June/July 2014

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Please, Help Yourself

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: Please, Help Yourself

I’’ve been noticing how often we performers give our power away. Rather than being personally responsible for our success, we often have a long list of excuses why we didn’’t learn something, improve in an area, sing or perform as well as we could have.
To pinpoint specifically what we’re responsible for, we should start taking our power back. We are immensely powerful manifesting generators and have a capacity to mesmerize and entertain an entire stadium, or café, with just ourselves… and the music.

Fear of failure gives us an excuse to fail and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So long as we say, “It’’s not my fault”,” and blame circumstances, other people (or even ourselves) as un-malleable we are disempowered. Even if we’re performing in a horrible environment that could legitimately be blamed 99% for de-stabilising us, we are still 100% responsible for the 1% that we CAN change. Some of my most memorable gigs have been when I’’ve turned around a really indifferent or even hostile audience. Ultimately, it’’s up to us.

When we agree to an event, path or project, we have a responsibility to project success onto that event, path or project. Yes there are always hard-won experiences of failure from the past that we could use to ‘back-up’ or excuse failure in the present/future, but we’re in this for the long haul. It’’s up to us to see every new gig, project or time we sing as a clean slate requiring our optimistic presence and assertiveness.

This column isn’’t intended to intimidate or overwhelm. Rather, it’s an old fashioned, ‘Rah, rah, rah! Go team!’” pep talk. Each one of us is a leader – either for our band or our own solo career. This means that we alone will be held accountable. This list is in no way exclusive, but the ways that we can help ourselves certainly include:

– Organising and scheduling rehearsals.

– Keeping rehearsals focused to a realistic agenda. You don’’t have to be a humourless control freak. If you want to spend time catching up with and drinking with band mates, set up another time to ‘hang’ separate from the rehearsal.

– Resolving band conflicts – settling egos and motivating all band members / team members with encouragement, strategy and constructive feedback.

– Yapping at people’s ankles! Call band-members before a rehearsal/gig to remind them of details. Call them just to tell them that you value them!

– Making hard decisions – If someone can’’t commit and is consistently being inconsistent… fire their ass and get someone who can deliver. At the same time, know the difference between someone who is incapable of giving you (or the music) what you want, and someone who just hasn’’t been honestly told what’’s required of them.

– Putting the music first. Find out what each song needs to be fully, and best, realised. Be the spokesperson for songs… as the Lorax was for the trees.

– Finding and allowing supporters and mentors to guide you and help you retain focus on your voice / writing / music
Conserving your voice – at a gig, the day of a gig or especially around gig-heavy periods and touring.

– Making sure songs are in the right key for you to sing. You can be quite the ninja about this: I once ducked into St Matthews in the City to suss out the starting note of a song on the piano there, then sang it down the phone to the guy transposing for orchestra.

– Chart writing – making the charts legible and comprehensible with a clear roadmap for arrangement and form. This goes for originals too.
Motivating yourself – with care and encouragement.

– Finding and being able to use quality backing tracks to practice to if you don’’t play an instrument.

– Working things out by ear rather than claiming you need sheet music. The internet can’t be trusted to provide accurate lyrics and chords. Your ears are THE most important component of being a singer.

– Staying fit and vocally healthy, including warming up every day.

– Memorising lyrics, song form/arrangement, dynamic map, tempo.

– Practising intros and outtros. Probably THE most important part of being a musician.

– Sourcing and learning great material.

– Writing songs and normalising a robust creative practice.

– Ensuring personal practice independent of rehearsals.

– Managing or delegating the tasks of: organising, publicising, promoting gigs and liaising with venues etc.

– Productively using social media for networking and growing an audience.

– Being a great communicator of the song – on-stage, in rehearsal and with a sound person.

– Setting and keeping a good ‘vibe’ or mood, be it at a gig, or within your own private practice.

– Applying vocal technique – knowing and understanding your body and voice.

– Connecting – with the musical community, with an audience, with band members, with your voice and with the song.

– Getting to know the room you’re playing in (acoustics, layout) by setting up with enough time to put yourself at ease.

– Knowing how to set-up and run a PA and finding out which settings (mic / reverb / EQ) suit your voice.

– Putting yourself in the direct beam of monitors or foldback.

– Situating yourself on-stage so that you haven’’t got a ride cymbal in your ear.

– Appropriate stage volume for the gig/setting… getting what you want out of soundcheck.

– Pitching. Not being able to hear yourself should never be an excuse. You can certainly ‘feel’ what’’s right – choir singers very rarely hear their own voice within the blend.

– Planning for the future – setting and sticking to goals.

– Keep standards high – always work with people who are better than you. (Thanks Kevin Haines for this little piece of genius advice.)

– Listen! Ask people you respect to recommend music they like, or songs they think would suit you. Keep up to date with good music of all genres.

– Assess your performance after every gig (as AC/DC do). Focus on solutions and the places where more technique could have improved your game, rather than cringing over the sounds you don’’t like.

– Be objective. Be the one who records rehearsals so that you can assess what the band sounds like as a whole, so that you can work on balance, delivery and presentation.

– Record yourself and continue to reflect on and re-write your songs until they make complete sense to you.

– Have fun and enjoy this beautiful relationship you have with your healer, lover, educator, champion and inspiration – music.

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