How to Sing on Stage
By T. Perry Bowers
If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll know by now that I’ve been around a long time. For most of that time, I’ve been singing in bands. Over the years I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’ve also learned a few things. Maybe my experience can help you. Here’s some tips:
I know it’s obvious but this is the most important thing to remember! If you’re parched when you’re trying to sing it’s going to sound awful.
Drink hydrating liquids throughout the day of your gig. It’s too late to slam liters of water just before you hit the stage. Like the old saying goes, if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. It can take an hour or more to re-hydrate after you’ve become thirsty.
Limit caffeine and alcohol — they dehydrate you. You may be able to get away with it when you’re in your teens and twenties, but by the time you hit your thirties, you’ll start to pay onstage for too much caffeine and alcohol.
If you want your vocal chords to be strong for a long time, always keep them hydrated.
2. Take a nap
I usually try to squeeze in a little nap on the afternoon of a gig. Even if it’s only for twenty minutes or so. It feels so good to refresh.
Most gigs are after 9pm. Even if you have your second wind and don’t feel tired, your body is still fatigued in the late evening, (unless you slept until noon!) If your body is fatigued so are your vocal chords.
Most of us have a day-job which means we probably got up early for work. Give your body a little chance to rest after your day job. It can make a world of difference to your energy levels and singing ability.
3. Get a good monitor mix
Think about what you need in the monitors to sing well with the band. Do you need rhythm guitar and backup vocal, or more drums and bass?
Whatever it is you need, make sure you take the time during sound check to get it. Don’t be bashful. Sound check, especially the monitor part, is for you. The venue wants you to sound as good as you can and part of that is hearing what you need to on stage.
If you have the luxury of a sound check before the gig don’t rush through it. If you only get a line check right before your set you can still ask the sound guy to tweak your stage mix between songs. Be polite, assertive and straightforward: “Could I please have more guitar in the monitor?” or “Please turn down the kick drum in my monitor.”
Don’t make a big show of it because the audience will find it boring, but ask for what you need.
Remember the sound rig may have its limitations, so if the sound guy says he can’t turn anything up anymore, your band has to think about adjusting your stage volume.
4. Understand the acoustics of the room
As the lead singer, you’re likely the most important part of the band. Most of the eyes will be on you, most of the time. Don’t let it go to your head, but understand if you don’t sound good, the band doesn’t sound good.
Understanding how your band sounds in any particular venue is important. If the PA system is weak, your band has to play quieter. If the room is solid concrete, tame yourselves down.
Make sure your vocal can be heard clearly over the instruments. This has a lot to do with the arrangements of your songs, but it also has to do with volume. Work with the band, the venue and the sound guy to ensure you get a good mix.
As singers, we have a reputation of being prima donnas. Make sure you’re a diva for the right reasons. Your job is to connect to the audience with your melody and words. Stand up for your ability to do that and don’t let a crap PA or a stubborn lead guitar player get in the way.
5. Connect with your audience
We all have our own way of connecting with our audience. Some sing our asses off. Others like to talk between songs or tell a story. However you do it, find a way to let your audience know that you care about them. Welcome them to your show and thank them for their applause or just for being there.
Most importantly, sing to them. They are here to see you. The songs you wrote are really about them. It’s the human experience. We all share joy and pain together.
We all get nervous sometimes and fumble with our banter. It happens. But if we remember to connect in the moment the best we can, our audience will forgive us for being human.
6. Look at your audience
When I’m singing on stage, I find it hard to look directly into an audience member’s eyes. I think it’s uncomfortable for both the performer and the audience member. Maybe a brief glance is OK but a long stare is awkward.
The trick is to make it look like you’re making eye contact without actually doing it. Look out above the crowd. Give a smile to the vast nothingness immediately above the audience.
Generally, there are lights so it’s easy to look out into the audience without making direct eye contact. The key is to keep your eyes open and look out. Don’t look down and don’t close your eyes.
Of course, there are geniuses and creative introverts who are the exception to this rule, but for most of us, we need to give the perception we are engaged. Engaging with the eyes is a powerful tool.
Standing up straight puts your spine and vocal chords in alignment for the best possible vocal outcome. If you have bad posture, your tone will suffer. In the long term, your spine will suffer too. Standing up straight also gives a confident vibe. You want the audience to think you are unapologetic about your music and your message. Standing tall, even when you don’t feel extremely secure, helps you get your music across the footlights.
8. Don’t raise your larynx
If you raise your larynx when you try to hit higher notes, you need vocal lessons. You need to learn to flex your larynx and keep it down in order to hit those notes. There is a lot of physiology involved in singing, keeping your larynx in place is just the tip of the iceberg. If you don’t understand the physiology of singing, get some lessons.
There are some good resources online, but finding a local expert and having a coaching session or two could help you immensely. It could also save your from developing bad habits and vocal polyps. Singing unconventionally may give you an interesting tone for a while, but unless you have good form, your voice will eventually burn out or even worse become a painful and expensive medical problem.
9. Warm up
Just like any sport, warming up is crucial to ensure your best singing performance. Practice vocal exercises before you go on stage. Twenty minutes is plenty. Even ten minutes is good.
I hum vocal patterns while I’m in the audience listening to the warm up acts. If you have the luxury of a back stage, use it. Drink herbal tea or water with lemon to hydrate and vocalize.
It will make your performance better and your voice will thank you for it in the long run.
As a singer, there are many things you can do to help your performance. It’s challenging because you are your own instrument. You have to take care of yourself to sing well. The more steps you take to be healthy, the better you will sound and the more you will love expressing yourself on stage.