She stood stock still, with the microphone stand held above her head with both hands like a trophy — and the crowd. went. wild.
And I thought to myself:
“Damn. What a difference 8 years makes.”
Last night I was with my husband and friend at a concert for a band I hadn’t seen in close to a decade: CHVRCHES.
(Pronounced “Churches”, but if you’re a fan of dad jokes like me, it’s pronounced “Chu-ver-ches”.
For the uninitiated – CHVRCHES did that song Clearest Blue that makes it into a lot of Netflix and HBO shows. You might recognize it!)
Performing for a Webcam =/= Prepared for Prime Time
Last time we saw them perform, they’d only truly made a mark on the indie scene for a year, maybe two — skyrocketing through the short-lived music blog notoriety pipeline, effectively catapulting the band and their lead singer Lauren Eve Mayberry into the stratosphere in record time.
Our friend had last seen them the same time we did, sometime in 2014, and as we compared notes ahead of the show, we realized we all had a bit of the same fear:
The last show had been a bit… well, stiff.
While we’d each enjoyed singing and dancing along, Ms. Mayberry was a bit anxious and jittery behind the mic, moving only to raise her fist or punch the air as she sang; her synth-friendly voice accompanied only by a keyboard and a backup track.
See, the meteoric rise of CHVRCHES in the indie scene gave birth a conundrum that hit a lot of bands in that genre in the early 20teens:
They were incredible to listen to, and great in the studio. But when it came to live performances, especially on the size stages that the demand for them warranted?
They were not what you may call “prepared”.
At least not in the way lifelong performers and traditional big-venue-fillers are taught to.
(Cut to: Britney Spears’ lifetime as a dancer, stories of Beyoncé having to sing while running as a kid to practice vocal control, and KPop trainees learning to sing while jumping rope for the same reason).
So Many Ways to “Fill a Stage”… Find Yours
It was a great lesson in the way talent alone doesn’t fill a stage, let alone a venue — and it created a number of live shows of that era (including concerts from bands like The XX, Alt-J, and so many more) that left patrons left saying to each other empathetically:
“I think they just need a little practice.”
So imagine my delight when last night, it became obvious CHVRCHES had learned to fill a stage.
And, while there was a full band, they didn’t fill the stage in the stadium pop way.
There was no highly skilled choreography, no backup dancers, no hype man, and no pyrotechnics.
Mayberry spun, to and fro, across the stage.
She interacted with her band and the audience, chattering and bantering in her Scottish lilt, raising hands and fists, which members of the audience eagerly mirrored at just the right moments.
And, during a particularly soaring musical swell, she took her mic stand in both hands and raised it over her head, swooping it back down to earth to finish her final refrain.
But what had changed most of all?
Getting in Your Reps
She hadn’t learned an elite dance routine, or poured thousands into elaborate costumes…
And she DEFINITELY wasn’t trying to be Beyoncé.
… But she just looked so at ease up there. Like she was having fun. And we, mirrors that audiences are, were having fun right along with her.
It was clear she’d gotten in the reps. She knew the audience was rooting for her, she knew it didn’t have to be perfect — but her job, as an entertainer, was to have a good time so we could have a great time too.
You likely know by now I’m a big believer in getting your reps in, in any creative category — and when it comes to visibility?
It’s not just helpful, it’s necessary.
The more you do it, the easier it gets.
When You’re Happy in Your Own Skin, It Shows
I’ve seen this in my own career too. The more I stood on stages, or jumped on podcast interviews, or spent time on video?
The less my hands trembled.
The less my adrenaline pumped.
The more present I became to the conversation I was having.
And the more I felt at ease, and enjoyed myself.
Because when you reflect on performing, it’s easier to think you need all the bells and whistles to make an impact.
But it’s actually the way you FEEL up there, and the attitude you bring, that seems to make the greatest impact.
We see this in standup comedy, too.
Comics spend years honing their acts and getting comfortable with crowds (AND succeeding and failing in public) so they can get on stage with just a shabby sweater, a stool, and a microphone, and entertain an audience for hours.
My speaking coach always told me “Your audience WANTS you to do well. Just trust that.”
I didn’t at first.
But I do now.
The More You Do “It”, the Easier “It” Gets
Humans love watching other humans enjoy themselves. We love watching people do what they do best. We love hearing candid conversations from people we respect.
So just remember, whether you’re getting your speaking back off the ground, pitching yourself for interviews, or in your practice getting comfortable on camera in an increasingly video-centric world:
The more you do, the easier it gets.
Worry less about the production value, the Perfectly Genius Content, the bells and whistles, or even your outfit…
… And focus more on getting comfortable with yourself, and how you respond to, and relate to the spotlight.
Then, watch your flow, your timing, your ability to articulate ideas on the spot, and your gift for having a good time up there get easier as YOU feel more at ease.
So that 8 years from now (hopefully less!) a fan of yours can be standing in the crowd and say:
“Damn. What a difference 8 years makes.”
Can’t wait to see you.
Easy does it,
Photo by Emily Bauman on Unsplash