How to Prepare for a Live Vocal Performance
13 Tips from Celebrity Voice and Performance Coach, Jeannie Deva
An impressive performance appears effortless to the degree that the artist has put effort into the preparation of every detail.
It is a given that you’ll learn your songs musically and lyrically before you perform them, but don’t neglect to practice the performance of your show.
As a project voice and performance coach I’ve helped an array of talent, from rising stars to Grammy winning recording artists, prepare for live shows and studio recordings. The following 13 tips are essential guidelines for your impressive performance preparation checklist.
Plan Your Performance Set List
1) Know your venue: Creating a set list for a small intimate coffee house requires different planning than for a stadium concert. The dynamics and energy potential is vastly different between the two. Before you create your set list find out as much as you can about the venue and its vibe.
2) Know your set length: Clock the playing time of each of your songs. Then determine how many songs you can play within the required set length. Factor in additional time for up to one minute of applause between each song, any dialogue with the audience, stage adjustments or instrument changes and any other segues. It’s a bit of a mathematical estimation that improves as you get more experience doing it. Also plan an extra song or two for encores or just in case they ask you to play longer.
3) Know any equipment and size limitations of the venue: You may have been booked to perform in clubs with a different electrical voltage than your equipment or other types of unforeseen limitations. A band I coached once mixed tracks from their iPad in with their live band sound. When they arrived to play one of the gigs on their tour, the venue was not equipped to connect iPad to the sound system. Needless to say, the stress and pressure of having to figure out what to play and how to play it made for an unpleasant evening for the band and unprofessional show for the audience. Make a list of your needs and check with your booking contacts so that you solve equipment and facility issues before you arrive at the venue.
4) Know your audience: Depending upon how many shows you have done and how long you have had fans, you hopefully will know what songs in your repertoire get the best responses. Plan to use your most popular songs as the emotional peaks of your set to create dynamic motion in your show. If you’re opening for another band, familiarize yourself with their music. Then design your set to both complement and contrast with their music in such a way as to possibly win over their fans. This is a great way to expand your fan base.
5) Determine your opening and ending numbers: Think of your opening and closing songs like bookends. A set should start with a song that grabs the attention of your audience and end with a song that either rouses or calms them to the energy level you want them to have when they leave the venue. Then arrange the rest of the set to navigate your audience through planned emotional transformations – from one bookend to another – based upon the tempo, key changes, subject matter and instrumentation of your songs.
6) Vary your vocal range: Even though your songs keys may be different, it’s common for a singer’s melodies to center in the strongest area of their vocal range. If this is true of your music, you may want to find a way of varying this with a song that brings the voice lower or higher or in some way gives the listener a sonic contrast which will help maintain their interest.
Practice the Performance of Your Set
7) Practice technical as well as performance skills: Attention to the technical aspects of a song is of course part of how you develop it. Improving any needed vocal technique to sing a song well is or course important, but so is honing performance skill.
Once you know a song begin singing it as though you were doing so in front of your audience. The more you practice as though singing to the audience the more your song will come to life. Often your phrasing and vocal tone will improve as will your emotional consistency when you practice singing to someone. This is because singing is communicating and that is done TO someone. Practicing as though you’re ON stage and singing TO people – your voice will naturally become more expressive. Doing this will influence your phrasing and tone because these are now aligned to their purpose of expressing something to someone. This kind of practice bridges the gap between rehearsal and performance.
8) Practice your set in set order: Once you’ve achieved comfort singing each song in your set, it’s important to rehearse in set order. While doing so look for and make adjustments as needed: Ensure you like the energy and emotional flow and sequence of your selected song order; explore your dynamics within each song and from one song to the next; decide between which songs that you’ll speak to your audience. If your set contains equipment changes and utilizes backup singers, group songs in such a way to ensure that any stage changes don’t dampen the momentum of your show.
