Episode 42 – Sing Like No One’s Listening

We all know the feeling. Our voice sounds great in the practice room, only to fall apart when we go to sing in front of others.

How can we get the same confidence we feel when singing alone?

How can we sing like no one’s listening?

This question comes from a listener of the podcast, and John gives his unique perspective on having a fearless mindset.

The greatest gift of singing is in the sharing.  Don’t let fear and nerves keep you from bringing joy to others.

Listen to this episode and get on that stage!


Episode Transcription

Episode 42 – Sing Like No One’s Listening

Hey there! This is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist.

Oh, man. My tongue does not want to pronounce the word ‘intelligent’ today. That little opening where I said you’re listening to Episode 42 actually I had to do more than once because apparently, my articulators have decided it’s a free day, and they don’t need to work as precisely or as hard as I would like them to. If I mumble or trip over my words on this episode, well it’s like any other episode, but it’s just might be a little worse today.


Speaking of today, we are going to talk about confidence. And this comes from a listener, I hope I got the name right, Taysia. I apologize if that’s not right. Anyway, she’s a new listener to the podcast, apparently loves it and been listening non-stop, but she wants to know about how to sing with more confidence. And as she put it, and I love this, how to sing like no one’s listening. Much like I do with this podcast, I pretend no one’s listening, and this is the end result.  Anyway, that’s a great way to look at it, and that’s very very hard for us to do. So this question of confidence; Where do we get confidence? How do we increase confidence?


Number 1: Again, I recommend my friend Michael Goodrich’s podcast the Inner Singer, for a lot of mindset on singing. He has some wonderful stuff over there. But I’ll give you my spin on it here.

First of all, confidence comes through the doing. As a teacher of mine once said, “The only way around is through.” In other words, you can’t get to confidence without going through some of the pain of non-confidence. It’s experiential. And you have to get up and you have to perform, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, and you have to fail a little bit, and you have to learn from that. That is part of the equation.


The other part of the equation is STUDY. I talked a few podcasts back about stop studying and get out there and perform. And that is part of the equation, the confidence equation. Again it’s the performance, and the risk-taking, and the failing. But the study is also a part of it because if you give yourself a solid, grounded, fundamental technique, in order to make the sounds you need to make. Again, that’s a distinction that I make as a teacher. I believe you need to learn, at a minimum, to make the sounds you need to make on a consistent basis in as healthy manner as possible. And that’s really it. Everything else is just gravy.


So if your style of music is just kind of breathy, atmosphere, moaning-in-your-chest voice over some trippy sound samples, you don’t need to work your upper register like a maniac. But if you’re trying to get on Broadway, yes, you need to work your voice differently. So you got to get the technique because that’s what’s going to help give you the confidence. It comes from being solved.


But let’s say that you’ve been putting in the work. And that your technique is getting pretty good, and you’re in the practice room, and your singing. And man, that song came off pretty well. And you’re getting the tough notes consistently, you’ve dialed the menu feel. And then you go and you get in front of someone or you’re in a pressured situation of an audition, or you simply turned on your phone and you want to record this to post online. And all the skills you’ve built seem to just suddenly vanish. It has taken a holiday much like my tongue, and you don’t know what to do. You go back to the practice room and then you come back, and it just falls away again. You have vocal issues once again. And the gap there is very very hard to close. So what do you do?


Well, again, you need to be in those situations more and more and more. The more you do them, the more comfortable you will get. But the main part of that equation is, why are you starting to fail? And there is likely a change in the inner dialogue which you were having with yourself. And the inner critic starts to really raise his or her ugly head. And this inner critic can cripple you. It can sidetrack you, it can take your dreams and squashed them, because your inner critic will rob you of the ability and drive to do what it is you most want to do.


Our hopes and dreams usually have some amount of risk involved. And our big hopes and dreams are things that the average person doesn’t accomplish. That’s why they’re big hopes and dreams. You don’t hope and dream about paying your water bill or about going grocery shopping or driving to work. These are all things that all of us can do, these tasks. Your hopes and dreams are going to put you if you finally take the steps to achieve them, and most don’t. But as you take steps to achieve your hopes and dreams, they’re going to put you in very risky situations. Not necessarily physically risky, but it can be financially risky, but even more so, emotionally risky. And it is the fear of others’ judgment that really begins to cripple us.


The judgment itself is a painful thing. But the fear of it is just horribly crippling, that it infects us. And as you go to sing, as you’re doing great, when you turn on that camera, what you’re doing is you are inviting others now to observe. And when others observed, what comes with that is their opinion and their criticism, and their likes and dislikes. And I will tell you from experience, it’s more pleasing to have someone like you than dislike you. And every time I put something out, whether it’s a podcast or a product or a blog post, I open myself up for criticism.

