Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.
Watch What You Eat or Drink Before or During a Gig
One thing I have learned as a singer is not to eat a lot right before a gig. If you do eat a lot, you may be fighting off burping while trying to sing. That’s a little something I have experienced myself. I was singing a song and trying not to burp while singing. I had to wait until I was between verses and tried to burp slowly through my nose as I pulled away from the mic. Drinking carbonated drinks too quickly may also cause problems with burping as well. Try to drink them slowly if you want to have them. I generally alternate between beer and soda, which are carbonated drinks, but I often bring a couple bottles of water to gigs too, to sort of neutralize the effects of the carbonated drinks.
Another thing is to avoid dairy products prior to a gig. Dairy products cause mucus buildup and can make singing more difficult. Spicy foods can cause problems as well. They can be rough on the vocal cords as you are trying to sing and may cause your voice to crack.
I had one outdoor summer gig where someone was nice enough to give us guys in the band some ice cold bottles of drinking water. It didn’t work out so well for my singing. I noticed that I was straining to hit the high notes that weren’t usually a problem for me. It took me a few minutes to figure out it was because the water I was drinking just before I started singing was way too cold and it was causing my vocal cords to constrict, making it harder to hit the high notes. So I let the water warm up a bit before I drank any more of it. Problem solved.
Preparing a Set List that Works Best for Your Voice
When I create my set list, I take into consideration as to what my vocal range is. Since I have a good idea as to what my vocal range is, I know when I am pushing my voice too far. I have often transposed certain songs to a key more appropriate for my range. That helps matters considerably. If it still doesn't work, I drop the song from my list.
Sometimes it becomes obvious when someone is really straining to hit certain notes. It does not sound too good when someone is doing that. This doesn’t just pertain to the high notes either. Some people try to sing songs that are too low for their vocal range as well. When they do that, they are usually unable to project well.
You also have to consider how long you will be singing. I can sing a number of songs where I hit notes above a certain range but after a while, it becomes an issue. For a four hour gig, it could get difficult if you are constantly pushing the limits of your vocal range. It could be hard by that fourth hour, to hit the higher notes and your voice may even be hoarse by the middle of the night, if you go too far. So having too many songs on your set list that force you to push the limits could make for a difficult night of singing.
I also try not to do too many songs in a row where I am pushing my limits vocally. I will throw in some songs where I am not working too hard, here and there, to break it up a bit. Sometimes I will save the ones where I really push it at the end of a set right before a break. Then I have my break to give my voice a rest and I will be ready to go for the next set. I also try not to start out with a difficult song right away. I will try to start with a song or two that will allow me to warm up a bit before I try to push things. So the order of the songs on the list make a big difference as well.
I have seen a lot of really good singers try to sing songs out of their range or out of their optimal range and they just did not sound that good. But when they are working within their optimal range, look out, because they are amazing. Even an average singer can sound very good if he knows what his optimal range is and his best keys for singing are.
Your optimal range is the range where your voice sounds best. The songs that are within your optimal range are the ones that should make up the bulk of your set list. Especially if you are a solo act, because the vocals are more up front and not as buried in the mix as they would be in a large band situation.
Learning Proper Microphone Techniques
You can be a great singer without a mic but when you do a live performance, you usually need to use a mic. That means that you should know how to use one properly. Overall, there is really not much to it but some singers have to be a little more aware of their technique because they may have a lot of changes in volume or dynamics, based upon which notes they are hitting.
As an example, when hitting some high notes, I have to really belt it out, which raises my volume a bit. So, in order to compensate, I have to back away from the microphone. Some singers neglect to do that and it negatively affects the sound. Some things can be done to help a situation such as that. Things like the use of a compressor can help to reduce a large spike in volume. I use one when I play out but I only use light compression. Too much compression can make your voice sound worse in some ways, even if it helps with the problem of spikes in volume. So light compression helps some but I still have to be mindful of various mic techniques and will back off of the mic some when I know I’m about to get louder.
As a solo performer, I have had to remember both the guitar parts and the lyrics. I was a guitarist first and never really had a problem learning the music to a song. It wasn’t until much later that I began to sing. Then I had to learn the words to the song. At first it was somewhat difficult. That was simply because it was new to me. Playing the guitar was always like second nature to me. I could very easily play through a song without even really thinking too much about it. For the song lyrics, though, I had to concentrate a bit more.
The important thing is to not allow yourself to become too distracted. Allowing your mind to wander may cause you to forget the next line you have to sing. It obviously is more of an issue with songs you have just recently learned. So do what you can to maintain your concentration. Don’t get too distracted by looking at that pretty girl in the audience who is looking at you. She’s probably just looking at you simply because you are up there in front of everyone, not because she thinks you’re hot. On the other hand, don’t be distracted if it seems like nobody is paying attention to you. People are often paying more attention to you than you think. They are usually just out for a night of fun with friends and are enjoying having a conversation with them while listening to the music. The important thing is just to not allow your mind to wander too much.
You don’t always have to sing the song in order to memorize the words to a song. I have spent a lot of time just looking at lyrics that were printed out on a piece of paper and committing them to memory by reading them over and over. I would sometimes read the verse and then say it over and over again in my head. I would often do that on my day job during breaks. I would take the folded up sheet of paper, with the printed words to a song I was learning, out of my pocket read the verse, put the sheet of paper back in my pocket and keep repeating the words in my head over and over. A lot of times, I would have the words to a song memorized by the end of the day. Then I would go home and sing the words along with my guitar playing.
If you are doing cover songs, you could just burn a CD with all of the songs you have to learn and sing along with them as you are riding back and forth to work. I do that all of the time and it is a big help. It also helps me to learn the melody of a song that I am not too familiar with. I have made a number of CD’s in the past that consisted only of the songs I was learning at the time. I would practice singing them while driving to work. It’s great from a time management perspective.
Cheating on the Lyrics
There are also ways of cheating with the song’s words. I had one song that I was having trouble learning the words to. So I taped a printed out sheet of paper with the words of the song on it to the back of my acoustic guitar. I took a quick glance at it just before I went to play the song. I have also put a sheet of paper with the lyrics in very large print on the floor for me to glance at real quick in case I was at a loss for the words. That worked well when I played an acoustic guitar sitting down. I didn’t have to strain my eyes to see. The very large print helped to.
There are also ways of cheating when you forget the words to a song too. Sometimes when I am at a loss for the words to a specific verse, I might just sing the lyrics that I remember from a different verse. Believe it or not, some people in the audience won’t even notice. I prefer to not have to do that but it’s better than not singing until you remember the words. That’s a lot more noticeable. Another trick is to get real close to the mic and mumble something to the tune of the song and it just sounds like you are just not enunciating fully. Hey, some famous singers make a career out of singing songs without fully enunciating, so who are we to criticize it? Just don't make a career out of cheating on the lyrics. I only mention these ideas for the purpose of a quick, temporary bailout in a tight spot.
To Make a Long Story Short
After a while you will begin to see what works best for you in a live performance situation. You will learn what you can do in order to prepare for a live performance, so that you could give the best performance that you are capable of. There is obviously more to it than being a good singer and just showing up. There are a number of things you could do to increase the likelihood of giving a good performance. I hope that the tips in this article may be of some help to you singers just starting to play out. Good luck and keep on rocking.
© 2017 Bob Craypoe