9) Video your rehearsals: Use video to validate your improvement and highlight what needs more work. Analyze your practice videos objectively for the purpose of improving — not to beat yourself up. If something needs more technical attention such as singing higher notes on pitch or better phrasing, go back to working on these issues before further practicing the performance of the song.
10) Practice entrances and exits: Also practice how you’re going to walk on stage. At the end of the set, practice how you might walk off stage. Other things to consider: Are you going to have the band start playing and then enter? Are you going to exit while the band is still playing and then reappear for the final applause?
11) Practice band/ensemble staging and interaction: Performing is as much visual as it is audio. All aspects when aligned add to the magic and power of your show. This begins in the rehearsal room and then comes fully to life on stage.
12) Practice talking to your audience: There are times to talk and times to let your music do the talking for you. If you’re comfortable talking to audiences, I still suggest making decisions on where in your set you’ll do so and decide on a theme. Instead of leading in each song with “I wrote this song…” try saying a few lines about the theme of the next song and then go right into it. Remember, even if you’re expert at talking spontaneously to your audience, talking between numbers changes the energy of your show. If you want to maintain high energy, when you do speak, say less and play more.
13) Schedule low pressure gigs: If you’re starting out and want to become a professional level performer, consider booking some low pressure gigs to begin working on your presentation. Musicians rarely if ever make it to the big leagues without a lot of playing out. As you perform, you’ll raise your level of expertise, reinforce your strengths and discover those areas in which you need further development. Live performance keeps your rehearsals and personal practice focused on what really needs improvement. Remedy any shortcomings, get better, gig out again and step by step you’ll become a top professional.
Cheering you on to success!
Jeannie Deva is a celebrity voice and performance coach, Grammy member, author and recording studio vocal specialist who has worked with and been endorsed by engineers and producers of Aerosmith, Elton John, Bette Midler, Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones. Seen on E! Entertainment and TV Guide Channels, Jeannie has been interviewed as a celebrity guest on talk shows in the US, Europe and Venezuela. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed “Contemporary Vocalist” series and “Deva Method Vocal Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs” CD and her eBook: “Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances.” Jeannie teaches privately in Los Angeles as well as online worldwide. For more information on services, products for singers and her popular singer’s blog, visit: www.JeannieDeva.com
For more information of the 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com/entry.html
IAMA Winner Hits #1 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts
They laughed when she entered and won. But, when she hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, heard her Multi-Platinum selling song on the radio, they were left completely stunned and speechless. The entrants of IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) were surprised and even angry when a 16 year old girl won 4 years ago, completely unaware of the incredible success she was going to achieve.
Meghan Trainor has stunned the entrants, winners, judges of IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) and now the music world. An incredible success for a debut artist and a music awards entrant. “IAMA is so proud to announce that Meghan Trainor is currently the most successful artist so far in the history of the International Acoustic Music Awards. What her hit song has achieved is so incredible for any music artist, even a superstar like Madonna would love to have”, said Jessica Brandon, artist relations of IAMA. IAMA has been around since 2004.
If you have been listening to Top 40 radio, you wouldn’t have missed her song. However, few people know that Meghan Trainor was discovered by IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) and she won Best Female Artist in the 6th Annual IAMA (International Accoustic Music Awards) in 2010 when she was just 16 years old with her songs performed in acoustic format. She is the most successful artist IAMA has to date.
BEATING SUPERSTAR TAYLOR SWIFT
Meghan Trainor has been #1 for the past 5 weeks since September 10th. “All About That Bass” debuted at #84 with a meteoric rise to the top. The pop newcomer’s debut hit dethrones superstar Taylor Swift’s song ‘Shake It Off’ after Taylor Swift spent two weeks on top. Also, beating superstars such as Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj is an amazing feat that most music acts dream about. She also beat Iggy Azalea.
Other highlights of Trainor’s Hot 100 coronation: “Bass” is the second debut No. 1 by a lead female artist this year, following Iggy Azalea’s seven-week reign with “Fancy,” featuring Charli XCX.
