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Reading this blog will ensure you conduct rehearsals like a professional. I’ll tell you the techniques used by the best that deliver the gigs that blow peoples minds. I’m sure you have experienced this, however, you may have seen bands that have not delivered, and consequently have given an average performance. I’m sure you want to do better and achieve greatness!

So, how do we achieve greatness? Simple, we prepare for it! You need to plan for it and make the magic happen. This all starts in the rehearsal room and I have prepared three tips for you to act on immediately and ensure you up your game in no time!

Understanding the difference between pre-production and live show rehearsal

Pre-production is about nailing down individual parts for recording in the studio, however, the live show rehearsal is different. This is due to live arrangements being unique to the studio and recording arrangements, to be effective live we need to think about what will work best on the stage!

Practically it means we have two different types of rehearsals, dependant on where you are at with your campaign. Pre-production encompasses activities like writing songs, arranging and getting ready to record an EP, Single or Album. There will be lots of focus on individual parts, trying out things like new drum parts, instrument tones and really nailing down the essential components of a great record.

Now, all the pre-production should have been completed before preparing to play live and consequently you wouldn't expect a professional band to need a lot of rehearsal time. Live rehearsal is not the time to be learning your individual parts, it’s the time where you need to be putting a set together. Everybody needs to come in super prepared and analyse the set holistically.

Lets take a hypothetical situation; a band that has just finished their first album and is preparing for a support tour. Earlier in a bands career, they will need more rehearsal, later on experience will fast track the process. If you are serious about being a great band, you may need to rehearse prolifically, and perhaps you’ll need to take a solid week out to nail this down. A lot of detail goes into a great live show.

When I was younger, I was lucky. I was a full-time musician and I could take whole days to rehearse. These days that's not always possible, so you need to be organised and do a lot of the preparation before the rehearsal. Make sure that if you only have one or two rehearsals you maximise the time and have done your homework before you get into the rehearsal room.

Personally, I would not be able to work with musicians who turn up late, who have instruments that are not set up and ready to go and do not have a sense of work ethic. Time is important and I’d find it counterproductive to be having a break every twenty minutes. Its work, there is a defined outcome, you have to compete with an international level of amazing bands, and success will not happen by accident.

Look at your set holistically

Your set is not just a bunch of individual songs, it’s about putting a coherent performance together. Not only that, every single second matters, from when you start the intro to when you go off the stage. Rehearse every little detail from changeovers, gaps, think about the tempo, think of the dynamics and the set in its own right.

You need to think about what to do when something goes wrong. Rehearse a routine for technical difficulties, such as when leads and pedals go down. I suggest making a list that details every little aspect of your set: things like guitar changeovers, changing tunings, costumes, unusual instruments or whatever it is. This all needs to be planned and worked out in advance.

If you are using anything technology related: backing tracks, samplers or loops, it’s implementation needs to be super rehearsed. You may only have a fifteen minute change over so you need to be able to just plug in, check the line and be ready to rock. Build this into the formation of the set! You need to practice for when things go wrong, it's a realistic eventuality and this happens to even the biggest bands. You always need something up your sleeve!

Let me tell you a story, I was watching the band Black Stone Cherry headline a festival stage two years ago. I was watching from the front and I wasn’t that familiar with the band but I was really blown away by the set, it was amazing and it they had huge crowd participation. They were one of those bands where I knew all the songs without realising it. During the latter half of their set, I went backstage to watch from a different angle and discovered that there had been an incredible amount of technical problems. They had changed the whole set to have an acoustic section in the middle, whilst the roadies ran around and fixed everything.

They were such professionals that it was invisible from the front of the stage. I just saw an amazing gig. However, when I went backstage and realised they had to contend with hired gear that didn't work in front of the headline audience, I was even more impressed that they had victoriously played a huge gig and none of the mishaps mattered. This is the definition of a rock and roller, and it blew me away.

