by Jeannie Deva
Your audience may think it’s magic, but anyone who achieves outstanding performances has worked hard to do so. What is the key to this success? Through my own development as a veteran performer, as well as by helping countless singers and bands achieve success on stage and in the studio, I’ve been able to develop these tips to help your rehearsals result in “Wow” performances.
1. Envision your message. Sometimes referred to as “the whole package” or “branding,” the overall image, sound and message of a band or solo performer should be established early on. The better you can define your general message and image the more focused your activities will be. This vision of your “product” acts as the criteria for every detail of your music, arrangements, set list, staging, outfits, etc. This is your musical presentation, persona and unique identity. As your career develops, so may your vision and everything realigns to harmonize with it.
2. Keep rehearsals focused. It’s very easy to squander valuable rehearsal time if you don’t predetermine what you will be practicing. Make a “to-do list” of what you’ll cover during rehearsal—and stick to it. Don’t make the list unrealistically long and don’t veer off it. If something comes up mid-rehearsal, such as certain players need more practice of their own parts, skip that song and go onto the next item on your list. Keeping rehearsals productive keeps morale high.
3. Call “vocals only” rehearsals. Many details go into blending good sounding vocals, so coordination of lead and harmony vocals deserve separate rehearsals. From the audience’s perspective, vocals are the most important instrument in a performance or recording (no offense to instrumentalists). A cappella or quiet guitar/piano accompaniments allow you to really hear the vocal quality and blend. Record your sessions to identify what needs to be tightened up.
4.Set lists that work. Open the set with a song that grabs your audience’s attention and captures their interest. End the set with a song that has a strong hook that they’ll walk out singing. Plan the intervening songs based on set length and use of contrasting keys, tempos and emotional transitions to build audience interest and response. To increase interest, pick a song sequence that varies your singer’s range.
5.Practice performance skills too. After any musical trouble spots are smoothed out, such as wrong notes or chords and sloppy rhythms, don’t neglect practicing performance skills such as movement on stage, microphone handling, etc. Spend some time practicing as though you’re ON stage and singing TO the audience. Use video recordings of rehearsals to evaluate and improve.
6. Practice Tops and Tails. Top is the beginning of a song and tail is the end. Going from the tail of one song to the top of the next allows you to get familiar with emotional and physical transitions including changing guitars, moving from one instrument to another and for singers, any change of vocal approach. This will also confirm if your set list works or needs rearrangement.
7. Practice your full set list. Practicing your full set is like a gymnast practicing their routine. You develop your mental as well as physical transitions while you navigate through each song in order of actual performance. This also helps you develop physical and mental performance stamina. This includes:
• Entrances and exits: Consider entrances and exits as a visual part of your show. This should include things like deciding if the lead singer will enter after the band begins playing and how you will end the show and exit the stage.
• Your gear: Avoid clumsiness on stage by practicing any necessary guitar changes; effects pedal settings, etc. during rehearsals of the full set. Practice smoothly taking the mic on and off the stand or making setting changes on vocal effects pedals such as TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive series. Using quick change Hercules mic stands eliminates awkward adjustments on stage.
• Band interaction: Your performance is both visual and audio how you move and look to the audience will either complement or distract from their emotional experience. Performance energy is enhanced when a group works in unison and plays off each other musically and visually.
• Talking to your audience: Audience connection can be enhanced with short verbal interchange between some songs. It takes practice to say something appropriate to the audience to fill a few moments of downtime while a player changes a guitar or the singer moves to a piano for the next song. Practice this during your full set rehearsal so you get comfortable doing it without rambling on.
8. Practice in different rooms. Room acoustics and stage sizes may influence the audio and visual aspects of your performance. Change your rehearsal location whenever feasible to become familiar with adapting your show to different venues. (For more, see my July 2013 MC article: “Different Room Acoustics.”)
9. Practice on camera. To prepare for TV appearances and videos, practice performing to your video camera as though it is a live audience. Different emotional messages from song to song will have varied musical tone and should also LOOK appropriately different. During playback you will see whether your movements and expressions are emotionally consistent with the song. For compact affordable stereo sound and video recording, I like the Zoom Q4.
10. Don’t skimp on preproduction. When prepping for studio recording, spend adequate rehearsal time in preproduction. Rushing into the studio unprepared wastes valuable recording time and money and increases frustration and stress. Enhance your vocal recording by having your singers practice with a rough mix of the instrumental tracks prior to going into the studio. Incorporate all the above tips into recording prep so you emulate a live performance in the studio. A good headphone set mix is vital in the studio, so I recommend Sennheiser’s HD 280 for fantastic sound at a great price.
[Reprinted by permission from Music Connection magazine]
JEANNIE DEVA is a celebrity voice and performance coach, recording studio vocal specialist and member of the Grammys. Endorsed by engineers and producers of Aerosmith, Elton John and the Rolling Stones, she is the author of The Contemporary Vocalist book and CD series, The Deva Method Vocal Warm-Up CD and the eBook: Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances available for all digital readers. She teaches in her Los Angeles studio and internationally via Skype as well as through her online video exchange school. Visit http://JeannieDeva.com.
For more information on the 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to:http://www.inacoustic.com
by Jeannie Deva
We can probably all agreethat a powerful performance is one that engages and emotionally moves the audience. There are many details that go into this achievement: from sufficient vocal technique so you can easily express and “sell” your song to performance technique; from being able to handle yourself confidently on stage to excellent mic technique; from working comfortably with the sound system and monitors to the art of how to connect with your audience, it is possible to address and develop each aspect to complete confidence.
