Over the years at Mill Hill Music Complex, we’ve seen some great vocalists pass through the studio, who have never reached their potential. We’ve also seen some not so technically good ones, who have gone on to great things. The question that many people ask is this
“How come with all that talent, Singer X got nowhere, whilst Singer Y has become a megastar and they are nowhere near as technically good”.
There are many answers to the question, some are nothing to do with musical reasons (i.e. image, looks and promotion).
But the biggest reason that many great singers fail, is down to the fact that when they join a band, there is no consideration to getting the most out of their voice.
A typical scenario is that a band gets together with three or four talented musicians who write a set of material, but whilst they play with fantastic style and panache, the vocals lets them down. So they audition singers and chose the one who they think does the most justice to their material. The singer then learns the songs and the band go off and embark on gigs and recordings. Sadly this is probably the worst way to get the best out of a singer. In this scenario, the songs are often simply a hotch potch of great riffs, beats and solo inspiration with little thought given to showcasing the versatility of the singers voice. Typically, in this scenario, the band have chosen the “best singer” instead of the best singer for the band. Having gone through the selection process, the band then give no thought to changing the arrangement of the songs to suit the new vocalist.
What we’ve learned is that the singers who succeed are those that “make songs their own”
There are three things that a singer should consider when joining a band. These are key questions and will ultimately determine the success or otherwise of the collaboration.
- Will the band be receptive to changing the key of songs? It is vital that the new singer can sing the song comfortably and give the best possible performance. This is absolutely vital. Guitarists write songs in keys that suit their style and often because songs are easy to play in certain keys (A/D/G/C for example). If a singer is most comfortable singing in E flat, then guitarists are often loathe to change the song. What this means is that the singer may never give the best delivery of the material. Often the solution is easy, such as buy the guitarist a capo or get them to tune the guitar down a semitone. I currently play in a band, where we’ve tuned down to accomodate a singer. When I realised why the singer was struggling, we simply tried the songs in a lower key, by tuning down and suddenly the track came alive. Another hidden benefit is that the songs sound different to most bands who don’t play in that key. It has helped us as a band establish our sound. For really great singers who have versatile ranges, this isn’t a massive issue, but for most rock and pop singers, finding a comfortable key for the singer is the difference between a song that should work and a song that sounds brilliant. As a singer,why would you want to work with people who are not prepared to let you shine?
- Will the band be prepared to change the existing arrangement, to let your vocals shine? There are some genre’s of music where every instruments playing at full pelt for the entire song, with a singer screaming over the top is great. If however, you are not playing that genre of music, it is vital that the band let you have breathing space in the songs to actually sing. This may mean playing quietly or not at all during verses, choruses and middle eights. You could be the best singer in the world, but if you can’t be heard and you can’t get any subtlety or inflection into your performance, then you will never do yourself or the song justice. There are plenty of musicians who see their particular riff as the absolute key to the song, but if they don’t let you get heard, then they are simply being self indulgent. A general rule of song arrangement is that less is more, so they should use killer riffs etc sparingly. Let you deliver your performance and use their killer riffs etc for intro’s, key transitions, middle 8’s and Coda’s. If everyone is playing over the top of each other, you are not playing a song as a band. You are just a few people making a noise without listening to each other.
- Understand your own voice. If a band plays a style of music that doesn’t suit your voice, you are on a hiding to nothing. If they write songs that have no melody in them, then no matter how great a singer you are, you will simply sound like a very average singer. We all have songs that we enjoy singing and which audience respond to. Identify the elements within songs that bring out the best in your voice and work with the songwriters in the band (assuming that isn’t you) to bring these elements out. I would not recommend singing a set full of songs that push your voice to its absolute limits. This is likely to damage your voice permanently. If there is one song in the set which is challenging, play it as the last song, so that if you are struggling, you won’t have to sing the rest of the set with sore vocal chords. If a band won’t accommodate you, then quit as your singing career isn’t worth wasting on people who have no regard for your wellbeing.
In short, when a singer joins a band, they need to train the rest of the band in the art of getting the most out of them. Sometimes there will be compromises, but make sure these are sensible ones. If a band are not interested in what you have to offer creatively to make the songs better, it is unlikely that the band will ever be particularly successful. Do your homework, find out the keys youc an sing most comfortably in. Record the rehearsals and if you are getting swamped, play the recording back to the band to show them, as they probably are not listening to each other. If you have cannot be heard and you can’t turn up the vocals mics any more without feedback, they have to turn down. It is as simple as that. There is no point you being there if no one can hear you and you’ll never develop a decent set of songs if everyone is deafening each other.
Singers who succeed are the ones that use the bands music to get the best from their voice. The singers we remember are often not the technically best, but those who are able to get a mood or feeling across. Putting it bluntly, it is impossible to get anything across if nobody can hear you. To be a successful singer, you need to be comfortable with the material. This means choosing the right key for your voice, having the right arrangement and using your voice as well as you can. As the singer you are the person who has to stand at the front and be the focal point for the band. Your fellow band mates are there to make sure you do this as well as you possibly can. So make sure you work with them to get the best result for everyone. It’s your career so we say “Vocalists – Get the best from your band!”.