Ultimate Guide to Singing
When great singers get set on stage something extraordinary happens: they don’t think about what they are singing; they actually become the song.
I have seen this with all of the great singers I’ve worked with: Dame Shirley Bassey, Lionel Richie, The Bee Gees, Sir Elton John, Lady Gaga, and so many others. All of them—automatically and without thinking—embody the song they are singing. They become the song for us. In fact, our love for the song is indistinguishable from our having been drawn into the personality of the vocalist who is singing it.
Now, how do these singers achieve this unforgettable connection? Vocal performance is a strange science. There is no simple system to ensure a powerful performance. But there are things all vocalists can do to make this powerful identification more likely.
I always say to aspiring singers that the first thing to do when you are working on a song is to sit down in your favorite chair with your favorite drink beside you. Then, write down the lyrics (from memory if you can) with a wide space between each line. In the space between the lines, write the outline of a screen play that gives you a story, a narrative that could accompany these lyrics and which you can access at any point in time when you are singing the song. This helps you to place the song into your deepest memory.
The wonderful thing about songs is that they are a fusion of lyrics and music; one can think of the lyrics as the specifics of the story and the music as the emotion that underlies this story. What you need to find is your own personal connection to this underlying emotion. That’s what bringing your story to the song does.
You see, if you’ve memorized the words and the music without a deeper emotional connection, this is like having the music in your random access memory but not in your hard drive.
I was working with singer Simone Simone, daughter of Nina Simone, and we were preparing for an audition for the Vegas production of the musical, We Will Rock You. She was actually going to be auditioning the song “No One But You” in front of Roger Taylor of Queen and Ben Elton, the writer of the musical. Can you imagine the pressure? We prepared by trying to connect with the basic emotion of the song—which is about the loss of someone dear. Simone’s mother had recently died and I asked her if there was some way that she could access that emotion of loss and put it into the song. She brought up her raw feelings and sang the song with an exposed heart, crying buckets as she sang. It was such a powerful emotional experience that we actually had to discuss how to place some limitations on her access to that emotional reality. When she came to the audition and sang the song the following day, she was offered the part instantly. Sadly, it didn’t work out and she never performed in the show, but Simone is definitely a singer who knows how to bring her deepest self to her music.
Of course we must remember that everyone has a bad day. I was watching the Live Aid concert in 1986 when Phil Collins was performing in London. And then he hopped on a Concorde Jet to New York to perform again on the same day! In the New York performance there was a point in his second song where he hesitated. You could see an expression flash across his face that seemed to say, “Oh shit—I’ve forgotten the words!” Next, he stumbled on the piano and you could see his expression now reflect: “Not only have I forgotten my words, but now I’ve forgotten my notes!” All of this happened in milliseconds; then he was back on track. His recovery was almost instant and the remainder of his performance was powerful.
I credit the speed of his recovery to the fact that he had done something more than memorize the words and notes to his music. Like all great singers, he had achieved a deep emotional connection with the song, too deep to be stopped by a challenge to his memory.
by Mike Dixon,
musical supervisor, director, arranger, and composer for TV and stage
This is an excerpt from the book
The Ultimate Guide to Singing:
Gigs, Sound, Money, and Health
(TC Helicon, www.tc-helicon.com)
with Gregory A. Barker and
Kathy Alexander, TC-Helicon,
Victory, BC, Canada, 2014.
It contains contributions from more
than 100 singing stars, producers,
engineers, coaches, doctors, agents,
managers, and social media gurus.