7 Ways To Overcome Anxiety in the Studio
Anxiety during recording sessions is extremely common amongst both beginners and professionals alike. I’m always amazed at how many talented musicians I’ve encountered who absolutely kill it live on stage, but the moment they enter a recording studio they find the whole situation overwhelming and scary. Fear takes over and prevents them from giving the best of themselves.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry – there are a few very simple steps you can follow in order to make a recording session stress-free and fun, allowing your creativity to really shine.
1) It’s OK to Suck!
So many people hold back when recording because they are terrified of doing something wrong. News flash; everyone at some point will suck! No matter how experienced you are, at some point you’ll sing or play a bum note somewhere along the way 😉.
Laugh about it, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s ok to go wrong, it’s how we learn. Be open to sucking from time to time, it’s very normal and totally ok.
2) Mindfulness Exercises
Getting your mind in the right place when performing is so important, and that applies to both studio sessions and live performances. There are many wonderful visualization exercises out there and with regular practice the results are very noticeable. If you don’t know where to start with this, I highly recommend this book: Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner which comes with an audio CD containing multiple visualization exercises, created specifically with musicians in mind.
Also check out this fantastic blog: BulletProofMusician.com. There’s a ton of extremely helpful resources on this site, all of which are free, as well as an online course you can take.
3) Record a Rough First Take
This is something I find especially helpful when recording vocals, but I also do this with acoustic guitar parts. I record a first take of the song with the idea of it being a rough guide – it’s totally fine if I mess up or make mistakes, it’s not meant to be perfect.
The second take is the ‘real’ one. When recording this, I’ll have the first take playing along with the track. This makes me feel less self-conscious and not only gets that horrible first take out of the way, but the second time I feel as though I have someone singing / playing the part along with me, which I find grounding.
4) If You’re Uncomfortable – Say So!
It’s so important to communicate effectively in the studio; how you feel matters. If you’re not comfortable, it will be heard on a recording – especially a vocal track.
What do you need? A 5min break? Water? Less of a certain instrument in your headphones? Anything that will allow you to perform at your best is not unreasonable.
I’ve encountered many vocalists and musicians who get intimidated by a certain producer or engineer because of their status in the industry. Yes, there are a few who are offhand and not particularly accommodating (they are thankfully few and far between). From personal experience, I can tell you that 95% of producers and engineers I’ve worked with are extremely kind and want to be helpful and accommodating. Even if you don’t know the correct terminology, describe the issue as best you can. Don’t try and be macho and power through it – be humble and kind, you will get the same in return!
5) Practice at Home
Along with your mindfulness exercises, you can also practice the recording element yourself.
Every time you sit down to play – record it. There are many extremely affordable recorders on the market these days that are easy to use, or you can utilize your mobile phone. The idea of this exercise is to get so used to that red record button being hit, that it won’t even cross your mind during your performance. I know to some this may sound impossible, but I promise you, the more you do this the easier it will become! Try it, record absolutely everything.
Another important element of this exercise is to sit down and listen back to everything. This is another phobia people have when recording. Listen back and be kind to yourself. It’s very normal for people to not like the way they sound. I used to HATE listening back to my vocals (sometimes I still do! 😉), but I’ve gotten to a point where I’m personally detached from what I’m listening to and can be critical about my performance in a way that’s constructive and not destructive!
6) Only Use One Ear
This is something I find incredibly helpful – when I’m recording, 90% of the time I have my headphones only covering my left ear, the right I have open to hearing what’s going on in the room. It sounds like this wouldn’t make much of a difference, but I find it incredibly grounding as I can hear what is really going on acoustically rather than a processed sound coming through headphones. I also find it much easier to pitch notes when I’m singing.
If you want to try this technique be mindful of the audio from the track bleeding into the microphone from whichever side of the headphones you have uncovered. To avoid this, pan all the audio over to the side you need (either completely left or right).
7) Lots of People Hanging Out
I’ve been involved with a variety of sessions at recording studios where a ton of friends and family members have been hanging out in the control room while we’re recording takes (I had one occasion where I was trying to record a bass guitar part with basically a party going on around me!) and other times where the artist only wants band members present and no one else.
Some people take comfort in having their tribe around them, while others feel even more self-conscious and nervous when lots of people are just sitting in the back listening to what’s going on, or even worse, critiquing it while it’s happening.
Have a think about what works for you. It’s also extremely common for vocalists to want no one but the engineer to be there while they record their takes. There was one occasion where I had a girl who was so nervous that in the end I showed her the basics of Cubase and went to the local coffee shop to get some tea while she recorded her takes alone. Whatever works best for you is totally ok!