Leadership

Unfortunately, someone has to be the MD and this will probably fall to you as you are the person reading this blog. Somebody needs to crack the whip. You do not get a medal for it and often there is a bit of negativity but it has to be done. It injects some pace and energy into a project and ties the goals together.

You are approaching this as a professional. This is professional music so if you have people in your band who want it to be a hobby, that's fine, but they need to be in a hobby band. You need to work with like-minded professional people as it’s the only way to get the job done.

So this question always comes up;

“What do I do with that band member who doesn't get it, they are pretty talented, but they will not treat it seriously and think it will all fall into place?”

It’s not their fault as they may have watched too many rock and roll films where the whole thing is glamorised and they may have fallen for the mirage we put around the industry. Behind the scenes its completely different. Professional music is competitive and we need to treat it like a business. Your band member may be a little naive and not get the realities so you need to spell this out to them three times. If on the third try if they do not get it, it’s ok to go your separate ways. You cannot be carrying people, it’s the difficult part of the job, but those conversations have to happen.

The last point

When you walk off stage you may think the gig is over, however it is not!! You have a huge opportunity to walk into the crowd, get on the merch table and shift more product as you are actually there. You’ll meet your fans, sign their stuff and that's when you really consolidate all that great work you have done on stage. It still does not end there, the gig only really finishes when every last comment on all social media has been replied to, dealt with, commented on and shared. Only when this has been is it the end of the gig!

In the rehearsal room, we need to figure out who is going to do what: who will do merch?, who will do socials?, who will take care of the fans who want a long conversation?. Work it out, Plan it, Lead it!

Thanks for reading, if you interested in learning more and are serious about progressing in your career as a musician please join us at WateBear HQ for an Open Day or Order a Prospectus.

I could start this blog off with the standard approach that every one seems to adopt when giving out advice to vocalists; practice, eat healthily, stay hydrated, keep clear of dairy, don’t scream, don’t shout, don’t whisper, don’t drink alcohol… don’t have a life! But I wont. Because let’s face it, cutting out all of those things wont help you to lead a normal life will it?.

In all seriousness though, everyone already knows that to be better at anything, you need to be on top form both physically and mentally and the tips above are all important (if not generic) rules to being the best version of yourself. But that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to becoming a better singer. I should say now that this is just my personal opinion and purely based on my experience, my career so far and my observations as a gigging vocalist out on the live music scene week in and week out. I hope I can offer an insight into how I became a better vocalist and they are all things I wish I’d tried a lot sooner into my journey as a singer.

I’m going to rewind a good twenty years (wow, showing my age now) to when I first heard a song by Jessica Simpson called ‘I wanna love you forever’. I would sing that all day in my room, along with Jess, and I truly thought I could nail this. And then one night I sang it, without the lead part in my ears, at a karaoke bar. Nope, it wasn’t happening. What the hell was happening? It was way too high for me and I sound like a screeching cat. I couldn’t maintain any power to go for the big notes (the thing I thought I was absolutely nailing in my room at home). I was mortified. I wanted the ground to just open up and swallow me whole. I was totally overcome with fear for that song from that point onwards and that was the last time I ever sang it.

So what was so different to when I was singing along with the track in my room?. Well firstly, I didn’t have her support (cheers Jess, thanks for nothing) secondly, that song was just not compatible for my voice at that time in my life. I also have a sneaking suspicion it probably wasn’t even compatible for Jessica Simpsons real voice either, but we’ll keep that between us. And thirdly, I was not confident enough to pull off such a big track yet. I’d been able to blag my way through a Mariah Carey song or two throughout my teenage years but here I was presented with my first set back and reality check. I was 18 and thought I was ‘ready’ and then fear totally blew me out of the water.

