The Sensitive Performer’s Guide, #117: Contests

Posted: under Art, Creative Mom, Identity, Motherhood, Music, Performance, Songwriting.


Are you a performer?  Do you aspire to light up a stage, to delight and entertain?  I am here today to give you the straight scoop about an unavoidable part of your early career:  contests.  What could be more fun?  Amass an audience, assemble an array of performers, and let the cream rise to the top!  As a sensitive performer, I have learned a few things about the contest life.  Why, I did one just yesterday!

You may be a Performer of Steel, unruffled by new environments, unfazed by being shuttled along like cattle, unflappable amidst unfamiliar crowds, perfectly satisfied with the polite “Thank you!” that marks the end of your turn.  If so, this blog is probably not for you.  Today I will just write as if you are, like me, sensitive.  There is so much to say!  Here are some things that I have learned, and they may help you in your quest for greatness and the recognition you deserve.

1.  It’s SO Not About You!

Do performers put on competitions?  Of course not!  For one thing, we’re too busy trying to find audiences.  It’s generally non-performers–venue proprietors, radio stations, corporations that want to reach new customers–who rig up these deals.  If you enter a contest, you should know that you are one of a lineup, and you are not crazy if you find the experience a bit dehumanizing.  No one will be fussing over you and your specialness.  If you are sensitive, you should strive to do your best and remember that the process has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The organizers of the event are probably nice people, but they are not likely to be thinking from a performer’s perspective.  They are thinking about the logistics of processing a large number of performers and audience members through a successful event.  You, as performer, don’t want to be a pain.  So you should strive to meet all requests about being where you need to be at the right time.  But you should also be looking for the things YOU need.  Generally, it can’t hurt to ask:

  • Is there a room where you can warm up?
  • Is there a sound check?
  • If so, do you have a friend who can listen and help you sound your best?
  • Is there a quiet place to be calm?


2.  Conditions Are Harsh

It’s a bit comical:  the most fledgling performers are given the most challenging circumstances in which to vie for attention.  In a contest, you will often wait around.  A lot.  With a bunch of other people.  You will then be called up and, often, be given the chance to do one, two, or maybe three songs.  Often cold.  With unfamiliar acoustics and sound equipment.  You need to get your game on, ASAP.

But if you’re sensitive?  You might regress.  You may not successfully perform as well as you have been doing in rehearsal in your living room.  You can never predict how the vagaries of a live setting will affect you, and you need to learn to love that truth if you want to get the most from a contest setting.  The way to do that?

3. Set Your Own Goals
You need to set these yourself, for yourself, and give yourself kudos if you reach them, under stressful circumstances.  Your flops today can be the basis of your goals, and personal victories, next time.

Suggested goals might be:

  • just remembering and executing the songs (that really does count)
  • relating to the audience
  • improving tone, breath support, presence, emotionality, vibe, X, Y, or Z magical quality


4.  They Don’t Know You

Nobody knows if you’re a newbie, or if you have just rehabbed from a terrible accident, or if you’ve been nominated for the Grammy equivalent in Australia.  You’ll all be compared equally.  A few years back, I travelled to Nashville, away from my daughter for the first time in her life.  It was a huge endeavor to plan the trip, arrange school dropoffs and pickups, etc., etc.  In other words, it was a huge deal for me to just break out of Mommy mode and get to the contest.  One of the judges was, from where I sat, pretty harsh on me.  The good news:  he expected big things from me.  Bad news:  his bar was unrealistic for where I was, and it was a bit crushing.  That can happen.


5.  You Need A Recovery Plan

Just as your process begins with choosing material, trying to anticipate the performance conditions, and rehearsing, you need to plan your recovery.  Regardless of what happens at the contest, you first need to celebrate the fact that you took a chance, shared your talent, and believed in yourself.

I always know that exercise will get me back in a good place afterward.  The sensitive performer will de-brief afterward, either alone or with someone nice.  I do not recommend de-briefing with the nitpicky friend or relative.  Do that next week!

Ask yourself these questions:
How did it go?
How did it feel?
What went right?
Were there any trainwrecks?
If “yes,” how can you do better next time?
Did you receive any nice feedback?  If so, roll around in it.

and finally:

When is your next contest?

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