Tips from the Pros: How to Prepare for a Live Performance

Whether you’re hitting the stage for your first open mic, or headlining Coachella, everyone has their own way of getting ready to face the crowd. From how to deal with the pre-show jitters, to what not to eat before going on stage, we had a lot of questions about what it takes to get ready for a show. So we talked to a handful of professional singers to see how they prepare for a live performance and then gathered their answers into a list of helpful tips that are sure to get you fired up and ready for your next gig.

Dealing with stage fright

The consensus among the pros seems to be that while full-blown phobia-level stage fright might subside after gaining some on-stage experience. The light nerves and butterflies never fully go away though. There are many different ways to deal with the jitters. You can take a shot of whiskey or two before you grab the mic, you can picture the crowd naked, repeat a little confidence boosting mantra, etc. But all you really need to do is get out there and start the show. Most artists agree that the second they start singing, the butterflies just magically disappear.

From the Pro, Mary English Moore: “I think the best way to overcome stage fright is just to perform more and become comfortable with it! When you just start performing, you are always thinking “Am I going to forget something?” or “What’s going to go wrong?!” But as you get used to it, you’re able to just breathe and be really confident in what you’re about to do.  It will just become natural to you.”

Pre-show routines

Most performers have some sort of routine they go through before getting on stage. It can be a superstitious thing like wearing lucky underwear, or it can be something more practical like avoiding certain foods and refraining from activities that might strain the vocal chords. A great deal of our pros told us that they avoid dairy the day of a performance, and that they try not to eat an hour or so before taking the stage. They also stressed the importance of drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of sleep the night before a show.

From the Pro, Janel Stinney: “The first routine I do is warm-ups. For example, Vocal Exercises such as Mimics like firetruck sirens. Then I do the Melodic Scale: “DO RE MI FA SO LA TI DO” at different keys — tenor to alto all the way up to First Soprano.  Another routine I do is a nice stretch. I stretch my legs, my arms, my neck, my back, Just like you would before a morning jog. These routines loosen up the vocal cords and also get your body prepared to feel the music while you sing.”

Warming up

Across the board, our singers recommend doing at least 15 minutes of vocal warmup exercises before a show. A good warmup routine will not only ensure a better performance, but it can also help prevent unwanted strain or even damage to your vocal chords. The methods vary, but any warm up that puts your voice through its paces and hits your whole range from high to low will help you loosen up and feel more confident out there. Many pros also recommend some light exercise like jumping jacks or pushups to get your blood flowing right before you hit the stage.

From the Pro, Nat Jay: Firstly, I try and wake up early enough that my voice warms up naturally, especially for a daytime show, like a festival or press appearance. I try not to talk too much beforehand, and warm up slowly. I stretch out my upper body, from my ribs to my shoulders and neck. I also find it helps to take a really hot shower and breathe in the steam. I start with humming and gradually work to vowel sounds and other embarrassing noises. Then I run through some of the songs in my set, but not all, as I don’t want to tire out my voice.

Dealing with mistakes

No matter how seasoned you are as a performer, mistakes are bound to happen. The artists we interviewed have experienced everything from equipment malfunctions to backup singers who forgot the words, and all of them basically gave the same advice: when this sort of thing happens there’s really nothing you can do about it, that’s just the nature of live performance. It’s best to just keep smiling, keep singing and stay confident. If you panic and give up, it comes off as unprofessional. If you power through like the pro that you are, the audience will respect and support you no matter what.

From the Pro, Thomas Newton: Humility is everything. I mean artists fall off the stage, break legs, Dave Grohl is a perfect example. He broke his leg and refused to come off stage and had it put in a cast while he played the rest of the show. You have to realize that you are human and it’s better to make fun of yourself and admit it than to try and play it off like nothing happened. Especially in this modern media world we live in! If you screw up you better believe social media will find it and make everyone aware of it! So own up to it, be human and laugh about it!

Final tips for beginners

We asked our pros for their #1 tip for those who are just starting out, and all of them stressed the importance of perseverance. This is a tough business. It only rewards those who stick with it and keep plugging away through bad performances, low turnouts, and disappointments. Nothing is more important than experience, so get out there and do it. Keep doing it. That is the only way that you’ll find your unique point of view as an artist and begin to build a following. It isn’t always going to be easy, but if you have the passion the struggles will pay off.

From the pro, GypsHop: Remind yourself that you’re just starting out and every performance, good or bad, is more experience gained. Laugh at the mess ups and celebrate every accomplishment, if you continue to believe in yourself and stay committed to your craft then you will thrive.

About the Author: Wurrly is a free mobile app that transforms your smartphone into an on-the-go music studio with a customizable recording experience. Learn more at

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You made a good point that it’s best to prepare for accidents during live performances but if something unexpected does happen, it’s better to own up to it and not pretend that nothing happened. For the past two years, I’ve been helping out my best friend’s band prepare for gigs and recently they’ve been getting a large following in our local area. Maybe it’s about time for them to allot some budget to buy a portable stage that they can use for their performances.

HI Alice,
Thanks for your comment! Indeed, there are ways of handling any occasion in a live performance. I’ve seen people “work it into the show,” with tremendous results. What doe your friend’s band do to prepare for their shows?

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