Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Singing in Clubs vs Stadiums - Adapting Vocal Performance To Venue Size


The stage you're on matters to your performance choices

Here's the audio version of this post...if you find it helpful, please subscribe to the All Things Vocal podcast at iTunes, and leave a review... it would be most appreciated! 
I've had several students this summer who have done their debut stadium performances before crowds of thousands, opening for a major act or in a multi-artist event. I am so proud of them, and happy to see them sailing out there in bigger fields. And of course I'm very proud of the veteran artists I work with who are headlining in those big venues!

They all started, as is usually the case, by learning to master club and small stage performances. But what works in small venues doesn't always work in larger ones... and vice versa. Here are some differences to consider when preparing for a different size venue than your voice is used to:

Setlist

It should go without saying that in choosing your setlist, you need to create your mix of ballads, uptempos, covers and originals and any radio singles you're promoting according to the venue size and the theme of the event. I won't spend a lot of this post on that bit of common sense, but of course it matters a ton. Let's move on now to...

Physicality

For all stage performances, it's helpful to remember that people have come for an experience. Your body language, or physicality, is a major part of how they experience you.
  • Small Stage:
I like to think of small stage performance as film acting. Small movements - a subtle lift of one eyebrow or hand gesture - can communicate amazing things. Even a small stage needs your physical body and face to be flexible and communicative instead of stiff and still. BUT, if you move too much, throw your hands and arms around in big grand gestures and 'reach out' for the audience you may repel the audience instead. In smaller clubs, it can feel like you are space-invading and performing 'at' instead of 'to' people with too much physicality. Get it just right by noticing how your movement is affecting the people you can see. Use their reactions and response to change what you're doing appropriately.
  • Large Stage:
I like to think of large stage performance as theater acting. Subtle movements are easily missed and lost on the audience, even if you're up there on the 'big screens' of stadiums and amphitheaters. Move in larger gestures. Don't pace like a caged tiger all the time, but do move to different parts of the stage and address the one heart of the audience in different sections. Spend time connecting to the left side of the crowd, then the right, time with the front and then use large hand and arm movements to acknowledge the back of the crowd, if there are people there, turn to the balcony for a moment, Magnifying your natural body language, make every move confident, natural but purposeful- not frantic.

Psychology

For all stages, your thinking, or performance mindset, needs to be clearly focused like a laser beam on authentically communicating. Both the song lyrics AND the audience should matter to your thinking. Sing TO the heart the lyrics are written to... FOR the listening audience. What you focus your mind on will affect how well your occupy the venue with your stage presence and what response you get from the crowd.
  • Small Stage:
Your mindset on a small stage should be dictated by your read of the degree intimacy of the room.

If it's a listening club, for instance, you can and should look at people and interact with appropriate smiles and short conversations. Effective small venue performers have always done things like asked where everyone is from, and are they enjoying the city, the food, anything to develop the instant personal connection with individuals. Make sure what you say is truly applicable to the people present. If your stage banter sound too rehearsed, goes on too long or isn't appropriate to the situation, you will get either no response or a negative one.

If it's a noisy bar or restaurant, you'll have to connect with more uptempo music, maybe more covers. When you sing an intimate ballad in a noisy room, you'll need to just imagine there is someone listening to you so you can go into the movie scene confidently talk to the invisible heart the song is written to. Sometimes this quietness creates a compelling magnet that pulls some listeners in from the external noise to the performer. Whatever you do, don't perform numbly or disengaged just because it looks like no one's listening. That will create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Large Stage:
Your mindset for large venue performing needs to be clearly focused before you walk onstage. To occupy the venue with enough magnetic stage presence, take a moment (or 10) to mentally send your presence out to all corners of the crowd as you wait for your introduction. If you're behind a curtain, take a peek to see the crowd, and pre-own them in your mind. It's not an ego trip, it's a job description. Remember, the crowd wants you to take control of their experience.

If you are or become famous, this will be easier to do because as you do it multiple times, this stage presence gets to be second nature. But even then, don't ever take the crowd for granted. It's not nice, and what goes up usually comes down when carelessness sets in. Really - how hard is it to love those who love and sustain you and your career?

If you are not famous, you need to understand that the crowd doesn't know you, or your original songs. Fame is it's own magnet, and even if you perform better than anyone else, you have to work harder and smarter to create a performance that garners a good crowd response. So let humility protect your psychological confidence. And then walk on stage like you have nothing to lose... like you own the place. Always, always with grace and thoughtfulness to the stage crew... but also with iron-clad confidence and focus. I mean after all, you've rehearsed like crazy, right?

Bottom line:
If you perform in different sized venues, you need to be a good shape shifter! Extend, adapt and commit your presence physically and psychologically to occupy whatever the venue is. Like a round hole and a square peg, the wrong shape in the wrong place just doesn't work.

If you need a brush up on your stage vocals, be sure and hit me up for an in-office or Skype vocal lesson. You can contact me by email, judy@judyrodman.com.

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