This story is over 5 years old.

Advice on Not Being Nervous on Stage

Brooklyn musician Jenny Owen Youngs has some advice.

In ‘Any Questions?,’ Brooklyn-based musician and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ obsessive, Jenny Owen Youngs takes questions from YOU and dispenses back some pearls of wisdom in the form of words/cat GIFs. Take it away, JOY…

Hey Jenny! I have been told that I am confident on stage, but when I'm not singing I have no idea what to say. Any tips on connecting with an audience?

Hey there, rock and roll pal. Imagine this: You’re off to see your favorite artist (PJ Harvey?) at your favorite venue (Bowery Ballroom in NYC obviously). You know that you MUST be imagining this because Bowery Ballroom is way too small for Lady Harvey… but you choose to suspend your disbelief and go along with my scenario. You’re very excited to hear your favorite songs performed live and to watch PJ interact with her band. You’re stoked to hear her banter, though you suspect she might be the brooding, silent type between songs. Now imagine that you get to the venue, the show starts, and what you see is a singer who seems uncomfortable. You were expecting a tigress, but the person on stage is hesitant, self-conscious. I’m willing to bet that imaginary you feels super weird watching this imaginary version of Harvey perform.


This is a purely fictional tale I’ve just told you. I picked PJ Harvey for my example because I cannot for the life of me imagine her being anything other than wholly confident, and trying to even picture the inverse made me feel pretty weird. What I’m trying to illustrate is that watching someone perform who seems uncomfortable just about exclusively yields discomfort for the viewer. Music is escapist (though I think the escape destination varies from listener to listener, which is part of what makes music so powerful). Given the option, I think 99.999% of people would choose to watch a performer who appears confident over a performer who does not. The purely non-scientific reason that I present to you is: it just feels better.

This is just ONE of many moves that only works if you’re CONFIDENT.

Now to circle back to your question… There are so many ways that a performer can communicate with a show-going crowd. Not all of them require speech. Perhaps your performance style falls into the bantering category; perhaps not. What I want to communicate here is that you have options. You don’t have to talk about yourself, you don’t have to talk about your songs, you don’t have to tell a funny story, you don’t even necessarily have to say “Hello, Cleveland!” There is more than one way to skin a cat, here “to skin” meaning “to engage with” and “a cat” meaning “an audience.” I encourage you to think hard about what makes you comfortable (talking vs. not talking, humor vs. seriousness, etc.) because I guarantee that whatever makes you feel most confident and comfortable is the thing that’s going to resonate best with an audience.


Jenny, I seem to have fallen for someone who is going through a divorce. This person has been married for four years and for two of those years, we have been friends. This person also says he has fallen for me. This is all very exciting and I would love things to progress to a real relationship, but is it a bad idea to try to pursue that right after he gets a divorce? I don't want to lose this person due to bad timing, and said person says they have been out of love with spouse for about a year. Halp!

Well HELLO, friend. I’m so glad we’re having this talk. Thanks for coming to me. Now listen up: FOR THE LOVE OF THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER, PROCEED WITH CAUTION!!

First of all, I think it’s important for me to say that you are not alone. A whole lot of us on planet Earth have been involved in one side or the other of a scenario comparable to yours, give or take a few clicks on the “intensity” scale. DON’T PANIC. I don’t have the hard data on hand, but my gut (not to mention my personal experience) tells me there are a whole lot of ways for this to go wrong… but that doesn’t mean it can’t go right.

Dig it: operating in the Forbidden Zone can be VERY EXCITING and VERY FUN. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at these two…

…having the time of their lives, all cozied up together under some random carpets after a satisfying roll in the… er… carpets. They sure look happy. But just moments after this frame (in the greatest television series of all time), things get a little less comfortable because Buffy is seized with regret when she starts thinking about the possible consequences of her actions (A slayer in love with a vampire?? AGAIN?!?!). It is natural, and it is certainly human, to pursue pleasure and happiness in the darndest of places. And Apollo knows we sure can’t choose who we fall for! But I want to urge you in this moment of excitement and longing to take many deep breaths and slow yourself down.

The guy you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy over (probably) isn’t an undead bloodsucker, and he (probably) isn’t currently being restrained from feeding on humans by some kind of chip inserted into his brain by a secret government organization of monster-fighters. But my point here isn’t about the moral ramifications of sleeping with a vampire. Rather, it’s that I think we as human beings can become so wrapped up in love that we lose sight of everything else. We are fools, and we rush in.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! I want to urge you to think very carefully about your next steps. I’m not Gandalf, I don’t know everything; it’s possible you could jump right into a relationship with this fella the moment the divorce papers are inked, and then live happily ever after. That course of action, however, seems pretty high-risk to me. Even if your beau-to-be has been out-of-love with his spouse for a year, he most likely still has a great deal of emotional untangling to do before he’s primed and ready for True Romance, Round Two. I urge you to take space from one another, and make rules to which you strictly adhere. You can figure out what’s right for you but I would suggest zero-to-minimal contact for three to six months following the divorce. In my thinking, this isn’t about you, or the combination of you and him. This is about his brain and heart mourning, healing, cleansing, and becoming new vessels for new love.

As for your concern about timing: I understand. You don’t want to miss out on what could be the great love of your life because you’re nervous about jumping right into things. Maybe you’re afraid that if you don’t act now, your dreamboat will sail away with some other lover whose bags are, like, totally packed. But if that happens, I think we can safely conclude this relationship would NOT have been the great love of your life. Trust me. If that special connection is there between you two, it won’t short-circuit after a few months of space.

Jenny Owen Youngs is a Brooklyn-based musician with a new EP, 'Slack Tide' coming out soon. Follow her on Twitter - @jennyowenyoungs