the case, trust that God made you to be the artist that He wanted you to be. This includes your abilities and your lack of abilities.
To have confidence in yourself as an artist you must first know and remember that God gifted you to accomplish certain things that only you can do to impact the world around you. To what extent you impact the world is up to Him, but in the process you must be about using the gifts He has given you. Trusting Him with your talents as you use them is what I meant earlier by the phrase, “taking hold of your calling by faith”. Continued action without seeing the end in sight is the way the Bible describes a living active faith. If you are faithful with a few things He will entrust you with many things. If you are truly seeking to live out what He has for you, regardless of the result, you can be satisfied knowing that you are pleasing Him in your pursuit. Have confidence in your whatever your specific calling may be because no one else it but you!
Know Your Main Thing
So often we get discouraged when we see the incredible talents that other artists have. When Jimi Hendrix hit the scene it is said that several well known guitarists decided to call it quits. I’m hoping that in the end many of those players who felt that sense of worthlessness after seeing him play were eventually inspired by him and became better players themselves. I think it is totally normal to want to throw in the towel when another artist comes along that sings and plays like a boss, but at the same time we need to stop looking at art as competition. Talent shows have ruined us friends. Shows like The Voice and American Idol don’t help us much. Often times I hear artists take on a fatalistic view if they get cut on these shows when, in reality, winning a talent show has very little to do with how a person can impact the world with their art. What is important is that you figure out a way to connect with people. You connect with people by offering them the best of what you have, consistently over time, putting your best gift(s) forward. If you are a great singer pick songs that showcase your voice. If you are an OK singer and a great instrumentalist choose or compose songs that highlight your instrumentation over vocalization. If you are an OK singer and an OK instrumentalist, but you are an awesome songwriter, then highlight your meaningful or fun lyrics and catchy melodies. Some people do seem to have the whole package, but don’t need to be discouraged if you don’t. I would dare say that the most impactful artists of our time weren’t the ones with the whole package, but rather those who were experts at their main thing. I’m pretty sure not having the whole package actually caused them to excel at what they were exceptionally gifted in.
If you put your main thing right out front to your audience and you make sure your secondary things aren’t distracting, people will focus in on what you want them to focus on. Don’t be apologetic for what you lack. Don’t even make a reference to your shortcomings. Magicians are great at this. They get their audience to look where they want them to look. If they didn’t do this the magic show would be terrible. I’m a better singer than guitarist. Relatively speaking I am a very limited guitarist, but I learn to play what I need to play to support our songs. I have had several people tell me I’m a great guitar player, and this is only because I don’t try to play things I can’t play in front of people. I only stretch myself in front of comfortable forgiving audiences. If you do this right, people will judge you on what you present to them as your main thing, and that’s a good thing because it is your main thing. Seek to find and become confident in your main thing. If you aren’t confident at all in your secondary thing teaming up with a group or another musician may be the best way for you to gain confidence in the short-term.
This may sound like an old hat suggestion when it comes to building confidence, but whether you are seasoned or a beginner make sure you are practiced and prepared. As a husband and dad it is easy for me to put practice off too long. When I do I pay for it in front of a crowd. It’s not a good feeling.
When you practice you are training your brain to do what it needs to do without your conscious help. When you do things repetitively your brain actually develops new electrical pathways to trigger the muscles and patterns you are using on your instrument, even your voice. Our brains are remarkable. Practice allows us to know we can trust our brain. If you want to memorize something, which BTW greatly enhances your ability to connect during performances, start getting away from your music as quickly as possible. Only use your music to check your accuracy so that you don’t learn something wrong. Your brain will not memorize a piece of music if it knows it can rely on a piece of paper. Our brains are efficient like that. When you are practiced up you can trust that what you worked on will be at your disposal when you step on stage. Don’t frantically go over things in your head beforehand. This will only increase your chances of making mistakes. If you’ve put in the time (days or weeks) on your material just relax. Trust your brain. God made it to be awesome and to serve you well.
I hope that knowing God has good things prepared for you to do, relying on your main gift while not being envious of the gifts of others, and being reminded to spend good amounts of time in preparation and practice helps you in building confidence as you move ahead!
Your Turn to Share
In the thread below I’d like to invite you to share some things that have helped you in building confidence as an artist.