What makes a great vocal performance? There are many answers to that, and they don’t all require being the most technically gifted singer with a five-octave range. Confidence, charisma, and the right repertoire are among the many subjective elements that go into any great performance – live or when recording vocals in a studio – in addition to having chops as a singer.
“‘Synthesis’ is this fancy word we throw around in our college,’” says Daniel Ebbers, Associate Professor of Voice at the Conservatory of Music of the University of the Pacific, “and I do think it’s an important thing. We study all these things individually, but it’s the synthesis, a command of your vocal instrument, a command of the stage, a command of the language and the language you use – all these things synthesized together make a great performance.”
Of course, much of what helps a performer reach the point where all these elements come together is preparation, practice, and experience. A good vocal warm up, and general vocal care, can help ensure your peak performance.
When preparing for a performance or studio date, “the obvious thing to do is rest,” recommends Ebbers. “But there are environmental things you might not be aware of or consider an issue, like being in a place where the decibel level is much higher than you think it is. In order to compete with the sound, you have to strain your voice to speak louder to be heard or understood. Many times, people are unaware that they’re in such an environment, because there are so many noisy places in our world, and we’ve come to accept them and adjust. But when you’re a singer, you have to be more aware of these environmental conditions.”
If you’re playing club dates, bars, or parties, the quality of your performance and your vocal health can be severely impacted in the hours leading up to your set by talking and socializing before you get on stage. “Don’t go screaming at a football game or tax your voice before a performance or session, even if it’s two weeks before a session,” says vocalist, studio owner, and producer Jon Marc Weiss. “That can take its toll on your throat and vocal chords and can really mess you up. Keep in mind that you need to keep your voice in tip-top shape so that when you’re called on, you can perform.”
But it’s not just the days and hours leading up to a given night’s performance that you need to consider, especially if you are singing in a stage production or any performance ensemble that requires nightly or continuous performances. “Very often, after a performance there’s a party, a reception or something,” cautions Ebbers, “and many famous singers will say, ‘I’d love to come, but I can’t, it’s not possible.’ It’s all common sense stuff that revolves around rest and awareness of your instrument.
“All instruments are subject to environmental conditions – humidity, heat, all sorts of things. But instrumentalists get to put their instrument in a case and walk away, or put it in a room that’s ideally suited to make it sound good. As vocalists, we have to take our instrument everywhere, and there’s this intersection of our lives and this instrument. So there are all sorts of things you need to pay attention to that other instrumentalists don’t have to. But good health is good singing, and whatever you can do to keep yourself healthy is important. Every person is different, and every voice has it’s own limitations and set of things it can tolerate”
Image of singer via ShutterStock.com.