INTERNATIONAL HIT & GOING MULTI-PLATINUM
It is now also an international #1 hit, topped the charts in other countries such as Australia, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand and more. Her album “Title” debuted #15 on the Billboard Album charts. The song has become phenomenally successful selling over 4.2 million copies worldwide at press time (Double Platinum in United States alone). Her music video has over 112 million views at press time.
This is an incredible fairytale story that most music acts dream about: hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Hitting #1 on Hot 100 charts is equivalent to climbing to the peak of Mount Everest. However, only less than 1% of all music acts will ever achieve this glory.
“Bass” also brings acclaim to Trainor’s label, Epic. It’s Epic’s first Hot 100 leader since Sean Kingston’s fellow debut hit “Beautiful Girls” in 2007 (which Koch co-promoted with Epic). “Bass” is Epic’s first No. 1 by a woman since Shakira’s own ode to seductive shaking, “Hips Don’t Lie,” in 2006. The last lead female artist on Epic to take a debut hit to the top of the Hot 100? Minnie Riperton, whose soul classic “Lovin’ You” led the April 5, 1975 list. (The late Riperton’s daughter is actress Maya Rudolph.)
Trainor additionally makes her home state proud, joining other Massachusetts-born acts that have led the Hot 100, including Donna Summer, Bobby Brown, Aerosmith, Extreme and New Kids on the Block. (The latter group reigned 25 years ago this week with “Hangin’ Tough.”)
She has written two songs for Rascal Flatts’ Rewind album with Jesse Fraser and Shay Mooney. She has been performing her hits song “live” on most national TV shows such as “The Today Show”, “Tonight Show”, “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and more.
WITH JOHN LEGEND
Meghan Trainor is one in-demand artist at the moment, which isn’t surprising since her hit “All About That Bass” is sitting pretty at #1 on top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Meghan Trainor is‘Freaking Out’ because she Has John Legend On Her Album.
From Nantucket, Massachusetts, She wrote “All About That Bass” this year with hit Grammy Award-nominated songwriter and producer Kevin Kadish. Her publishing company told her that many artists might be interested in recording the song. Music mogul L.A. Reid heard Trainor’s demo of the song and signed her to Epic Records, where she was able to release the song as a solo artist.
Berklee College of Music trained Kevin Kadish has written and produced for the biggest names in today’s pop music such as: Jason Mraz, Miley Cyrus, Michelle Branch, O.A.R. and many more. Trainor is also a successful songwriter and has had songwriting cuts with Rascal Flatts, Sabrina Carpenter and Macy Kate.
ABOUT IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards)
IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) promotes the art and artistry of acoustic music performance and artistry. In it’s 11 year, IAMA has a proven track record of winners going on to hit the Billboard Charts. 2nd Annual IAMA winner Zane Williams’s winning song was recorded by country music star Jason Michael Carroll, that song hit #14 on Billboard Country Charts and #99 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Jeff Gutt, finalist at the 9th Annual IAMA was a runner-up on X-Factor USA. For more information on 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
The Song As A Script
by Ralph Murphy
Your song is finished.
You were eloquent.
The melody flowed.
You are fulfilled, complete.
You resound with satisfaction.
You said everything you wanted to say.
How could anyone fail to rush to record your song?
Well, not so fast… Your songs may be your little lambs, but when it comes time to send one of them to the market, keep in mind that some people hate lamb chops and others are allergic to wool.
So before you proceed, think back…
back to before you entered the music business;
back to when you were the audience and went to see singers for fun;
back to when you thought those singers were singing songs they had written about their own lives;
back to when you thought you were catching a glimpse of their inner souls. You were unaware that those inner souls had been crafted for them by Bacharach & David or Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Well, just as your favorite TV and movie stars do not write their own scripts, luckily for songwriters, neither do a lot of singers write their own songs.
The major difference between actors and singers however is that most actors can change characters from film to film whereas successful singers rarely depart radically from the image they have chosen.
