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
As the decade comes to an end, here are the Top 10 Best Acoustic Music Artists of IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards):
1. Fertitta and McClintock (3rd Annual IAMA Top Winner)
The duo also won first prize in the Best Group/Duo category. Their unique acoustic sound led them to be signed by legendary producer Clive Davis on Arista Records. Their songs have been recorded by Juice Newton, Tiffany, Lorrie Morgan, Sammy Kershaw, Andy Williams, Pat Boone and many more. Their style of music is similar to Loggins And Messina.
2. Liz Longley (6th Annual IAMA Top Winner)
Liz won the IAMA awards as a college student of Berklee Collge of music. She then went on to perform at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival. Her alluring vocals and heartfelt music and lyrics takes you on a journey like no other new artist can. This artist is going places.
3. Charlie Dore (4th Annual IAMA Top Winner)
Remember the hit song of the late 70’s/early 80’s “Pilot of the Airwaves”? Yes, it’s Charlie Dore, she since reinvented herself as a Folk Singer-songwriter and also written hit songs for big name artists such as Tina Turner, Celine Dion, George Harrison, Lisa Stansfield, Jimmy Nail, Sheena Easton and Hayley Westenra. Her soothing soprano voice goes well with lyrics of beautiful imagery in her song such as “Sleep All Day”. I wouldn’t be surprise if this British Artist hits the charts again.
4. El McMeen (6th Annual IAMA, Best Instrumental)
Fingerstyle guitar virtuoso El McMeen clearly stands head and shoulders above other instrumentalists we have seen. His heartfelt solo acoustic steel string guitar works such as “Song For Sheila” and “Breakout” showcases his guitar chops as well as his knowledge of composition. His music is truly outstanding, heartfelt and spiritual. His music should do well on Sirius XM Spa Channel as well as Guitar Player Magazine and Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. Even established acoustic guitarist out there would appreciate this artist. Watch out for this instrumentalist, he is going places!
5. The Refugees (5th Annual IAMA Top Winner)
The Refugees is a trio of Cindy Bullens, Deborah Holland, and Wendy Waldman in Americana/Folk genre. Their, passion, songwriting, musicianship, and impressive vocals set them apart from other groups out there. They have performed with Bonnie Raitt. All three members have are accomplished musicians in their own right: Wendy Waldman wrote Vanessa Williams’ #1 hit song “Save the Best for Last,” and “Heartbeat,” performed by Don Johnson and ‘Fishin’ in the Dark,’ sung by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Cindy Bullens got her start as a back-up singer for Elton John. Since then, Cindy has accompanied John on multiple tours and racked up Grammy Award nominations. Deborah Holland was a member of another three-person band, the critically acclaimed, Animal Logic. Comprised also of Stewart Copeland, Stanley Clarke, the band earned her recognition as both a singer and a songwriter during the 1980s and 90s.
6. Jen Foster (2nd Annual IAMA Top Winner)
Jen Foster displays unique and subtle vocal inflections in her acoustic Pop/Folk material reminiscent of Sheryl Crow and Michelle Malone. Her songs “Taking Bob Dylan” and “In Between Poses” stands out and showcases her unique raspy vocals, catchy melodic lines and lyrics. Website: www.jenfoster.com
7. David Francey (2nd Annual IAMA, Best Male Artist)
Scottish Canadian Singer-songwriter David Francey shines in his songs. His Rootsy Folk songs “Morning Train” exhibits outstanding lyrics and music that keeps you captivated right till the end. “Greenfields” just shows you what a great storyteller and artist that David is. David has won two prestigious Juno awards (Canadian Grammies) and also won first prize in the 2004 USA Songwriting Competition (Folk category). He has various albums released on indie label Jericho Beach Music in Canada and another indie label – Red House Records in the U.S.
8. Jason Harwell (1st Annual IAMA Top Winner)
The youthfulness of John Mayer meets the guitar licks of the late George Harrison. Very original. Very fresh. VERY good! “Declaration Song” by Jason Harwell embodies the best of Americana. He captures the youthful longing for exploration conflicted with the fear of the unknown. And there are many more layers of meaning and symbolism in the clear, clean lyrics of this work. Jason has moved back to Georgia and started a record label “Rebuilt Records”. He also tours extensively.
9. Larry Pattis (5th Annual IAMA, Best Instrumental)
Larry Pattis is a virtuoso guitarist from Creswell, OR, USA. His Classical guitar chops combined with knowledge of composition and Acoustic Folk/Pop arrangement makes him stand apart from other Classical Guitarists making a crossover to Pop. His compositions such as “Eleven Doors” won him First Prize in the 5th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards). He has been featured on national Television, NPR, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and also toured the country as a performer. This artist will go places. His music can also be fit into the New Age radio format. Thus, expanding his career. This is the artist to watch for!
10. Randy Kohrs & The Lites (4th Annual IAMA, Best Bluegrass/Country)
Randy Kohrs & The Lites won 1st Prize in the Bluegrass/Country category of the 4th Annual IAMA with his song “Rockwell’s Gold”. Randy Kohrs & The Lites has the instrumental chops, great vocals, the songs and artistry in a progressive Bluegrass Style. Randy is also an in-demand session player in Nashville. In 2003, he accepted a gig with superstar Dolly Parton and sang and played dobro with the “Blueniques” for two years. He has also appeared on The Rachel Ray TV show. Randy is also a Grammy Winning producer, winning a grammy for Jim Lauderdale’s Bluegrass Album of the Year, The Bluegrass Diaries. Randy produced, engineered, and mixed it, as well as sang harmony and played on it.