For the vocalist it’s the ultimate “getting back on the horse” experience: the return to the stage. Mary Beth Felker shares how she faced it…and prevailed.
Let’s face it, the stage can be a scary place, especially if you’ve been away from it for a while.
Any honest vocal coach has to admit that it’s one thing to teach the theory of performance skills but it’s another thing to actually stand up and perform in front of a live audience.
I had coached many vocalists as they faced the stage and now I felt that, in order to maintain my edge, it was absolutely necessary for me to return to center stage.
I woke up the morning after my “return” literally bouncing up and down in bed, grinning from ear-to-ear saying: “I did it, I did it, I did it!”
And I did it without getting freaked out, without forgetting my words, without embarrassing myself (too much) and without letting myself down.
Here are the steps which were essential to pulling off this feat:
This might sound self evident, but I’ll say it anyway: pull together all the relevant charts and lyrics sheets for yourself and your band and make a CD of the songs that you intend to play (in the order in which you’ll be playing them).
Time the sets and give your band members new CD’s if you make any significant changes. This allows you to hold everyone accountable, while giving those supporting you all the tools they need to be successful.
Go even further than this in your research: create play-lists and listen to the flow, the tempo, the key, and the mood.
Go online and view performance coaching and artist videos, or watch some of your favorite performers in action and figure out what you can learn from them.
My band said I was the most prepared they had ever seen – I needed that preparation to help calm my nerves!
Do not trust your own ears; record EVERYTHING and LISTEN to it with a critical ear. It does take a lot of time but it’s worth it.
This analysis takes a certain amount of courage as you are listening to yourself as you really are; however, this self-scrutiny is the most accurate way to regain trust in yourself and in your instrument.
Recording also allows you to remember what adjustments were made during rehearsal for form and tempo, and to listen to your band to see if everyone is on the same page. Don’t forget to share the recordings with your band.
You will find that this process will begin to give you confidence and with this confidence, you will begin to take musical risks.
Everything changes once you’re on stage – and you really don’t want to be taken off guard. This is why rehearsing in an environment that is as close as possible to your performance set-up is essential.
Firstly, there are the artistic considerations, such as creating a stage map for every song.
Practice how you are going to move, what you are going to do with the mic stand early on, for example, and make notes for the sound engineer, so they know exactly what to expect.
The key is to practice being the person you intend to be on stage, before you actually get there.
Then, there are the technical details of rehearsal: if you have your own microphone, use it exclusively – this also applies to any pedals, monitors or other equipment you will be relying upon during the performance.
Your ability to hear yourself accurately, as well as being familiar with how you sound, is essential to maintaining your confidence and singing to the best of your ability.
(On that note, use one rehearsal to have your band overplay everything – tempo, volume etc. Since this is likely to happen once the adrenaline begins pumping, it’s best for everyone to experience it during rehearsal and have a game plan for how to counteract it).
Once you’ve found your safe zone and the band is coming together, forget it all and take some risks.
After all, being safe is neither interesting nor compelling; being safe does not create memorable moments.
Start testing the boundaries of your safety zone: how much emotion can I show? How can I tweak a word here, raise an eyebrow there or just plain rock out on stage?
You will be amazed at how much more you are capable of: I was.
Turn off the worried looks and the fear of possible memory lapses; turn off the “nay-sayers” in your head. No one came to hear a flawless performance and no one (but you) expects it.
The performance went far better than I had hoped but I’m still on this journey of self-exploration and self-observation; I’ve now entered a new post-performance ‘stage’ as I’m listening to the live recording.
Here are some key points of my learning journey:
*Stage volume and being able to hear yourself is EVERYTHING! Do NOT over-sing and do insist that your band controls their volume – even if you have to stop a rehearsal or a performance to remind them. Remember, everyone will naturally play louder and faster during the performance than during rehearsal.
*DO NOT OVERSING – my best songs occurred during the acoustic set. It had everything to do with my ability to hear myself. EVERYTHING. Do as much as possible to control your environment by using your own microphone, pedals, and monitor.
* Be curious vocally. I am curious as a musician, a singer and as a teacher. I feel like I’m once again a student of my voice and I’m anxious to explore more sounds, more genres and to see how far I can push myself.
* Be a control freak. Yup, I said it. YOU are on stage, YOU are fronting the band; it really is all about YOU up there. Everyone else is there to support you in achieving that goal, so be clear in what you expect from them while remaining firm and polite. I surrendered (or perhaps shared) control of some areas and the entire band suffered as a result.
*LET GO and give all of yourself. Be authentic.
Remember, the power of your personality on stage really covers a multitude of sins and also creates a multitude of memorable moments for the audience.
Perhaps personality and authenticity are the miracles of live performance; that’s why being authentic is my mantra for the moment…at least after I’ve done the five ‘R’s!
Mary Beth Felker is founder of the Voice Project Studios and known for her ability to quickly produce healthy, marketable results while on the road or in the studio. She is author of TVP’s ‘Elements of Warming Up’ series and is in high demand as a vocal expert.