That presents the songwriter hurdles that require investigation before rushing into pitch mode.
Not only must the song/script be in keeping with the artist’s image but a few music business executives must be persuaded to gamble a million dollars on it. Figuring in the cost of the sessions, (studio, production, musicians, etc) the video, tour support, radio school, stylists and of course radio, you are at a million big ones.
Your script has to function on a lot more levels than just entertaining your friends and family.
It is a script for a performer to stand on stage and have a linear, lyrical conversation with his or her audience (in my case is that audience is women!).
In my opinion, if you are a stand-alone writer – not a performer, not in a band – and you are not writing for women, you are decreasing your chances for success! Our world of entertainment is always ultimately about “The Woman.” With rare exceptions, it is men singing to women and women singing to women. So, the mantra for the songwriter parallels that of the restaurateur. When looking for a restaurant to invest in, there are three factors to consider: location, location, location. Likewise, to be a songwriter, there are three things you should consider: What’s in it for the woman? What’s in it for the woman? What’s in it for the woman?
So, when you see the word LISTENER in any of my articles, mentally substitute the word WOMAN.
So let’s focus on their perception of your song.
Aside from the work being right for the artist, is it a potential hit?
Do you get the listener involved in the song quickly? How quickly? Well, try 60 seconds, including introduction. I call it getting the listener to invest in your song. If I am drawn into a writer’s invention, it requires me to identify with (or ideally become) the hero, victim, winner or loser in the piece.
In order to lure me/the listener in, it’s better that you speak to me, not about me. Though I dealt with the pronoun (the little big word) in a previous column, let me remind you that when it comes to the song as a script, it is the little huge word. You’ll get my attention faster if the song is about You, I, Us or We, because if it’s about Her, Him or Them, it will be much harder to capture and keep my interest. However, if the song is using the first-person pronoun (you, me, I, etc.) and the central figure is too old, too young, not cool enough or just not the image that the artist, management or label wish to project, you might consider changing to the third-person pronoun (even though the odds are higher for your song not being #1). That way, the artist can sing the song (about being homeless a drunk perhaps) without it reflecting personally on him or her.
Next, you must create an expectation and then fulfill that expectation. Pull out some of your favorite songs and look at the titles – pretty average stuff, mostly words or phrases you use every day. However, those titles are the fulfillment of the created expectation. The genius is in the creation of the expectation. Making something commonplace eye-catching – or in the case of the song, ear catching – is your job.
I don’t know how many of you have seen an uncut diamond, but they look remarkably unremarkable, rather boring in fact. Only in the hands of someone who has absorbed the craft and mastered the skill of making the mundane sparkle does the seemingly dull come to life.
So, surprise me with interesting information, by asking a question with a different twist or by describing a condition, place, person or circumstance using words and phrases that make the ordinary extraordinary.
Well, I guess we need to have a checklist for this song that you have chosen to be a script for a specific artist.
High on that list is accessibility. How easy is the song to sing? Are you trying to fit three-syllable words into a one-syllable spot?
Singer/songwriters do it all the time and get away with it because they are the artists. You cannot.
Does its range span three notes or three octaves? Remember that a lot of “artisteests” may have an abundance of charisma, personality and sex appeal but honestly can’t sing very well. Send them the story songs because the more detailed the story, the less melody you need. Remember, the human animal is not very good at hearing more than one moving part at a time and given its preference will always defer to melody.
Now, if you’re pitching to divas or vocally well-endowed males, then be big on melody, heavy on monosyllabic words and open vowel sounds (A-E-I-O-U-Y!) and minimum story.
What is the song about? Will this artist’s audience identify him or her with this situation or circumstance? Does the artist use this language? Remember all that changes from genre to genre, aside from attitude, is vocabulary and technology. Vocabulary especially is a bond between the artist and the audience. That, by the way, is a huge obstacle for writers crossing to cultures and genres that they are not intimately connected to or understand personally.