And I have received criticism. Sometimes I take it better than others. And I really pride myself – there was a recent incident where I put something out there and I was really feeling good and confident, and I actually kind of said to the universe, “You know, throw some criticism at me. I can take it.” And Man, I got something really nasty from a peer that just threw me. It was like a kick in the head and it took me right down. And it literally stopped me for a couple of weeks. I was kind of on a roll of putting stuff out and feeling good about it, and this incident just really made me stop and get self-critical. And there came the doubt, and there came the pain of being judged, all of these things. And you know, the nastiness aside, it’s one of those things that you need to learn to handle. You either ignore it or you find ways to learn from it and then compartmentalize.


I was recently working with a very high profile client, and he had just a project come out. And the collaborator said to him, I happened to be in the room, and the collaborator said, “Wow! We just got this really great review. Do you want to hear it?” And this high profile person said, “I don’t read or pay attention to any of this.” And that is the way that he deals with this, and that is something to consider. But the bottom line is, the criticism is going to be there, the judgment is going to be there. He chooses not to read it. I’ve dealt with celebrities and certainly read about celebrities that will not read their reviews or criticisms, or even watched their own work. Johnny Depp, I think, he’s famously never watched one of his own films.


So you have to find the way to deal with it and you also have to learn to not care. Others’ opinions, I believe I’ve said this before the podcast and I think I’ve read articles to back this up – I kind of think that I made this up but I know I didn’t – but in my thinking, if you think about many thousands of years ago, when our very survival meant being part of a group, of a tribe, being shunned or cast out meant almost certain death from the elements, from predators, enemies, and such things. So we needed the group for our very survival. And these needs , wants and fears exist in out primitive brain through hard-wired.


So now in the modern world the fear of being judged or cast out is very real. And it almost feels as scary as being sentenced to death sometimes or is painful, because we don’t always control that part of our brain. It gets in and messes with us in the modern world. Our brains have not yet adapted to the world that we live in. And so, as people go and they troll in social media and they do all of these horrible things that they think are funny, it’s really devastating to the person that’s being pointed at. And when you go to get on stage and perform, those fears can become very real unless you learn to deal with them.


So, one of my best pieces of advice that I’ve ever been given was, when you go to perform, you need to look at the audience, or you can mentally look at the audience or the people who are going to be sitting in judgment of you at the audition or those people who are going to be listening. And you need to say this, and when I send my podcast out it’s what I say to myself – so here’s what I say to you, the listener, and here’s what you say to your listeners:

“This is what I do, and I give you full permission to like it or not like it. And I really do. I have to give you permission to not like what I do. You have that right anyway, I can’t control it. I can’t take that away from you, I can’t force you to like it. So you have my permission to not like it. It’s okay. And it’s okay, for me, for you to not like it.” If I could make that sentence anymore confusing, but you really need to come to that head space.


And so, you don’t get to the place where you sing like no one’s listening. You sing like everyone’s listening, and everyone’s judging. But it’s okay. You don’t mind because you just have to what it is you do. And when you’re very authentic, when you take risks, and you really become yourself, here’s the beautiful that’s going to happen – you will get people who do not like you. I promise you. And some of them will be vocal.


I don’t know the psychological reasons for trolling. I think we all have little trolls within us. I don’t believe everybody who trolls is horribly jealous or twisted or messed up. At some level, yes, they do become. But when people leave nasty comments, I think they just entertaining themselves or in a bad mood. Oh my gosh, there was a song that came on the other day and I was trying to do some work, and it was playing in a distance. And this guy was singing about going to Boston, I don’t even know, and it drove me nuts. I’m like, I got to find the speaker and just destroy it. I couldn’t take it in that moment. But there are people I’m sure that love that song. It might be a very good song. But just the way it was presented to me, I couldn’t stand it. So in that moment, I was an inner troll. I was like a nasty little troll who just wanted to make that song stopped. We all have it within us.


When somebody says something nasty about you, that doesn’t mean they’re horrible person. They may just be having a horrible day. It’s your reaction to it that is everything. You’re not going to control that. But what’s going to happen, going back from my meandering, is people aren’t going to like it. But Man, the more authentic you are, the more you give people permission to not like it, you’re going to find people who do like it. And everybody has their potential following, your potential fan base. You really do. There are going to be people who just really respond to what it is that you do and how you do it.


