Developing a performance persona

For many of the artists I coach, developing an alternative version of themselve can enhance both their performance and the experience in many ways.

When performing in front  of an audience, whether  it’s your production team,the studio, a crowd  in the local pub,  or a sea of  fans at the O2  Arena, it’soften helpful to consider how much of your alter ego is going to be needed.

A number of performers find it much  harder to perform in the studio because  of the environment’s intimacy, typically  bringing either their “normal”  selves o their superstar alter ego instead of an appropriate balance of both. Similarly,how many times have you seen an overly dressed and choreographed performance  at your local pub  leaving you and  the rest of  the audience overwhelmed?  Knowing what amount of alter ego  to bring with you to  the mic can make the  difference between an excellent performance and a disastrous one. So how can you gauge the right amount?

First, it’s important  to identify the  everyday you. Sit  down and think  aboutwhat allows you to function as a normal person. For many performers this “everyday you”  is quite a  shy person who  needs protecting. Without  thiseveryday person, the performer alter ego cannot learn lyrics, get to gigs and do all those other day to  day jobs the “star” doesn’t  do. The star needs to  know that the everyday person is with them  at all times dealing with all the  “small stuff”.

Next, take some time to think about what qualities the performer requires in thevarious  performance environments. The studio  is often  best balanced  with  little bit of the everyday you and a little bit of the star. Consider  carefullyhow this person would best perform. Do  they need to be relaxed? If so,  lookat where your shoulders  are when recording.  Are they nice  and loose? Check  your breathing before you start recording  (nice deep, long, slow breaths),  and look to see if the muscles in your jaw  are tight or soft (think of your jaw  muscles melting and keep breathing consciously as you do this).

Other factors to consider: What will the producers notice about you? How are you walking? Is your head up  or down? Are you dressed  in normal clothes or do  you need a little bit (or all) of your star wardrobe? Think about what others need to see in you to feel confident you are doing your job, it will help you work out what level of alter ego you require.

I often use the following method with my clients.

Imagine a volume button that goes  from 1-10. This button controls the  level of alter ego you can dial up.

0-3 = the everyday you
3-5 = studio you
5-7 = small gigs and press interview you
7-9 = bigger venue shows you.

Hold back before reaching for a 10. Perfection is too big a burden to carry  and one that is affected by many factors out of your control. (This is a whole other topic I spend time coaching artists and performers about.)

Expertise will eventually come effortlessly along with experience and practice  check out how laid back and relaxed veteran performers appear.

As you begin to think about your next performances plan roughly where your alter ego volume level needs to be set and what you are doing at each volume frame.

Things to consider when determining the perfect volume of alter ego:

1. Environment – where is the performance?

2.  Behaviour  – what  exactly  are you  doing?  E.g. studio  recording/acoustic set/live radio performance?

3.  Capabilities  –  how  are  you  doing  all  of  this?  You’ve  prepared with
rehearsals, but did you get to bed early the night before? Have you drunk enough water? Have you used some slow breathing exercises to become consciously relaxed?

Always think about  what you need  to prepare in  advance. Every environment is different.

4. Why are you doing this? – Have you thought about your message and the experience you want your audience to have? Is your goal to get everyone dancing? Are you trying to get an important message across? If you want to sell a lot  of records, it’s important you know why  you want to perform. Desire for  money and fame alone are not enough.

5. What  level of  alter ego  is necessary?  – This  is where your volume button comes in handy and can be tuned according to the environment you are working in, e.g. you could be John/ Jane at  0-3 when writing or rehearsing but by  the time you are preparing for a much bigger gig you might need to be Super John/Jane at 7-9

6. Consider your purpose – is there a greater good to what you are doing? How is your music and voice going to change the world? If you were to write a review of your performance, what would you like it to highlight?

Here are some examples  of attributes a few  of my clients expressed  they would like:

• A strong connection to the audience – this normally comes from wishing to give fans a great experience and being conscious of their participation and enjoyment.

• Being  authentic –  this is  a result  of being  aware of  the normal  you and
appreciating this you who makes everything possible for the star performer.

•  Singing  well  –  this occurs  through  practical  preparation,  like singing
lessons, warming up and sufficient practice and rehearsals.

• Relaxed and in the moment -this takes a bit of conscious practice. I recommend that when you realise you are doing something well, take a moment to see how you are  behaving, what  you are  doing, thinking  etc at  the time.  This could  be anything in everyday life e.g. cooking, yoga, playing football, etc. Figure  out why you are doing it well and take notes. It’s very likely because you are in  a state of subconscious competence. Take a  picture in your mind of how  your body is behaving. Even when involved in sport a person will notice that their body is actually  quite relaxed.  This is  because they  are allowing  themselves to do something without thinking about it consciously.  The body just knows  what to do. Ensure  you practice performing enough to let this happen when you sing.

A number of my clients like to use  anchors to remind them of how much of  their alter ego is required. They do this by considering all of the above and,  gently pinching their index and thumb  together whilst imagining they are  breathing in the volume level of the character.

Some clients spray a bit of scent in the air (which they take  with them  to the  show or  studio) the  smell brings  them back  to that performance headspace. Others use crystals or even the simple tug of a necklace.

Another tip I’ve picked up over the  years is to think about the star  performer
in you, and also imagine an animal with strengths you admire. How does it  walk? How does  it move?  A favourite  is a  panther. Think  about another animal that shows  beauty,  grace, a  lot  of confidence,  and  is able  to  relax easily  – peacocks, gazelles, and even  the domestic cat often  pop up for this.  Now walk around  with all  of these  qualities inside  of you  with your  head up  whilst breathing in these qualities, to anchor yourself.

There are many ways to enhance your performance. I hope some of these ideas will give you food for thought.

My  top tip  is to  really practice  the art  of relaxation.  For many  years I
couldn’t understand why so many top performers would get stoned or drink heavily before a show and continue to do so. Over the years this has been linked to  the identity of pop stars (“it’s rock  and roll”) but actually this is  about trying to  enter  a relaxed  state.  However, the  damage  these substances cause can manifest in very negative and even lethal ways.

Learn, practice  (it really  does make  perfect), keep  breathing, relax,  trust
yourself, and most of all enjoy the experience. When you’re done, pinch yourself again as a reminder to yourself for the next time.

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