A steady heartbeat turns into the bass for a new song as I walk down the street. The wind transforms into a melody as it whispers through my hair and across my face. I love music. It’s crazy, like, for me, music is the answer. Every calling I have heard, every urge forward I have felt and every true accomplishment I have reached was rooted in music. Everyone likes music; some even speak it, that’s me. It’s everywhere I go and in every breath I take.
One problem, I have horrible stage fright. When I was attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, I was required to participate… clearly. They were basically just class presentations, but, I kid you not, I had an anxiety attack before every single entrance onto the makeshift stage at the front of the classroom. I’m talking tears and lightheaded vertigo from hyperventilation recuperation. It’s dramatic.
Over the summer, I was determined to fix that. After not being asked back for second year- tragic- I focused my attentions on my first love: music. I knew that in order for me to grow from my first failed acting experience and to continue cultivating my voice in music, I would have to start getting used to performing on stage without, well, dying. I was urged to start participating in open mic events and I did that. Living in Manhattan’s East Village made it a lot easier to transition from potato status to involved-young-adult-on-the-brink-of-career-entrapment status.
As a whole, the open mic scene is amazing. There is something transformative about baring your craft for a room full of strangers. You take a break from your school and work lives to enter a room, prepared to perform absolutely anything. When I first started, avoiding any sudden urge to stop breathing, it was just a matter of me sitting in a chair with my head down, my legs and voice shaking. Now, it’s the same, but with the added entertainment of hearing me fumble for ways to engage the audience. Most of my stage banter is just, me, apologizing to the audience for not being able to give anyone eye contact (not a good approach by the way, mine tends to be a cautionary tale more than like, advice or something).
After a while, I began to understand the journeys open mic events could take me on, or rather are already taking me on. I love playing music. Playing music while expecting a reaction, however, brings new stakes into the picture and makes me excessively uncomfortable on stage. What open mic has taught me, however, is that I am focusing on all the wrong things. What open mic does for an artist, especially an artist like me, is give them a platform to perform free of judgment. Seriously! Isn’t that, like, almost impossible to accept as real and possible. You. Will. Not. Fail. It’s not a concert, you didn’t ask people to show up and support you (I mean maybe you did, that’s a different story…super advanced in the training program).
What I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to go to Open Mic to give the performance of your life and start a music career, instead, you can go to explore your comfort zone. To perform beyond your set list and carefully constructed musical numbers and guitar riffs. It can be about trying out that chord progression that you couldn’t get the hang of in your room and do it out loud in front of people. It’s about giving yourself a moment to be okay with seeing your own progress. Give it the opportunity to be about being okay with not being perfect. Go on stage and pat yourself on the back even if what you had envisioned for the night didn’t include the back-up musicians at the venue to continue to play your song in the wrong key with the wrong vibe while you play through like a soldier – sorry, I had an interesting experience. It’s okay. That should, in fact, be the slogan for every open mic event: It’s okay. It’s okay to mess up and be free and be amazing.
I was given a real experience over summer performing at random venues. I met great musicians from around the world. I learned a lot about artists and how hard we work just to be heard. I learned a lot about myself and my music and my voice and about how to get out of the West Village if I’ve gotten lost. But most importantly, I learned that it’s okay. I actually crave the adrenaline rush of being on stage and coming off breathless. I dream about that moment when I get to bathe in the triumph of having braved mass judgment, one of my most crushing fears.
Music heals. It brings nations, cultures, and people of all backgrounds together. It defies language and color and national borders, the miles of ocean that separate countries. It flies above and around us, in the wind, in the slapping of rubber on a busy Manhattan sidewalk, the splash of water on concrete on a hot summer day, it’s in the laughter of pedestrian life. I encourage everyone to stop and listen to their world and later, maybe draw from the music of that moment and come to an open mic event and tell everyone about what you heard, what you saw. Tell someone how you heard the world. If you can’t sing it or play it, speak about it. I gotta be honest, it can get really weird sometimes, but embrace it. It’s okay.