Confidence - Build It, and They Will Come

As a musician, confidence is often your greatest ally whether you're playing live, writing, recording, or auditioning for the bass player's job in Pearl Jam. A confident musician is usually a successful musician, especially when that confidence is obvious to everyone the musician might meet. Confidence can be used as a springboard to taking more chances and assuming greater risks, with the possibility of even greater musical (and financial) rewards. In contrast, a musician lacking in self-confidence has a enormous disadvantage, since it usually leads to performance mistakes, uninspired compositions and a tendency to avoid competitive situations, like auditions.

Did you ever wonder where confidence comes from? How is it possible to have confidence at times, and suddenly lose confidence at critical moments?

The answer to both of the above questions might become clear if we first examine what confidence is. A problem many people have with the concept of confidence, is they think that it's something they have (like a wallet), and that it's possible to lose it (like losing your wallet). Once it's lost, they have to somehow find it or acquire it, in order to have it again. Listen, with that type of understanding of confidence, it's no wonder that musicians lacking confidence have a very difficult time feeling sure of themselves about anything ever again. They're sure they lost their confidence somewhere, and they're not sure where to go, or what to do, to find it.

Understand this: confidence is not something you have. Confidence is something you create. Once you build it or create it, then it's something you feel that has a very definite and noticeable effect on your personality and on the way you're perceived by others. Confidence is not a possession, like your wallet, because if you lose your wallet, can you just create a new one, using only your mind, or by moving your body? Not likely. However, self-confidence can be created or built up at anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and once its been created has a very powerful and positive effect on your life.

Let's get back to one of our original questions, where does confidence come from? The answer is that it's created in our brains, but it's important to remember that it's not always a conscious effort on our part that creates confidence. Sometimes, the events in our lives, or the people we come in contact with have a large part in assisting our brains to create self-confidence. For example, you might have written and recorded five songs that you have some mixed feelings about. You like them, but you just don't know if they're really any good (whatever that means). So you play them for a group of friends, and they just rave about them. They tell you that your songs are great and you need to get them to radio as soon as possible. More than likely, in this situation, you'll begin to have a very confident feeling about your abilities as a songwriter. The doubts you had earlier have been erased, and you'll take actions now that you might not have taken before, like shopping the songs to radio, publishers, or record labels. In addition, you'll probably approach your next songwriting session with an extra level of energy, fueled by the confidence created by the acceptance of your songs.

Can you imagine what your confidence level might build to if you did send those five songs to a music publisher, and they told you that three or four of the songs are possible hits? Or, how would you feel if one of your five songs actually became a hit? The answers to questions like these are obvious and universal, but it demonstrates that without really trying, your self-confidence can be built by nothing more than the encouraging words of others, or more explicitly, by actual success.

But it's also true that if confidence can be built through the positive words and feedback you get from other people, then confidence can be broken down by the negative comments and criticisms of family members, musicians, and music critics. If confidence can be created through success, then it also can be destroyed by failure. In general, a lowering of self-confidence can occur slowly, almost imperceptibly, over a period of time, leaving someone without even a possible explanation as to how they went from feeling self-confident to expressing doubts about everything.

Our goal here is to find ways to create confidence which don't depend on the words of others, or rely on actual successes. It's necessary for a lot of people to be able to create confidence at will in order to ever achieve their first success, and they may have to do it in opposition to everyone they're close to. And as easy as it is to tell yourself to ignore the harsh or brutal critiques of the music press, it's not very easy to actually do. Therefore it's important to be able to recognize the effects that external events will have on your confidence, and not ignore them, but realize it's time to rebuild your confidence as quickly as you can.

For many, it's difficult to understand how confidence can be simply created. Don't you have to know how to handle a given situation, in order to feel confident in your ability to succeed? Don't confident people always know what they are supposed to do before they do it? Those two questions underlie a big myth about confident, successful people -- that they always know what they're doing before they do it. These people would be the first to tell you that they frequently had no idea about how they were going to accomplish all their goals when they started. It's true -- if you had to know everything about something in order to do it, it would be impossible to innovate, break new ground, or move into a new area for yourself. A lot of times, all these people had was the confidence that somehow, some way they would figure out how to achieve their goals. They didn't let their lack of knowledge and their lack of certainty about the outcome keep them from starting along a new path towards success.

