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Stop Thinking

Stop thinking when you’re on the stage! I mean it.

If you’re standing onstage and thinking about what you’re going to say, where you’re going to move, what notes you’re trying to sing, what the lyrics are, how do you look – you’re in trouble!

Or here’s another one: there’s another singer or player in the audience, so you’re singing or playing to them. Or there’s a promoter in the audience, so you’re thinking about how they like what you’re doing.

Well, if you’re thinking onstage, then you’ve already lost.

Here’s the problem with “thinking” onstage. What are we usually thinking about? Ourselves! And we’re self-conscious.

This happens almost every time I go to a show and I’m backstage. Inevitably the artist sees me and says “any last words?” And all I can say to them is – love your audience.

I can’t tell them to move over here, create a moment there. There’s no time for anything more than the best quick advice I can give them. Love your audience.

So what does that mean? Well, it means you’re not “thinking” onstage. Because if you’re loving your audience perfectly, you’re thinking about them. In fact, you’re not even thinking about them – you’re just giving yourself to them.

It means you’ve left yourself behind. You know the story of the Garden of Eden. Whether you believe the story or not, it doesn’t matter. The point is the same. Adam and Eve, created, in the garden, were running around naked — do you know why they didn’t even know they were naked? Because they were perfect, loving each other, loving God, not being self-conscious.

That changed when they disobeyed and ate the fruit. They became self-conscious. Instead of thinking about each other, they started thinking about themselves, and they realized, “oh my gosh, I’m naked!”

We do the same thing onstage. Now I doubt you’re running around naked onstage, but we do it when we say “oh no, that person’s looking at me funny,” “how do I sound,” “how do I smell,” “how do I look,” “the guitar player’s looking at me weird.”

We’re thinking… about ourselves. And it needs to stop.


Tom Jackson

Tom is uniquely talented and skilled at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience; helping artists at every level create a live show that is engaging and memorable, teaching them to exceed their audiences' expectations and to create fans for life. Tom has taught indie and major artists of every genre. He has worked with Taylor Swift, Le Crae, Home Free, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, The Band Perry, Francesca Battistelli, Jars of Clay, & many more. Tom also teaches at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.

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Greenroom Comments


    Yes, i call this the “fig leaf factor”‘
    Like Adam and Eve, our fig leaves appear.

  2. John Peacock says:

    Very true.

    I’ve found that when I’ve drifted off into a reverie of one kind or another, I end up *not being onstage at all* – I come to, a couple of seconds later, completely lost. The song continues fine, I suppose, if you don’t mind music being played by a robot.* But it’s always seemed to me to be very important to actually be on the stage (rather than just sending my body along, while I go off into a fantasy world.)

    And audiences can *see* one thinking, it’s really difficult to hide. And it does seem to put people off (speaking as someone who’s struggled with furrowed-browed-ness my whole life).

    And thinking is so *slow*. If a magical moment comes along (the once-in-a-blue-moon-out-of-no-one-quite-knows-where ones, rather than the ones we can practise and plan for) and we rely on thinking to recognise and act on it, by the time our brains have formulated a plan, the moment’s packed up and left town. And probably settled down and had kids, thinking is that slow. That’s what instinct and preparation are for, and thinking gets in the way of that.

    (Although for occasions like voting, or responding to someone who’s trying to sell you a bridge, thinking is excellent.)

    *(Actually, I kind of like music played by robots, but in an intimate performance context robotics is probably a Bad Thing.)

  3. Another great post Tom!

  4. Dana Russell says:

    In that last paragraph you described my biggest problem. I’ll be going along great, just loving the crowd, and all of a sudden I catch someone looking strangely at me and all kinds of junk starts running through my head from “What did I do?” to “Did my zipper become unzipped?” And when I start thinking that junk my program falters, my timing gets off, a note goes flat, or I even forget a word in a lyric that I’ve sung 500 times. Sometimes I can quickly find a smiling face to sing to a get back on track to just giving instead of thinking, but it is not always easy.
    The other distraction I often get, is when one of my songs touches someone so much that they start tearing up. That can happen when singing in a church setting almost without warning. When it happens, I many times start tearing up too, and it’s extremely hard to stay on pitch or even breathe correctly when I’m trying to keep from sobbing as I sing.
    Not thinking about me is definitely the hardest part about being on stage. At least for me.

    Dana Russell

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