Nerves Lead to Success

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Them: “When will I stop being nervous at the start of a gig?”

Me: “NEVER!!  And that’s a good thing.”  

Anatomy of pre show nerves 

When I started writing this post I was also in the middle of preparing for a gig at Carnegie Hall, NYC.  My production company, Ferro Productions, was hired to capture a new musical performance, Super You

Although the show is very complicated for performers, musicians, sound and light, the capture for us is pretty simple, four cameras and small switcher station.  The camera positions are, two left / right slash positions, and two cameras center in the back of house. The switcher is being used as a “camera QC” and to grab a rough-cut for the post production editors. 

Adding that basic set up to my 30 plus years of mega show production, you’d assume I wouldn’t have to focus on the production details to maybe a few days before.

NOPE. That’s not how it works.

The details of this project have been popping in and out of my head for months, as if this was the first time I’d ever done this. I’ve been mentally walking through every stage of the event’s production for weeks.

I typically start formulating my production check list backwards. I start thinking about what I want the final product to be and then work my way backwards towards concept development. I isolate every aspect of the project and detail what will be needed throughout the process. Those steps cover, personnel, gear, transportation, crew talent level, etc.

As I get closer to show day, the nerves really start kicking in. Even though this is a basic set up and I’ve gone over the details a dozen times, I still find myself mentally and physically “walking” through every small detail of every aspect of my responsibilities. 

I do my best thinking while I pace around my office or house completely unaware of my surroundings or people trying to get my attention.  That’s the physically walking I just mentioned.

During my “walk about” I go over and over the mental check list I’ve been developing for weeks. As I get closer to the show all unrelated issues of my life get pushed out of my mind.

I become completely preoccupied with the gig. It’s now three days out the “NERVES” start to show themselves; twitchy stomach, I forget to eat and then the big ones hit, The Questions, “why am I doing this gig?” “it’s not worth the anxiety”, “I just want to doing something that’s relaxing”, “this career sucks”. hahaha

Remember I’ve done much bigger and more complex gigs for a long long time!

Intellectually, I know things might go sideways but at this point in my career I can react and adjust to almost any unexpected problem (s).  You’d again think, knowing that you possess those skills and have those experiences that knowledge would deliver you from the “NERVOUS” prior to the gig.


So why do I still get these nervous symptoms on a simple four camera shoot? 

The answer is simple… I care. 

I care about my client’s show. 

I care about the time, effort and passion my client has put into their show. 

I care about bringing my A game.

I care that the people working with me, are relying on me to have all the bases covered.

Most importantly, I hate coming up short.

Has it happened, “coming up short”?  Yea… more times than I’d like to remember. 

Have those times killed my career or caused me to quit? Obviously not.

Those times keep me “honest”. 

Meaning I don’t get too full of myself. I never start thinking I don’t have to get too concerned about a gig because it’s simple.

My concern about details and running through the check down list has become such a part of my personality that I find myself using it in every aspect of my life.

Family is going down the jersey shore for the day? I start walking through all that we will need weeks before and begin putting aside our essentials.

Going to take the dogs for a hike and swim in the mountains? Yup, did my mental preparation walk through the night before, dog leashes, tick spray, towels for the car, my water shoes, etc. haha

Is this obsessive behavior?  Ha Maybe? But it sure makes the massive amount of responsibilities my professional job demands much easier.

Finally, everybody has to develop a system of strengthening themselves while preparing for the gig and the inevitable moment when the gig goes off the rails.

You should never worry about a complete and unrecoverable crash. Just go in knowing you’ve prepared to the best of your abilities and you’re ready to adjust when needed.

If in the end you don’t think you hit a hundred percent, no worries, lick your wounds, give yourself some time to recover, learn from you mistakes and make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes next time.  There is always a next time!

These are my basic 10 methods of preparing for a gig and managing the “NERVES”.

  1. Since I have a deep belief in my faith my first go to is to lean into that.
  2. I think about other people dealing with life circumstances much worse than this gig.
  3. I try minimizing the actual impact this instance will have on my entire life.
  4. I think about other times throughout my life that I thought I was facing a critical life moment and retrospectively it didn’t have that impact.
  5. I try distracting myself with reviewing each step rather the focusing on the whole gig.
  6. Don’t spend too much time thinking about all the things that might happen and what the solutions will be.
  7. Balance your mental walk throughs by recognizing where you will might need some work arounds but don’t get caught dwelling on each issue.
  8. Know that your instincts and past experiences will kick in when needed.
  9. Know that there are several ways through or around problem. Pick one and go. Doesn’t work? Pick another and go. Eventually, you’ll break through.
  10. Lead or follow depending what is needed at the moment. They are both valuable and necessary.

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