Within Without You
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How the Stage Can Bring Enormous Confidence from Artists
I often wonder how some artists…
IN THIS PHOTO: Freddie Mercury/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
who seem rather quiet and conservative in private can suddenly be unleashed from those confines when they hit the stage! I look at artists icons Kate Bush and Freddie Mercury and know, away from the stage, there is a shyness and sense of quiet that makes it more amazing they are so bold and incredible from the stage. Although Mercury is no longer with us; the split between his rather shy private persona and the showman he was on stage is exceptional. It can be hard coming into an industry like music and having to face the pressures of anxiety and stage fright. Maybe artists like Bush and Mercury escaped stage fright – although I know both did have a touch – but there is a magic that comes from the stage that seems to bring the best from the most introverted. To be honest, there are a lot of artists who find it hard taking to the stage but, when they are up there, it can be like they are released and at their very best. Freddie Mercury is not a rare example. Although he was a quiet and softly-spoken man away from the spotlight; his sheer passion and force of nature went into the studio and the stage especially. He was like an animal when he got up there and it seemed to bring something from him. I wonder how genuine artists like that are on stage?! Is it a case of them being hesitant and guarded away from the stage or the stage itself acting as a sanctuary and place where they can truly be themselves?!
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It is an interesting question and the reason I bring it up is the interviews I do with rising musicians. I ask how important it is being on stage and it is interesting seeing the responses I get. Many feel like that live setting is where they feel most free and can be at their most expressive! Many musicians do not like being in the studio and it can be quiet limiting recording music and that slightly delayed process. Sure, artists can experiment and put something wonderful into their recorded music but I wonder if it is truly possible to feel natural, connected and unshackled when there is that rather delayed process. You never know how people will react to the music and it can be a frustrating process. So many artists I interview say getting out there is a vital part of what they do and the only reason they are in music. Many feel confined in the studio and love that instant reaction – where they can hear their songs get that reaction and vibe from the energy coming from the people! A few artists lack confidence and the love of the stage and prefer the calm and discipline of the studio. Those who do love performance feel like it is the way music truly resonates and gets into the heart. One stumbling block, more and more, is the shy and anxious artist who yearns to be on the stage but cannot get over that fright.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga/PHOTO CREDIT: @ladygaga/Getty Images
Personas and characters are a way of negotiating nerves and being able to deliver music to the people. Artists like David Bowie and Lady Gaga have exaggerated their personalities – David Bowie went even further and played a few different characters – in order to feel more confident on stage. Away from the bright lights, they are different people and it seems that opportunity to step into different shoes and shed your skin on the stage is an answer to nerves and a sense of shyness. Today, more and more, it is harder to remain private and closed-off away from the stage. Artists like Sia (who wears a wig over her face for publicity photos) and Sir Elton John are seen as somewhat moody and enigmatic – when they are on the stage, that all changes and they seem like a different person. I was reading an interesting article from The Economist that investigated the shy artist and why it is hard for them to have a private life:
“In previous generations it was easier to keep a public persona and a private life separate. But today, thanks to the internet, celebrity cultureand social media, the shy artist has less private space to withdraw to. To feed the ever-hungry media beast, there are unprecedented invasions of privacy: topless photos taken using drones and personal photos being downloaded from the cloud. Unwanted attention aside, there is so much “noise” out there that to be heard as an artist, there is a greater need for self-promotion”.
IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie in 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Masayoshi Sukita via Morrison Hotel Gallery
Although there are some artists who are themselves on stage (quiet shy) – Bob Dylan is one classic example – getting up in front of people, for many musicians, is a way of gaining new confidence and bringing something out of them they never thought they possessed. Elvis Presley is a famous example of someone who had difficulty getting in front of people and was a bit hesitant when it came to performance. Presley watched others perform and, bit-by-bit, got more confident and, before long, turned into a hip-swivelling god who is regarded as one of the greatest live performers ever. There are modern artists, such as Adele, who get incredible anxieties and do not like touring but others feel like audiences make them feel alive and it is where they feel natural. David Bowie admitted in interviews how he wasn’t a gregarious person so, with personas such as Ziggy Stardust, he was allowed to be someone else and, when up in front of music, he was electrified and renewed. Musicians feel time away from stage is a feast of interviews and awkward communication. Many get caught in promotion and it can be a tiring and unpleasant cycle. The fact so much of today’s promotion and marketing is done online means a lot of artists rarely communicate face-to-face and there is that lack of physicality. Whereas, years ago, interviews were done in the flesh and there were music shows on T.V.; there was more direct contact and less online manoeuvring; now, more and more, musicians are cloistered or buried in a sea of online demands and there is less need to get out there and connect with people.
