In the past I’ve asked my readers what they most wanted to learn from me. The #1 performance request was how to survive a 4-hour set with your voice still intact. So let’s get to it. Click here if you’ve not read Part 1 “Breath Control.”
Support goes hand in hand with breathing. Watch singers like Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and Celine Dion. Notice how they tend to keep a wide stance with feet pressed into the floor, with their upper bodies loose and relaxed. Think Elvis. When they are preparing to hit a high note or need a bit of extra air, they bend their legs slightly to get a bit of extra power. Use your lower body to support your sound.
I really can’t stress enough the importance of a warming up before you perform. I know it gets hectic before a show, but you can warm up your voice anywhere—while driving to the venue, while you dress for the show, changing clothes, while you wait to go on stage. It doesn’t even have to be elaborate, a set of zzzzzzz’s is better than nothing. I have a great warm-up CD you can get in my store. The download is only $20.
Choose Songs in Your Range
High notes, singers love em’. But while high notes are important, connecting with your listener is much, much more important. Sticking to songs in a comfortable range will go a long way to helping your voice stay strong throughout a set. If a song is too high for you, drop it down a key or drop it all together. Never strain your voice trying to sing songs that are simply too high for you. Focus more on the emotion, color and tone.
You really don’t need me to tell you (but I will) that your body and vocal cords need plenty of water to keep your vocal mechanism hydrated, especially when you are performing. Bypass the alcohol which dries your vocal cords out and stick to water. I suggest at least 2 bottles for every 4-hour set.
Keep in shape. Consider working out at least 3-4 times a week with both weights and cardio. You can’t sit on the couch 5 nights a week and then expect your body to function well on stage for hours on end. Get your body used to the rigors of performing. If you are overweight, you’re just making it harder on your body to keep up. The more you can rely on your muscles to support the sound the less strain you put on your vulnerable voice.
Give Your Voice a Break
When planning out your song list to be sure to give your voice a chance to recuperate by including ballads or songs with few high notes or ornaments. Take a break, sit on a stool and sing intimately to your audience for a couple of songs, so you don’t have to sing over the band all the time.
Make friends with the sound person, you need them on your side. Work with them to keep a good balance between yourself and the band throughout your sets. Musicians tend to rehearse with their instruments on low volume, but once they are on stage they gradually increase the volume so they can hear their own instrument (we all do it!)
Try to sing the first song of each set at a fairly low volume. If you are excited about the show and sing the first song at full throttle, the sound person will think that’s the level you want to keep it at all the time. And then you have to sing louder than before. You have nowhere to go but up.
Limit your onstage yelling. I’m not saying ignore the audience but when you want to rev up the crowd use your microphone. Be sure to plan your onstage patter but set a limit to how much you do. You don’t need to introduce or talk about each and every song, they came to hear your music and your songs should speak for themselves.
Don’t lose your voice by talking with friends and fans while you are on break. Get backstage as quickly as possible. If they try to get your attention just pretend you can’t hear them, keep eye contact limited. Or, act as if the break music is really loud and indicate you can’t hear them. I know this may sound rude, but it’s important to save your voice for when it really counts—when you are using it on-stage.
The day before your show keep talking to a minimum. Use your texting skills. Also try to give your voice time to recuperate the day after.
Give yourself time
Everyone except the most seasoned of singers needs time to build up stamina for a 4-set show. Start with shorter performances then as your body and voice adjust ease into longer performances. Keep in mind that while you may practice long hours you don’t put your body or voice through the same rigors as you do when you are live onstage.
It’s a vicious circle; you can’t have a career if you don’t perform. And if you perform so much that you lose your voice you still won’t have a career. Use common sense.
Sickness and Allergies
If you are ill or suffering from severe allergies consider rescheduling. You may not think it’s important but you’re only as good as your last performance; if the show goes on when you’re ill you can damage both your career and your voice. If you aren’t feeling 100% see a doctor, he or she might have a quick fix. If you do choose to perform, double up on these suggestions and go extra easy on your voice.
It goes without saying that substance abuse of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are the #1 reason for lost music careers (and lost lives!)
Let me know in the comments section below how these tips have helped you survive a 4-hour set.