Here are a few of the details that go into a powerful performance.
Technique versus Performance
I’m sure you’ve heard vocalists who don’t have technically developed voices, yet they really command your interest and can inspire you.
While not having the technical proficiency of a Bobby McFerrin, Pink or Rachelle Farrell, performers like Tom Petty, Mick Jagger and Bono still inspire huge audiences. Technique can give you a bigger vocabulary of sound, develop your self-confidence, and avoid vocal blow-out. But what makes one singer great and another, a bore, is the degree of life and communication projected through the song, and the resulting emotional impact on the audience.
Certainly, the emotion of a song will be barriered by a voice that goes off pitch, strains or sounds weak or bland. I’ve constructed a vocal method to help singers develop the natural workings of their voice resulting in not only in improved tone, a wide range, stamina and power but more importantly, a voice that is at your command to say what you want to say how you want to say it and not hurt yourself in the process.
Nevertheless, focus on the technical details of singing during your practice time until they become part of your approach. When you’re performing, the techniques will be there to support you while you immerse yourself in the music, your message and your audience.
More Vowel – Less Strain
A straining voice is physically uncomfortable and painful for the audience to hear. The sound of your voice is the result of sung vowels. This means that every time your vocal folds vibrate, they are creating the sound of a vowel at a certain pitch both of which are determined by you and your imagination. More basically, the melody that you sing is your vowels.
Stressing consonants closes your mouth and its internal muscles (such as the front or back of your tongue) and causes your breath to exhale quickly and forcibly. Vowels, on the other hand, require a more open mouth and utilize your breath more efficiently since the breath has to act as your vocal vibrator. It’s vital to work closely with the vowels of your words.
Choose a song and sing it through. Notice any words that coincide with points of strain. Work those phrases over, while directing your attention to the vowels of these words. As you stop pushing on the consonants and focus on the vowel, you should find yourself gaining greater vocal comfort while improving sound quality. Continue working through the song in this manner. I have a number of specific exercises to help you with this, found in my “Contemporary Vocalist” book and CD series.
Making the Song Your Own
It’s got to be your song when you sing it. Getting across the emotion of the song is what gives the song its punch. I once heard someone sing a simple, quiet song like it was a big tear-jerker. She used little “catches” in her voice to show just how much “feeling” she had. It was inappropriate for the song and created an undesirable effect on those listening. The most effective and powerful vocals are ones that are emotionally believable to your audience. Your voice is sensitive to your emotions and thoughts. The meaning you give a song will automatically influence the integrity of your sound and your impact on the audience.
Take the lyrics of a song. Look over the words to each verse. What’s the story of the song? By singing it, what do you want to say? It’s not always some deep significant message, but if you don’t understand what you’re saying and how you want to interpret it, your audience won’t either. Speaking, then singing the words aloud as though TO someone, can help you find your own interpretation.
Dynamics or Din
Contouring your song through phrasing and dynamic changes while sounding natural is essential in holding the interest of your audience. Once you’ve developed your own interpretation of the song, use the following guidelines.
To achieve an emotional build-up, you don’t always have to increase your volume. Often, an ascending pitch or melodic phrase builds emotion. You can draw back your volume at these times and create even more intensity.
Use pauses to breathe or to place greater emphasis on a key word. Ensure that your pauses stem from an understanding of what you’re saying and are natural rather than mechanical or choppy. Incorrect phrasing can obscure the meaning of your lyrics.
Giving your words equal stress is monotonous and robotic. Likewise, phrasing that is unnatural to how you would really say what you’re saying in the song will not communicate. In every sentence there are key words that carry the meaning. The others are connective or supportive which, if stressed, obscure the overall meaning. For example, if you spoke this sentence stressing the word “the,” it wouldn’t make sense. Place your emphasis on the words that will create the greatest expression and meaning.
Emphasize a word by: increasing its volume, holding it longer than the other words in the phrase, adding texture to the vowel such as a growl or rasp, or using vocal embellishments on one or more syllables of a word. For examples of these techniques, listen to Robert Plant (Led Zeplin), Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Patty Griffin, Kings of Leon, Christina Aguilera or Luther Vandross.
When applying these principles, keep in mind the saying: “Less is more.” Vocal acrobatics are technically impressive but will only communicate when done tastefully, in context; and spring from your emotions rather than merely an effort to impress.
Deciding what effect you want to create on your audience is the final and most important aspect of performance preparation. This enables you to make each song your own. It may be easier to sing a song glibly or pretend to be someone else, but that robs you of your own personality and you know what, the audience will pick up on it. Only by being yourself and deciding that you are singing those lyrics to each individual in your audience, will you be able to have the impact of a great performance.
You may be thinking this all seems just a bit too calculated and wouldn’t it be better to just go with the flow. Well, it is calculated. If you pre-decide where you’re going with the song, what your interpretation of it is, etc. you use that as your form. Then, within that, you can add spontaneity.
This is done to make sure that you are really in the “driver’s seat” navigating the song and its nuances. This way, both you and the audience have a mutually great experience. If you go with the flow, you are abdicating control and who knows how that will end up. All successful artists – especially those that last – control their performances and their careers.