And finally, have you told the whole story – beginning, middle and end? Have you created an expectation from the opening line, fulfilled that expectation in 60 seconds, added information/detail in the next verse, and spiced it up by adding conflict or calming it down? Have you made the listener laugh, cry, question, cheer, feel any (or all) of a whole range of emotions or just plain old fall in love?
Then take it to the artist – job well done!
Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter and expert, has been successful for five decades. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle’s “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Half the Way”. Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very small group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving “hit writer” status has always been a formidable goal for any songwriter. Never more so however than in the 21st century. Catching the ear of the monumentally distracted, fragmented listener has never been more difficult. Getting their attention, inviting them in to your song and keeping them there for long enough for your song to become “their song” requires more than being just a “good” songwriter.
*His new book Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting “The Book” arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book “If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake “Da Murphy” would probably have included it.” To get the book, enter 3 or more songs at the 11th Annual IAMA and receive this exclusive book for FREE»
Acoustic Music Radio featuring acoustic track by current hit maker Meghan Trainor, hear her acoustic song “Waterfalls” that got her discovered! She hit #1 this week on the Billboard Charts (press time).
Song list on this radio program:
5 Things I’ve Learned About Having A Long Music Career by Jason Miles
There are many intricacies to having a long-lasting career in music. I learned so much from being around great musical minds and incredibly talented musicians, producers, and arrangers. I’ve been around this business for 41 years and I still feel there is much more for me to do that I haven’t yet done. Here are just a few things that I hope you’ll keep in your back pocket and learn from as you embark on careers of your own. 1. Be Unique When I came to New York City there were some absolutely amazing musicians on the scene. The competition was fierce! What was I going to do to make my voice heard above the fray? My answer was that I chose to be an early adopter of synthesis. As much time as I spent practicing, connecting, and writing, I also put effort into learning about synthesizers at a time when many people really didn’t know much about them. I programmed my own sounds and used them on live shows, and soon word started to spread that I did something special with these new instruments. You have to find something that separates you from everybody else. 2. Learn from the Masters When I started out, I wanted to work and hang out with as many great musicians as I could. My enthusiasm for music had no bounds. Knowledge and wisdom from experienced people will take you very far in this business. There’s so much to learn, and you simply can’t learn it from yourself. Keeping your mouth shut and observing the work of great musicians in different situations will go a long way to giving you the experience you need. 3, Patience, Patience, Patience! When I came back to New York City in 1974, my goal was to work with Miles Davis. I worked and worked, and in 1986, it happened. Was there some luck involved? Of course, but when the moment came I was truly ready for it. There was a lot of pressure and responsibility involved in making Miles’ album Tutu, including new technology and new ways of making music—but I’d been preparing for that moment for years. Nothing happens overnight, but if you hang in long enough, you will get a shot. 4. Know Your Music History I had a great record collection and I spent hours and hours listening to all kinds of music. Later when I met well-known musicians, they realized I was familiar with their work, and consequently they were much more friendly and interested in me. When I met Josef Zawinul for the first time in 1974 he looked at my girlfriend and said, “This guy knows his stuff!” We ended up being friends for over 30 years. You need to be a mini-encyclopedia of music. It will help you understand how to move forward by respecting and learning about the past. 5. It’s Called the Music Business for a Reason This is not always a kind business, nor has it ever been for anybody. Everyone has his or her terrible music business stories. The more you know about the business side of things, the better chance you have of surviving its ups and downs. Learn about contracts, royalites, and performing rights organizations, and last but not least, surround yourself with people you can trust and who truly have your best interests at heart. I’ve been in this business for four decades and even during its most difficult moments, my wife Kathy always supported me unconditionally.
[This article is reprinted with permission from Keyboard Magazine]
Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer, keyboardist, synthesist, composer, and arranger who has worked with Miles Davis, Sting, and Michael Jackson. His latest project with his band Global Noize is a groove/jazz/ world tribute to Sly and the Family Stone called Sly Reimagined.
For more information on the 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com