Facing the Fear
Being a musician is pretty fun.
Playing guitar, writing and recording music… it’s something that I will never get tired of.
A lot has happened since releasing .
I’ve done interviews, the record has been reviewed in magazines, received amazing reviews online and played on a few internet radio stations too.
People are reaching out on social media to let me know how much they are enjoying the music (thank you!):
With the internet, it’s easy to project a confident, successful image…
But you rarely see the story behind the image.
And while I am a lot more confident than I used to be, it’s been a rocky road to get there.
From having crippling stage fright as a child, to nearly letting self doubt and imposter syndrome get the better of me… it’s all been a steep learning curve.
Crippling Stage Fright
Being the centre of attention in public scares me.
If I’m on stage with a guitar and some other musicians, it’s exhilarating. If I’m performing by myself… it still scares me.
But it used to terrify me.
I mean… really terrify me.
Growing up as a child, I had terrible stage fright. Two incidents really stand out to me this day. The first was one day, when I was little, walking into town with my mum.
The Fairground Ride
I can’t remember how old I was, maybe 8 or so.
We lived in a suburb on the outskirts of London, UK. The town centre would have something happening every month. Sometimes a foreign market would come over to sell everything from cheese and sweets, to garden furniture and sometimes there would be fairground rides for the kids.
Anyway, this time, there was a merry-go-round. I remember there being a ‘double decker bus’ that you could ride on.
It looked really fun! So, being a small child, I tug at my mum’s sleeves, point at it and ask to go on. She agrees, gives me the 50p to give to the ride operator, and I climb on the bus.
It was pretty exciting! The ride started… then I saw all the people around me.
Everyone around the city centre. It felt like everyone was starting at *me*.
It was terrifying. I started screaming and the ride stops, and I went and sat on the lower deck, where I felt like I could hide from everyone, out of view.
Just writing about this brings back a small tinge of fear.
The School Play
School plays are fun, right?
I must have been a couple of years older than when I couldn’t face the fairground ride. My primary school was doing a play of “Good King Wenscelaus”
I remember the rehearsals, even though I was playing a very minor role, the rehearsals were fun.
All I had to do was walk on stage, then drop some fake “firewood” and sit on my knees for a bit. I didn’t even have a line to say!
But then the night of the play came round…
I could see the stage, and all the parents and other kids sitting around it. My parents were somewhere in the audience.
For some reason, that crippling fear I experienced on the fairground ride came back.
It was paralysing.
I locked myself in the school toilets about 20 minutes before we were meant to start, refusing to come out unless the teacher said I didn’t have to do the part any more.
In retrospect… it seems ridiculous. But at the time, it was nauseating.
I learned my basic chords, so I wanted to learn how to shred.
I learned how to shred (badly haha) so I wanted to join a band.
I joined a band… and the next thing after joining a band, is to play some shows.
By this stage I was a bit older, in my late teens and at university.
The fairground ride and the school play were both distant memories… but I still had stage fright.
But, being older, I was a bit more in control of myself. The fear was there…. the fear was still real…
I still felt the adrenaline hit me like a freight train, the nausea in my stomach, the “what ifs” racing in my mind…
But now I could face it.
I knew, that if I wanted to make it to the next step of my guitar playing journey, I had to do this. I had to get used to playing infront of people and attack this fear that gripped me.
So over the next few years at university, I joined a band, and started playing gigs with them.
It wasn’t the greatest music ever, but it was a lot of fun, and most importantly, it served as a vehicle to overcome my stage fright.
Well… I haven’t overcome it, but I have at least got used to it.
The only way to overcome any sort of fear or self-doubt… is to do it and continue doing it.
So I played shows with that band, just little pub shows to 20 people, maybe 50-100 people at a university event, and bit by bit, started battling the stage fright.
After a few years, towards the end of my time at university, a friend of mine said:
“You actually looked like you were enjoying playing tonight!”
I had been playing on stage for years looking petrified and staring at my guitar, and finally I had a moment where I could just enjoy the experience of playing on stage!
It was a slow journey… but now I knew that I can overcome the stage fright.
So what was next, what was missing, what had my heroes done that I had not?
They had professionally released albums.
Self Doubt and Imposter Syndrome
Who was I to approach the gods?
To even talk to them.
I’m just some guy with a guitar.