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Maybe I am over-simplifying things but I hear from so many artists who struggle with shyness, anxiety and addiction issues. Modern music is more demanding than ever and the nature of forging a successful career is tricky. So much more effort needs to go into things and there is little chance for rest and relaxation. Online promotion and demands mean many artists are exposed to trolling and negative feedback. Online focus also means musicians are staring at screens and are shackled to their laptops. I am seeing artists out there and know how many interviews they have to give and how much promotion is involved. The stage can provide that chance to bring all the introverted hurdles and the stresses together and release them through the power of live music. Artists can feel like the audience give them strength and they can feel safe and secure when they are performing. That sense of safety and the ability to stretch wings means a lot of artists who are shy or tormented away from the stage are provided a pulpit to become someone different or feel less confined. There is no guarantee a shy frontperson is going to be completely natural and different when they are on the stage. This article from The Guardian studied shy artists and how they can be reluctant leads:
“…It’s not just introspective indie names who end up as reluctant frontpeople. You might assume former Distiller Brody Dalle never had a doubt about her chosen career, but as a child she says she was so scarred by being told she had a terrible voice during a school singalong of Waltzing Matilda that it put her off singing for years. “It fucked me up,” she says, adding that she’s shy when not onstage, “so I’m probably not the typical frontperson.”
IN THIS PHOTO: Brody Dalle/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
“The thing is, Dalle does seem to be the typical frontperson. Whether it’s Jack Steadman from Bombay Bicycle Club fretting about public speaking or Gerard Way, former singer of My Chemical Romance, being too inhibited to do karaoke with friends when he’s not on stage (“I get too nervous”) an uneasy, hesitant disposition seems to be extremely common in today’s singers. So how, you might ask, do they do it?”.
Gerard Way, the lead of My Chemical Romance, says there is this amazing transformation when he gets onto the stage:
“Way says this “switch” happens the moment someone tells him it’s time to get on stage – “it doesn’t matter what time of day” – and all his nervousness dissipates so that he can transform into his alter ego of Rock Frontman. It can be a physical thing, too. “I was completely out of shape during my time in My Chemical Romance,” he admits. “But the switch happens to your body too – thanks to the adrenaline you’re able to do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
Dalle agrees with the switch theory, claiming it enables her to do things she wouldn’t dream of in every day life. “Maybe my balls grow a little bit bigger,” she says. “I have a friend who is super-super shy, but the minute she gets onstage she’s climbing over security guards, completely manic”.
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There are natural and unavoidable downsides for those leads who are unleashed on the stage. Destructive behaviour can come through and they can take things too far. For band leaders, especially, strains can form on the tour bus and in hotels; being in closed confines and having to spend a lot of time with other musicians…there is that natural tension and it is not all great. I wanted to study the difference between the introverted or shy artists and what the stage can give them. Some do take the confidence they get from the stage and take things too far. Whether that included destroying equipment or courting controversy to get the crowd involved – it is a hard balancing act. In any case, the stage is that attractive and much-loved area where musicians can be transformed and let all the stress out. Tackling anxiety and stage fright is tough so it is not always as easy as being quiet and a bit shy off of the stage and instantly getting up there and everything is okay. So many of the artists I speak to – whether they have stage fright or not – feel like live performance is the finest part of their career and what they live for. I see so many bands/artists speak passionately about the stage and how they live for those gigs! The stage is that forum that can be a challenge and fall-back for many artists but, for decades, it has provided a platform for revelation, explosion and a whole new world. Stage fright and anxiety are huge problems and heart-breaking for many musicians but there are therapies and simple steps to help tackle it and lead to improvement. From modern and unsigned artists to classic artists like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Kate Bush; look at the difference between the person away from the stage and how different they are when delivering music to the masses. More and more, I am hearing from artists who adore being on the stage because they can feel like their true selves and it is a rare chance to physically connect with the people who listen to their music. It can be a cruel mistress but the stage, for more and more artists, is a temple and lifeline that can be a…
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