98% of female performers have suffered performance anxiety, according to global survey

Female guitarist performing live
(Image credit: recep-bg / Getty)

A new survey by music brand Pirate Studios has found an overwhelming majority (98%) of female respondents have experienced performance anxiety.

The rate is significantly higher than the 70% of male respondents who said they had experienced anxiety during performances.

Pirate says that many females who took part in the survey – published on International Women’s Day (March 8) – cited gender as a leading cause of their anxiety. In contrast, male performers were more likely to cite “performance pressure”, “equipment concerns” and “drug and alcohol culture” as reasons for anxiety.

Some of the responses from the survey’s female participants paint a concerning pictures in terms of the effects of the industry’s gender imbalance on individuals – particularly the sense of isolation in live spaces.

“Being on stage is very exposing and a very vulnerable place to be, especially if you are atypical in any way (and for live musicians, this can simply be not presenting being a cis white straight man),” says one respondent. 

“If gigs in general don't feel like a safe space, playing live can feel like a confrontation with the audience, and putting yourself in that position can can be very difficult.”

Another respondent, a female DJ, told Pirate: “Being surrounded by men as a female in a male-orientated industry can cause anxiety, especially if they all know each other.”

Pirate’s research has also helped it to generate a list of three key focus areas for creating more positive environments for female and non-cisgender performers. 

Top of the pile is encouraging venues and promoters to work to make gigs genuinely safe and welcoming for diverse audiences. One performer stresses how tiring it is having to police her own gigs and “look out for fans because security is harassing women”.

Space is also cited as a key factor. The survey reveals that simply providing performers somewhere secure, with a functioning door, lighting, a mirror, and a few hooks for clothing – seemingly obvious changes that can be accommodated by most venues – makes a significant difference to anxiety levels.

Finally, many respondents were keen to see an industry-wide effort to address the prevalent drug and alcohol culture, with wider education and destigmatization around addiction and mental health issues. The report cites the near-constant provision of alcohol as playing a significant role in creating performance anxiety.

If you want to discuss the issues raised in Pirate’s research, you can join the studio chain’s online ‘Break The Bias Panel’ with Vanessa Maria and TYSON on March 30. For more information on the survey and the panel head to Pirate.com.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.