Are you playing it safe?

I’ve got a question for you. Artistically — are you playing it safe or truly going for it? I know, it’s an uncomfortable question. But one we all need to ask and answer. Think about the work you did in the past week. In the practice room, in rehearsals, in teaching, and in concert, what took courage? Are you daring yourself creatively — to skate on the edge, to let go, and let loose?

What gets in the way? Chasing perfection

Many performers grow up chasing perfection (I know I did). We work hard trying to control all the variables—so we can avoid mistakes. Unfortunately, this can lead to delivering reliable “correct” performances.

We color inside the lines. And all too often we end up with creditable and forgettable performances.

Chasing perfection doesn’t help us find our artistic voice or tap into creative flow. Why? Because when we aim for perfection we shut down spontaneity, exploration, and discovery.

Of course, we all want to perform well. But the goal we set for ourselves needs to be something greater than getting things “perfect.”

Perfectionism is a trap.

Playing it safe or truly going for it — What’s it going to be?

In the NEA Arts publication, The Art of Failure: the importance of risk and experimentation, writer Rebecca Gross interviewed soprano Janai Brugger who had this to say about perfectionism, risk, and fear. . .

“As artists, we strive to be perfect. I’ve had to really work on that to realize that I’m not perfect, and that all I can do is do the best I can. I find the challenge of particular roles, of particular reaches of my voice, will only make me stronger. If I keep hiding from it, then it’s never going to get better. Then I’m missing out on these amazing roles and characters that I could be playing, or pieces that could be absolutely perfect for me, because I’m allowing fear to dictate what I do. I can’t do that as an artist. I look at it as a great challenge. I’m finding that with these roles that I’m doing or being asked to do this year, it creates a pride and learning. It’s opened up a whole new world of repertoire.”

More help with getting past perfectionism HERE.

The other trap: seeking external validation

It all starts with trying to please our teachers and parents. We go on to seek external validation from our peers, from competitions, or landing a position or job. And we use the results to measure our worth, to bolster our fragile self-esteem.

That’s a recipe for never feeling good enough and never living up to our true potential. The alternative is to:

Find Your Artistic Voice

In teaching master classes, you can almost always get a much better performances out of students simply by asking them to really exaggerate their intentions. Most of us don’t realize we’ve been playing it safe, playing small. We don’t appreciate that to fully own our performances we need to go “all out,” and be far more demonstrative.

Take a stand: practice and perform with a real point of view—and make it YOURS.

So what would it take for you, artistically, to truly be going for it?

Here are a three suggestions:

1) Build artistic experimentation into your practice time.

Reserve specific time just for this. One new habit: challenge yourself to take a given phrase and find 3-5 strikingly different and convincing ways of performing it. Be surprised by what you can imagine and create.

Another way to stretch yourself: try playing or singing a section of a piece adopting an imagined alter-ego. Try on being a musician with twice the amount of courage you feel now. Play or sing a phrase or section in the guise of that person. See how performing “as if” changes your sense of artistic freedom and choices. Find what you’re capable of.

2) Book house concerts to use as performance labs.

The truth is, unless we’re touring, most of us don’t perform any one program enough times to find our own voice and truth in it. So we don’t have a chance to become skilled at being fully present and to risk expressing more.

So organize local house concerts. You can do these in conjunction with potluck dinners with friends. In these “lower stakes” performances, challenge yourself to take more risks artistically. Record these so you can see how close to the edge you can skate. Do these regularly to see how you can change over time.

3) Dare yourself to do the most important scary thing on your list each day.

Hint: it’s often the scary thing you’ve been avoiding.

The scary thing doesn’t necessarily have to be musical. It may be initiating an important conversation you’ve been avoiding. It may be sending an email, or starting a project, or signing up for a class.

The point is, you need to make using courage a habit so you can become the person and the artist you intend to be.

I made a pact to do this with my mastermind buddy Aga for 21 consecutive days. That’s how long it takes for something to become a habit. I’m finding I feel better about myself because I’m finally becoming the person who gets the scary stuff done. Find out for yourself what having a courage practice can do for you.

“This might not work” — the entrepreneurial artist mantra

I love Seth Godin’s recommended courage mantra: “This might not work.” It’s the acknowledgement that the work we’re doing is an experiment. That life and art are risky.

And that we choose to take the risk and put ourselves out there. Because we need to learn. As George Lucas says, “Failure is another word for experience.”

If we don’t risk, how will we ever find our edge? That magical place where creative flow happens.

If you want to make music with more creative freedom, with a real sense of discovery, you need to build your courage habit.

PS: One of the best things I did this past year was to start taking theater improv classes. I can’t even say how it’s changing me — as a speaker, as a coach, writer, and as a human — I only know it’s for the better.

And it’s embarrassing but I’d been recommending improv classes to my clients for years, knowing how helpful it is. But I felt like a fraud because I hadn’t done it myself.

Maybe I wasn’t ready. Or maybe I was just too chicken-shit scared.

In any case, I’m SO grateful to be doing it now. Because every week there are new challenges and new insights into human nature. But more than anything, improv shows me all the ways in which I hide. Improv takes courage.

Got questions about your music career? Hit me up in our exclusive Musicians Making It Facebook group — happy to have you join the conversation!

Let’s get your career in forward motion,

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