It’s not all just about good and healthy technique . . . . This post looks at vocal technique and how your performance can be hindered by letting yourself get caught up in the worries of a technically good vocal performance. So Technique Vs Love of Music, where does your voice sit?
So after years of trailing around in and out of music venues for the best part of my teenage and adult life whether it be for college / my gigs / friends gigs / signed band gigs / my students gigs, I can safely say I’ve seen too many singers performances to mention. Some with great stage presence, some without, some with great technique, quite a few without. Then there’s this little rarity that seems to pop up that makes you want to stop and stare, those who have both a great technique and an amazing stage presence.
Now I fully admit to being a bit of a singing snob and hard to please, I don’t think I’ve been able to watch a gig since I started teaching without thinking about how I could work with the singer on stage, or what I would advise. Mainly because there are a few singers that are pushing themselves too far and once their voice starts to go onstage it can be quite uncomfortable to listen to for both the audience and other singers alike.
So anyway when I was out doing photos this week at The Saints of Sin Gig at the Joiners in Southampton (I’m a live performance photographer on the side- Check Out Silent Mannequin Photography)
I found myself taking shots of a guy that pretty much was bringing the whole package. I don’t know for sure whether he was trained or just one of these lucky people who are just annoyingly naturally talented and working with a good technique.
To be honest it was a little bit of a mad experience the last time I’d seen this band there hadn’t been much of a crowd at the venue so I hadn’t seen them to their full potential, but here they were a month or so later in their home town with quite a few of their fan base in tow.
So standing around waiting I overheard so many of their fans going on about how excited they were to see them, I’d never seen this reaction to a local band before, but I was soon to see the reason why.
They walked up through the crowd playing their opening song – everyone going wild, ( a nice little touch I have to say) from start to finish they had an amazing energy and was fully committed to their performance. Over all the band had a great look and gave a very professional set. Especially seeing as I’d heard rumours they’d only been together for a few months.
So this singer, his performance had everything that I would implore my students to aim to achieve. His voice was strong, as was his stage presence and he had something about him that made you want to stop and stare. He seemed secure in his voice and his performance and didn’t hold back with either.
Now some say that singing isn’t the most important aspect of a performance – engaging with the crowd is and he even had the whole room bouncing at a command.
Now I have never written a review, or actually felt the need to comment in writing about a singer I had seen on stage – but it did get me thinking about something that I constantly find myself trying to get through to my students. You have to find the common ground between technique and emotion to deliver great vocal performance.
So yes I’m saying It’s not all just about good and healthy technique . . . .
It’s very easy to get caught up in focusing on the downsides of singing – especially when I spend most my time talking about vocal damage, and how serious it can be.
The most important thing that I find myself needing to remind students is that good technique is not the be all and end all of a good singer.
In fact it’s far from it. Yes after studying hard to achieve a good technique you might “technically” to a teacher sound good. But to the audience that can easily sound ridged.
Part of studying technique and applying it is learning when to throw it out the window, when we’re looking for stylistic flare in a voice and performance it’s not all about perfect placement and a highly controlled breath. It’s about emotion and the love of singing, don’t get me wrong, part of the perfect performance is a great technique, but applied with the sense of “maybe this grittier moment calls for a bit of a broken sound”
I have always specialised in rock singing, ever since an old friend came up to me after one of my singing lessons at school and said I should join his band. That was nearly 12 years ago now and after finding a love of the style, suffering vocally through it before finally understanding just how aggressive the placement can be on the voice, I found the need to support it in friends and students, but I constantly find myself teetering on the edge of raw emotion and correct technique.
Most of the time in my lessons – it’s hammering in the good technique – then trying to pull back from it.
The problem is rock and alternative vocals are one of the most aggressive styles of singing on the voice. And it’s important in this style perhaps more than any other contemporary style that a good technique is found early enough before any serious damage is done,
Unfortunately it pretty much never goes that way with rock singers, usually caught up in the forced persona of the “rock and roll” lifestyle; they shrug off pain and see it as all part of the game. But it’s not, at the end of the day, all these bands out there gigging locally are trying to get to the same place, on tour, on record, on constant media coverage. But this “rock and roll” attitude is shortening the shelf life of their career, if they do finally make it – most singers’ voices can’t hack the schedule.
This rock and roll mentality is where it also usually stops a lot of alternative singers from approaching lessons, they think their voice will become operatic, or sound to classical, and it’s true, if you work with the wrong tutors, you can become carbon copies and start to take on their sound. Of course there is a certain degree to that with all teachers, as when your mimicking vowel shapes and pronunciation you are eventually going to start sounding like them at times, but a good teacher should only enhance the voice that you already have, not rewrite it.
A lot of rock singers forget that even rock singing can be possible without damage or pain, it takes a lot to do what Axl Rose and Steve Tyler do – and even they don’t get away from the effects of prolonged voice use. Steven Tyler eventually succumbed to vocal surgery and ended up having to cancel the remainder of Aerosmith’s “Rockin’ the Joint” tour in 2006. Even Axl Rose has been heavily rumored to have had throat surgery because of the supposed change in his voice in the 90’s – early 2000’s. But there seems to be no definite truth to this anywhere on researching, some say he did (but mainly because they have seen scarring on his neck – so they presume it is to do with throat surgery – if they’re going to do a routine operation on the vocal cords they go in through your mouth and down your throat not in through the side of your neck!), some say he just started taking care of his voice, some said he starting working with a vocal tutor after Sebastian Bach recommended he did before he went back on tour. But he again is just one of many rock singers rumored to have undergone serious vocal surgery.
The moral is even the most talented and practiced rock singers in the world aren’t immune to vocal damage – and end up seeking help once it’s all gone wrong. So why leave it so late? It’s one thing being Steve Tyler and cancelling a tour – he can afford to – but can your average lead singer from a local touring band afford to keep pulling out at short notice? Your current fan base will be let down – the promoters you’re working with wont necessarily be too keen on booking you again if it’s likely you will cancel, and potential investors in you will see only unprofessionalism and a singer that can’t hack it.
Unfortunately it’s a tricky one when it comes to the right balance- If you look at artist that you love, it’s not all on great technique and perfect posture; it’s on what they do with their songs – their performance, their story. Steven Tyler and Axl Rose have fantastic voices and fantastic stage presence – they don’t revolve around perfect technique but they are amazing performers. In an ideal world you’ll find the middle ground, where you are sensible about exactly how fragile your voice can be, but you don’t let it limit you to being a mediocre performer who is too afraid to lose their breath control or good posture – If you’ve practiced well enough and understand what your voice needs to be supported – you won’t need to focus on that once you get up there on stage.
So like I said before – I don’t know if Rui Brito from the Saints of Sin has had training but he definitely didn’t come across on stage as if he was insecure in any part of his performance, even if personally he had felt he may have been. His voice sounded strong from start to finish and he never lost his energy or engagement of the audience. Something that unfortunately is becoming rarer and rarer in local bands these days.
So basically – Train hard – know your limits – don’t lose your love for singing – keep your performance up – and when you need to – seek help.