Even in my industry, I have seen people where they have rabid followers. And I’m sometimes surprised by it. You know, sometimes, in my opinion, I think they’re rather good, and there are others that I think are not. And information like a little dicey or not well presented, or I even think that person might be a little nuts. But Man, do they get their followers, and these people really enjoy learning from them. And so it is with singers and performers.


The people who are at the top of their industry – if you think about it, I know we complain about this, but think about this – are the most well-known performers, the best performers, the best singers, the best players. No, they’re not. But there are people who know how to connect. And there are ultimately people that have found a way to deal with the fear of criticism, with that primal fear of being cast aside from the tribe. And because they can do that, they are able to put it out. And those that love them, love them for it. And I know right now, you can think of more than famous artists that you can’t stand. You can’t stand their music, you can’t stand their voice, whatever it is that they do is just not your deal. But there are others who absolutely love it. And you can think of your favorite artists, and there will be those can’t stand it. I still, and this is just my own bias as someone who, of a certain age, grew up with the Beatles. But when people just say, “I don’t like the Beatles or I don’t get the Beatles”, I can’t comprehend it. However, they don’t like them. People don’t like the Beatles. I don’t understand it. It’s kind of not liking air, but that is their right. And I don’t think Paul McCartney is losing sleep over it.


So, here’s what I want you to do. If you’re feeling that fear if you’re feeling that judgment, you have to take a few steps.

Number one, you got to work your voice, you got to work your instrument, to the point where muscle memories dialed in and these notes become instinctive. And they will be there unless there is extreme nervous issue going on. Getting completely rid of nervousness is not going to happen. And performers will tell you a little bit of stage fright, if you will, just to get a little bit of butterflies to get the adrenaline going, is a welcome thing. But it’s something you obviously want to be able to control. But your voice can’t fail because of that. It can’t fail because of stress. You got to work your voice.


Number two, you got to put yourself in those situations and you got to allow yourself some failure. Nobody was as good when they first started as they are now. If you look at some your favorite artists, their earliest work, especially if you can get a hold of their demos before they got signed, is not going to be as good as the albums they produced at their peak. It just isn’t. it takes time. Their performances aren’t going to be as good, nothing is as good. But, they didn’t stop. They put themselves out there. They kept going.  Even myself, I can look back on some of my first blog posts versus ones that I wrote later, and it’s like, Wow I actually got better at these. I got better at communicating. I don’t think my first blog posts are necessarily that great, but I had to put it out there. I had to learn, and I had to learn from experience. So you got to put yourself out there.

Number three, you got to give people permission to not like you. It’s okay. And you have to find a way to deal with the criticism, whether you ignore it, whether you choose to read it and learn from it. Whatever it is, you have to accept it. It’s part of it. If you want to avoid criticism, okay I’m going to give you the secret to never having to face criticism and to never face this nervousness and to never face this fear of rejection. Are you ready? Quit. Just stop. Because if you sing and if you perform, and if you put yourself out here – and singing is the rawest way to put yourself in front of others – I mean people are paying to see you because you’re going to dig deep and expose yourself. And you’re going to be vulnerable, and you’re going to take risk. That’s artistry. So if you don’t want to take those risks, then it’s not for you. Be a hobbyist. That’s okay, you know. Get a karaoke machine and entertain yourself. It’s great. It’s fun. There’s nothing wrong with having that as a hobby.


But Man, if you want to perform, if you want to do this for others, if you have dreams to go any further than that, then this is part of the gig. I have to tell you.  This is part of it. You got to accept it, you got to saddle up, you got to put on a bit of your brave face. Yes, sometimes you get knocked down a little bit. It’s okay. Keep yourself a day or so. And then get back up. It is part of the journey, it is part of the beauty. And the other part of getting knocked down is when you get back up, you’re going to get a little stronger. And you’re going to learn from it because you’re going to have the experience. And you will get better at this. I promise. Just have a little patience and a little perseverance.


Hey, I want to thank you so much for listening. If you enjoy my rumblings you can always check out my website JohnHenny.com.  And if you are interested in studying with me, you can go ahead and reach out there. You can just click on the Lessons tab, and my front desk will be in touch with you. I don’t do as much teaching these days but I’m always interested in meeting and working with people who are dedicated, even at various levels.


If you think we’d be a good fit, if you enjoy this podcast, if my style works for you, I mean, I’ve met some great great people through this podcasts that have found me that way. And I’ve found that if you’re a fan of what it is that I do here, the lessons tend to clicked really well.  And they started kind of quicker because the person comes in knowing where I’m coming from, and they already kind of see how I can help them. So it’s just going to be a beautiful benefit. So you can go and check it out there.


And until next time. To better singing. Thank you. Bye.