How can you create confidence, especially when it seems you have none? One big source of confidence for most people is how they carry themselves physically, both how they move and how they speak. If you had to describe a person lacking in self-confidence, you might describe someone who moves slowly or talks with hesitation or uncertainty. They might appear worried. They might talk with a very quiet voice. They might stand or sit in such a way as to take up as little space as possible. They might tend to avoid eye contact, especially when talking with someone they feel inferior to. Compare that to how you might describe a confident person - talks rapidly; talks with excitement in their voice; moves quickly; stands tall; looks you straight in the eye when speaking or listening to you; sits in a chair in such a way as to give the impression they own the building - taking as much physical air space as possible!

The people you've met that act in a confident manner exhibit some or all of these characteristics. And the interesting thing is that, if you didn't know better, you would never question their competence. That means that in addition to building their own self-confidence, their physical movements and manner actually generate a feeling of confidence in you about their ability. Your confidence in them then feeds back into their confidence, generating an even higher level of confidence. Am I saying that confidence implies or ensures competence? No! If you are unable to perform, play your instrument, or write good songs, the truth about your ability will eventually come out. But at least you're taking your shot at something with all the odds in your favor.

So I'm suggesting that in order to create more confidence, you've got to move your body with purpose; you need to speak as if you know what you're talking about (even if you don't). Some people might say I'm telling them to change their personality -- "I'm just not like that," they might protest. I disagree with that. Standing up straight, looking people in the eye and communicating clearly does not constitute a personality change. You'll be the same person, only acting and moving like a confident version of yourself -- and believe it or not, you'll feel more confident. Acting in this manner doesn't take much effort after you've been doing it for awhile. The only time you'll need to consciously remind yourself to act this way is when you've suffered a setback -- perhaps a bad review, or a dismal live performance. All of us will tend to hang our heads and suffer for a bit when that happens. That's the time when it's most critical for you to create and build confidence, before another setback puts you even farther in the hole.

Another way to build confidence is to control the inner voice inside of all of us. Most people who lack confidence have a running dialog inside their head that goes something like this:

  • Why can't I play that section of the song without messing it up?
  • Why do I blow every audition I go to?
  • How come my plans to release a record always get sidetracked?
  • I just can't do it; I'm missing the training/ability/money/good looks/youth/etc. Who am I to think I can do it?

Now, when your mind is working on giving you answers to the above questions, you are definitely going to feel like you can't accomplish anything! You are setting yourself up to achieve the failure you are sure you deserve. You've got to take control of your own mind long enough to focus on questions that will help you get through any situations. Instead of asking yourself why you always screw up, what if you asked yourself questions like:

  • How can I turn this situation around?
  • What's one thing I can do today to help myself move forward?
  • What is the best thing I could be doing right now, at this moment?
  • Who can I talk to, or who can I get to help me through this situation?

When your mind works on (and eventually answers) questions like these, you will feel much more confident and also feel like doing something; taking some action instead of trying to find logical reasons for your failures. Your whole focus shifts from one of doubt, inaction and failure to one of possibility, action and success. In addition, the first group of questions is totally self-oriented -- where the emphasis is totally on you. In the second group of questions, you can see that there is an admission that other people might be able to help you. It's a simple realization that you're not alone, and that other people may have something to contribute. A lot of people create amazing amounts of self-confidence just by realizing how many people exist in the world that can help them through even the toughest situation. This helps to take the focus off yourself, and forces you to go out and do something (talk to people, find experts, or seek advice), instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.

Being able to create confidence at any moment is great. Let's face it, no one wants to go see a band where the guitarist hunches in the corner with a worried look on his face that the next note he plays will be in the wrong key. They want to see someone at the edge of the stage, blazing away, totally lost in the music. The audience is willing to forgive a few mistakes in order to see a performance that moves them. You have the ability to create confidence whenever you need it, and if you build it, they (your audience) will come.

Dan McAvinchey is a guitarist and composer living in Raleigh, NC.

He believes every musician or composer has the power to write, record and release their own music.

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