Overcoming Performance Anxiety

I’ve always had a crippling fear of performing in front of people, which is funny because my dream as a teen was to be a rock star. Delusional teenage Kevin even bought a cheap Les Paul knock-off guitar to fulfill this dream. Inexpensive guitars today are pretty awesome, but back in the ‘70s, cheap guitars were horrible instruments — mine was no exception. After years of lessons on a clunky guitar, my skills improved at a snail’s pace and I never felt I was good enough to play for anyone. When I started college and found I had more natural skills for writing computer software than music, I discarded my dreams of touring and playing in a band.

Twenty years later, I owned a better guitar and tried to get back into playing, but never got much traction. Even paying for lessons failed to get me focused enough to practice daily. Having no goals or any hope of being able to play for anyone but myself, I drifted away from the guitar again.

Fast forward to 2014, my move to San Francisco put me in an apartment just two downhill blocks away from the Van Ness Guitar Center. While browsing the guitar section one day, I was convinced to sign up for lessons by a store promotion. The instructor they assigned me turned out to be a great match. Like me, he was a fan of blues/rock guitar and taught me techniques used by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan — two of my guitar heroes. After a few weeks of lessons, he said, “You should go to an open mic night at a blues bar and just get up on stage to play riffs with the band.” My response was, “Do you even know me?! I can’t play in front of you as well as I do alone in practice! There’s no way I can handle an audience.”

After a couple of years, my teacher went on tour and I had to switch instructors. As the weeks passed, I found that I was enjoying learning guitar more from YouTube. As an added bonus, this also eliminated my anxiety about performing in front of my teacher. I dropped my single, in-person instructor and added three or four online replacements.

It only made sense to use YouTube for learning guitar, since I already had been watching various channels to learn more about tasting whisky. In three years, I went from barely knowing about whisky, to being a resource for friends on what whiskies to buy. During that same time, my guitar skills ramped up to the point where I didn’t feel guilty about buying a proper guitar and amp setup. Slowly, my confidence on the fretboard was improving as well.

Then around the middle of 2019, I came up with an idea: What if I started a YouTube channel that somehow incorporated my two favorite hobbies? Can I blend drinking whisky and playing guitar in a way that people would tune in and watch?

I came up with the name Whisky Riffs and immediately grabbed the domain. I recorded a couple of videos to see if I could overcome my fear of playing guitar in front of an audience. After posting those to my new channel, I let it gather dust for several months. I wasn’t ready to commit to regular episodes.

It took me until the end of December to decide to go all in. Within a week of making that decision, I learned how to set up lighting, audio, and use my iPhone to record quality videos. My iPad Pro would serve as my editing rig. After a few test recordings, I posted my first episode.

Whisky Riffs Episode 1: Ardbeg Uigeadail Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Whisky Riffs was happening, but now I was committed to weekly episodes. My first goal was to get to 100 subscribers, so I could pick my own YouTube channel name. That happed on January 23 — just three weeks in — and provided the momentum I needed to plow forward. I set a goal to keep improving my channel and process with each video: better riffs, more polished recordings, and faster editing skills.

Recently, I posted episode 16. That’s incredibly satisfying, given that my first episode was posted just 14 weeks earlier. I have consistently posted an episode each week, plus a couple of bonus episodes. My performance anxiety isn’t gone, but my commitment to pushing out regular videos keeps it in check. Every week, I have to give myself a pep talk to turn on the camera and face the bright LED lights. The way I end my intro to every video is as much for me as it is my viewers:

Let’s do this…

Whisky Riffs Episode 16: Laphroaig Lore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

And if you aren’t already a subscriber but are enjoying my videos, please visit Whisky Riffs and Subscribe. Cheers!