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Sing Like A Pro: Some Tips
Technique Can Save the Day
First off I want to say that I have been singing in Rock and Salsa bands professionally for many years and have had the privilege of working with some great musicians, many of which have shared their performance tips, strategies, and secrets with me. I am currently a lead singer in a working Rock cover band that plays approximately 40 songs per night.
When you sing for a cover band, you have to incorporate many different styles of singing. This makes it much more difficult than playing original songs where you can control the range and the style. When you play cover songs in a bar situation, patrons expect to hear something that resembles the recorded versions that they are so fond of. Heck, patrons expect this from the original bands that recorded the original songs but as you know if you go to enough concerts, for some unknown reason bands don't always play their hits the way that they sound on the records. The patrons may put up with this from their favorite bands like AC/DC and Counting Crows, but they will definitely not sit around while you massacre "Highway to Hell" (as I did not so long ago) or "Mr. Jones" (always a tough one on the vocal cords).
Tip #1: Breathe!
Breathing is the number one reason most singers lose their voice halfway through the third set. Once you start cracking on the higher notes, you tend to strain to hit those notes and this produces flat or off-key notes at best, and shrieks at worst, though the shrieks from the audience will probably be worse. I was at a Friday Night Rock Jam recently in Pacifica, California and one hopeless wannabe was torturing the packed house with his off-key screaming rendition of a Journey song. If Steve Perry were dead he would roll over in his grave.
Was it the guy's terrible voice? No, he had a decent voice in the lower register. It was his breathing technique. You have to breathe deeply between phrasings and learn to exhale using your diaphragm and rib cage.
Tip #2: Pick Songs Suited to Your Range and Style
If you have a deep voice like Marcy Gray you don't want to attempt Minnie Ripperton songs. If you have the range of Bruce Springsteen you don't want to tackle Steve Perry. If you love country music then I would suggest you stay away from Stevie Wonder songs. If Rap is your thing, don't try and become the next John Lennon. It ain't gonna happen folks.
Learn to pick songs that suit your voice, range, and style. It's not that hard, just keep it real and don't think you can sing anything at any range, any time.
Tip #3: Learn the Lyrics
Nothing looks worse onstage than a Music Stand. Well, maybe a few things but seriously any singer that has to read lyrics just did not do their homework. But what about the guitar players you may ask, they have music stands too, what about them? I don't recommend it for guitar players either, but usually they are not the center of attention and they have a much more complicated job than you do.
But learning the lyrics also helps you to sing on key. How? By knowing your exact phrasing on each song, you automatically know where to take in those deep breaths. Knowing the words also allows you to focus on other things like stage presence, dynamics, pitch, and presentation.
Where There's Smoke....
Tip #4: Don't Smoke
Smoking is the worst thing for you if you are a singer. And smoking weed is even worse. Smoking grass dries out your mouth and your vocal chords and makes it almost impossible for you to hit the right notes. And if you think that is BS and continue to believe that you are a STAR and can smoke and sing anything, well then you are HIGH and don't know what you are talking about.
I am not anti-marijuana, but I know through experience wherefore of I speak shlomo. And this goes for cigarettes too, though they don't dry out your mouth and throat like grass does. Of course we have all heard the term "cotton mouth".
But what about Paul McCartney you protest? Or Mick Jagger? A word to the deluded: You are not them. Period. Paul McCartney can gargle with a glass of nails and he would sound better than you do on the best day of your life. Get over it. Get back and learn the words to Hey Jude for tonight's show.
Tip #5: Don't Be Overly Theatrical
Quit being a ham. You don't need to sing or talk over the guitar solos. You don't need to be funny between songs. You don't need big gestures or leaps into the mosh pit (this could lead to bone fractures and most singers don't have health care coverage).
Tip #6: Know Your Cues
Know the structure of the songs you are getting paid to sing. Know when to come in and when to stand back. Nothing pisses off a guitar player more than having his solo stepped on, or having to switch quickly to the bridge section because the bozo singer skipped a verse.
These are just a few quick tips that can save your performance and make a more enjoybable evening for your listeners. Who knows you may even attract some groupies.