If anyone listens to my album, they’ll realise the truth.
Am I good enough to release songs?
Are my songs good enough?
When it came to releasing my album, all the above thoughts started racing through my mind, almost uncontrollably.
I’ve heard it said that the greatest battle we face is with ourselves, and I can see some truth to that.
Each stage of my guitar playing journey involved an emotional challenge that was greater than the previous one.
I had to overcome, well, face, my stage fright. Fighting that fear allowed me to progress to the next level, and I was working on my first album of original music.
The time had come to release it, and I started to have incredible amounts of self doubt.
The album was complete.
But did it suck?
I wasn’t sure. I was scared it might not be any good.
I had poured so much into it. Over a decade of learning guitar. A bank loan to fund the recording and other stuff involved in making an album.
Had I wasted my time?
Was I going to be a failure?
Had a gambled my future on a fools search for gold?
Would I be yet another unknown metal band, doomed to obscurity and mediocrity somewhere in the depths of Metal Archives?
If I released the album, would people hate me, and think that I suck?
I didn’t know. Part of me wanted to be sure of the outcome before I tried.
Like the other irrational fears I had faced, the above thoughts started racing through my mind.
But a voice inside me told me… that at some point, I had to try. I felt like I had a demon on one shoulder, and an angel on the other.
And while the fear might be crippling, I knew that not trying would kill me.
The next stage in my guitar playing journey meant putting out music to the world.
Putting my work out… for judgement.
The album had been recorded and mixed. I was listening to my masters… and neurotically obsessing over every tiny mistake I could find,
this rhythm track was a a fraction out on this note
there was a pick scrape noise on this part of the solo,
this lyric sounds totally lame
I had solos where I nailed 100s, maybe 1000s of notes across the whole album… and I would obsess over the single note that was not quite right.
At one point, I thought about deleting the album, deleting the entire thing.
And starting again… or just giving up.
I danced with the idea for a couple of weeks, before realising how self destructive those thoughts were.
I started trying to think about it more rationally. Or at least, trying to find a way to convince myself that I should take a chance… on my dreams, on everything I had worked for up to that point.
Could I find one person that would love the music?
I mean… there are what, over 8 billion people on the planet?
Could I find one person, who would enjoy my music, who’s life I could actually change for the better and improve; by them listening to and enjoying my music?
I figured even if my music was the auditory equivalent of a turd in a box, I could find one person who would enjoy it, one person who’s life I could improve with my music.
So I owed it to that person, to release my music… and find them, so that their life might be a little bit better.
I owed it to you, to find you, and get my music in-front of you, so that maybe, just maybe, I could make your life a tiny bit better.
I remember how music had been such a huge influence on my life. It was everything, from a way to cope with a broken heart and feeling lost in life, to a way to relive memories of some of the great times that I had with my friends and give me encouragement when I needed it.
I became my own hype man. I listened to the album every night for a month, telling myself “actually, this part is pretty good”, “this lyric here is cool”.
It took a month to build up the nerve to release it to the world.
And when I did, I realised that actually, everything was ok.
Sure, some people didn’t like it. Some people hated on it. Some douche-bag on Facebook started a thread ripping the piss out of record I had released.
But… a lot of people did like it.
There were people actually enjoying it.
You were listening to my music. What more could I want than that?
This Involves You
One thing I learned from the experience was this:
Anytime I’m scared of doing something, that means that I absolutely have to do it.
It probably won’t end well, or the way I expect… but I have to at least try.
Maybe you can relate to this where you are with life now – you feel trapped by your own fear of moving forwards.
Or maybe you can look back at events in your past, and see how you faced the fear yourself… and even though it was terrifying at the time… you came out the other side and everything was ok.
Maybe my music can help you push forwards, or remind you of how you over came the challenges of your past (and no doubt that you will face in the future)?
Maybe you’ll just have a lot of fun listening to it?
Maybe you and your friends will have an awesome time partying to it, and every time you listen to the songs, you’ll be reminded of how much fun you had?
Either way, here is that song I promised you: Sam Russell – Waves of Tomorrow. It’s called “Waves of Tomorrow”, from the album Impetuous Desire. The song talks about everything I have just written about – how fear can hold us prisoner, and cause us to watch our lives pass us by.
Thank you for reading, and being part of the journey.