Fast forward twenty years; six bands later, a few record deals, a bunch of singles, co-writes, a reality TV winner, thousands of students and some amazing session singing opportunities across the globe, I have found I don’t have any fear now when it comes to trying out new songs and styles that aren’t necessarily in my comfort zone. The amount of contrasting styles I have had to sing for my job, using different areas of my voice each time meant I’d probably tried everything at least once and wasn’t scared anymore of it ‘sounding bad’. I’d let go of all that tension and begun to trust in my ability.

FYI, it’s ok if something doesn’t work for you vocally. Either change it up or practice till you’ve got it, or simply just lose it from your set. No one’s judging you as no two people have the exact same voice and ability.

But becoming a better singer is so much more than just practicing. Let me tell you what I had to do in order to be a better vocalist.

… And I’m still learning every day.

Here is my 'BIG TOP FIVE’ to help you become a better vocalist.

(1.) Let go of fear

Fear  is one of the most crippling factors to your vocal development. Fearing not reaching notes, not sounding good, what you look like or what others think can put an end to you moving forward. So let go of the fear and just start to relax. And relaxing begins with letting go of tension within your body, your neck, your shoulders, your throat and even your tongue. Simple exercises like shoulder rolls, improving your posture, exercising the mouth and face can all help to relieve tension. When your body is relaxed expect to achieve better results vocally.

(2.) The right song is crucial

Make sure you’re singing what is right for your voice (lesson learnt the hard way for me) but always continue to challenge yourself with new material as often as possible. Find out your range but more importantly, where your sweet spot is. Your ‘tessitura’ - the range within which most notes of a vocal part fall. Tessitura is the most acceptable and comfortable vocal range for any given singer where the voice presents its ‘best sounding’ characteristic. Basically the best parts of your voice aren’t necessarily based on your range but more about where your voice sits and sounds its best. Once you know where your voice sounds its sweetest and is at it’s most comfortable, it’s much easier to find songs that will show you off in the right way (I have a number of great exercises that help you find this ‘sweet spot’ and am always happy to help answer any questions).

(3.) Use your face

This may sound stupid (or pretty obvious) but you’d be surprised at the difference great articulation and facial expressions can have on your singing. I think this comes with confidence and points 1 and 2 play a major part in gaining the confidence to experiment vocally. Little exercise - Try singing a line from your favourite song, take on board how you sound doing it, now try singing it just like the original artist, copying any tones and embellishments. Is there a difference in sound, did you have to change the way you say things or elongate words, notes to fit with them? This will open your eyes (and ears) to new ways of singing. Obviously you don’t want to be a copycat singer, but it really is interesting to start using your faces, mouth shapes and posture to find new and interesting ways of singing.

(4) Tonality

Tone is what's known as the colour or timbre of your singing voice. Every voice has a specific colour, which can be described as warm, dark, or strident. Two singers singing the same song in the same key may sound different — the reason is tone. ... More specifically, you recognised your favourite singer by the tone of voice. I truly believe that you can’t teach tone, it is something you possess already but you can find and develop what tone you do have. It’s always worth thinking about how you are singing certain songs. Does the song require you to convey certain emotions? Is it sad, happy, upbeat etc… Great tone and understanding is what separates an average singer from a great singer. E.g - If you have a nasal tone try working towards reducing the higher end. And if you have a boomy loud voice, try turning the ‘volume’ down a touch and experimenting with a softer tone. Your voice is an instrument and doesn’t need to be so full on all the time. Let the lyrics and story of the song navigate your vocal and stay aware of your tone throughout.

And finally…

(5.) Connectivity

Read through your lyrics, understand your song, make sure you believe what you are singing. If its sung half heartedly with no connection, your audience will disengage from your performance too. The same goes for your original songs too. You must believe what you’re singing in order to fully engage the listener. It might be a beautiful ballad or a cheesy pop song… whatever it is, believe it when you sing it. If you don’t believe it… who else will?

Aaaaaaand of course drink plenty of water, rest when you can, don’t over sing and get plenty of practice! Am I even a singer if I don’t mention those things?.

 

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