The Seven Sins of Singing on Stage

After performing live as a main vocalist for close to ten years of my life, I still cringe at memories of those disastrous moments, hours or whole performances which tend to spring back into the memory now and again. Having experienced singing live to small and large crowds in glamorous Casino’s, prestigious hotels, lounge bar’s, coffee bars and even solo in the ladies bathrooms, I present a few ‘singing sins’ to be aware of and those that you really ought to avoid!

1. Boredom

Oh yes, it happens to everyone from time to time, especially after a good length of time performing to the same crowd, at the same place, at the same time… ‘yawn.’ Yep, after the excitement has gone, you realise that you’re still standing their singing for your supper; hearing your own warbling again…. and again…. and…. lo and behold, like any job, you eventually find that you might start to become bored!

To put back energy into your performance, make sure that you vary the song list from time to time. Make the effort to learn new songs and ditch old ones, especially those the crowd might not be reacting to as much! It’s also a good idea not to focus on the same stain on the ceiling all evening, and its certainly not good to stare at one person all night, (unless he is six feet tall, gorgeous, and focusing every night on you!) Plus don’t get into the habit of allowing your mind to ‘stray.’ I could sometimes be half way through a song and find myself studying the flowery pattern on the curtains at the back of the room!

It was then that I realised that I had to change the scene, venue, songs…..something!

Once boredom sets in, it becomes like any other monotonous job, and of course singing live to an audience is a fantastic way to earn money, so treat it as such and embrace every note, word and emotion with excitement and vigour. Show enthusiasm and speak to the crowd through every song you sing to them.

2. Move to the rhythm of the beat!

I often sang in very quiet, lounge-bar-like venues, which allowed me to sit back and put all my energy into my vocal performance. The emphasis was then spent on every note and the amount of emotion I could portray within the song. But a few of my performances were upbeat and energetic. It was then when it was necessary to get the crowd dancing. Put your best foot forward and move.

Whilst once listening to a singer audition for a weekly gig, he had everything going for him, except he hardly moved on the stage at all. Much frantic arm waving ensued, and what also appeared to be the manic swotting of invisible flies. This bizarre activity persisted throughout his entire performance, where his feet stayed firmly on the ground.

Whilst I advise not to kangaroo hop around the stage. Or even attempt to dance if you simply cannot dance, I do advise some form of whole bodily movement in time to more up-tempo music. Don’t exaggerate the swinging of arms, or race around the stage in a frenzy either. and NEVER turn your back to the crowd (unless you are Jon Bon Jovi).

Remember, when you perform on the stage ‘you’ are the entertainment, and ‘you’ are the song, so give the audience something to get them going and want to dance along or move with you.

3. Deep breaths.

One of the hardest things for vocalists to control on stage is their breathing. Once nerves kick in and the heart starts to pump, it is almost as if there is only enough breath left to leap behind the curtains and disappear. Well stop! Because if you ‘learn’ to breath deeply and control your breathing a couple of weeks before you perform live, you’ll be able to sing without worry.

A microphone is positioned in front of your mouth in order for the audience to hear your singing. Not the snorts, grunts and heavy sighs which might boom out scarily between. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and it is a good idea to borrow as many willing ears and listeners as you can before you hit a stage; and don’t forget to ask them if they notice any oddities with your breathing through the speakers.

4. Focus on no-one and embrace everyone.

I can’t stress the importance of this. I once attended a gig where the lead singer appeared to stare at a fire hydrant in the corner of the room, throughout his whole rendition. What was he thinking? It’s a good idea to view the crowd but don’t hold your gaze at any one person for more than a few seconds. The point of this is so that you do not make any person in the crowd feel uncomfortable, and also, for nervous singers, if any one person in the crowd appears to be doing something strange (like picking their nose!) you may not be able to continue singing without wanting to laugh!

Many times I have spotted this type of thing and had to close my eyes to regain control of myself. However, laughter very much got the better of me when I was mid-way through a love song in a cushy little restaurant, when a tourist appeared out of nowhere and ambled up to me in some state of confusion. He then tried to catch my attention and appeared to be trying to ask me where the men’s room was! Well, of course, some folks in the crowd laughed at this, and so I couldn’t help break my vocal serenity for just a moment to produce a cackle!

But be warned, the strangest things can happen on a stage, so don’t concentrate on one person alone, perform to the entire room.

5. Get the sound right!

As the vocalist, it is your duty to make the entire song come alive, no matter how good or bad the musical backing may be! If you’re drowned out, make the engineers or the rest of the band tone it down. If you’re unable to hear yourself you can place a small single monitor speaker right in front of you which will feed your vocals right back to you. Check all possibilities of feedback before you perform live. A little dose of a feedback mishap is tolerable, but your crowd won’t be happy to go home with pierced ear drums.

The acoustics of sound vary from room to room and even the size of the room makes a difference, and then again, right down to how many people are in the room at the time, (people absorb frequencies did you know that?) You may very well have to increase the main volume, if the room becomes very full.

At the end of the day don’t be too fussy or picky, and collaborate nicely with the rest of the band, unless you want a flying drumstick to pierce you in the neck! Speak as you would like to be spoken to when levelling with the band, it’s the best way to sort things out.

6. Make the microphone work for you.

Choose a good dynamic microphone and make sure all the microphone levels and positioning are sorted out well in advance. Many singers worst fear is that the microphone will quit working; fall on the floor or worse, fly across the room and whack someone on the head!

Only kidding about the last one! Well I never heard it happen yet!

Make the microphone do your job probably, not hinder it. The only point of the microphone is to make your voice loud enough to reach the ears of every one in the room. That’s it. (Plus the nice little reverb effect gives it a dreamy and effective delay.) But the whole point is not to be afraid of the beast and to use it to your advantage.

Some singers like to hold their mics in their hands (a little dangerous with very expensive microphones that pick up the slightest sound or tap). Others like to use a microphone stand (far safer, plus why would you want to miss your Freddie Mercury moment when you thrust it up high in the air!)

All in all, new singers should practice with a stand; when confidence and ability improve you can move around with your microphone with ease.

7. Don’t forget to smile.

There is nothing worse than a really miserable expression, and if you’re singing a joyful song, (and looking like you’re vacuuming the carpet,) it is really going to have an adverse effect on your crowd. But did you know that facial expressions when singing is another art in itself?

Do not smile like you’re face to face listening to your mother-in-law, (through gritted teeth)! Nor should you smile like you just saw an apparition of the holy mother of God.

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