All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: May 2009

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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Singing Into a Spotlight

Singing onstage while being blinded by a spotlight can be disconcerting if you're not used to it. I got a great question from a reader about it; with her permission I'll post her question and my answer here:
Hi, Judy,

My gigs are mostly small, in dimly-lit rooms where I can make eye contact with people. I recently had an experience performing in a theatre seating 600, in which I looked out into the black abyss with a blinding spotlight on me. Felt like I was standing in the road at midnight with a motorcycle coming at me. Suggestions? Thanks, Devora Gila
My answer:
HAHA... yes, been there done that.. it can be disconcerting indeed to look out at the audience and see only "the LIGHT"!

Here's what I do:
I pick a spot in the whiteness, in the middle of where I think the audience will be sitting, and sing to that spot like it is a person. It WILL be a person... and they will think you're singing right to them. When you do this, everyone around that person will ALSO think you're singing directly to them, because that's the way it will look from their point of view.

I move this focal "spot" several times while I'm singing the song, to another place in the whiteness and sing to someone else. I don't do this rapidly, I try to make it real to myself and pace it as if I were really connected to each person.

Don't move the "spots" you sing to too far up or you'll be perceived as singing over everyone's heads. Keep them at about audience level. You'll get used to it quickly.

You can use this trick if ever you need to talk or sing to a camera. Many times you will be directed NOT to look at a camera when performing, but if you are supposed to (say for a video, or for a photo shoot) just look directly at the eye of the camera like you would look into human eyes... the eyes of whoever you'd logically be talking or singing to at the time.

This works in the "blackness" you see, as well. Just pick a spot in the general direction of where you think your audience is. Let me know how this works for you!
Comments, anyone?

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Vocal Rehearsing... Can You Over-Do It?

I got a great question from a rock artist I communicate with on The Modern Vocalist website:
...I'm having a heck of a time getting the energy and motivation to work these 11 songs (for my upcoming recording project). I love them (if I do say so myself since I wrote them LOL); they're good songs; they require some challenging vocal work; they have good's pretty much all there. But it's like I'm bored with them?!!!!!! Though I'm not exactly sure what's going on... In your opinion, should I just sing other material and give them some rest so I can come back to them fresh? ... I dont' feel i have the time to do that.
I will pass along what I told her to you, and I hope it helps you any time you seek to make your songs so routine you don't have to "think" when you perform, but also deal with the catch-22 of being over-rehearsed:

James Taylor (one of my heros) was once asked if he ever got bored singing "Fire And Rain". He responded that during rehearsals they ALL are bored stiff with it, they can't hardly take it seriously but of course they must rehearse it. There is a lot of goofing and kidding around concerning that song at rehearsal.

However, he said that every single time he sings it in live performance before an audience, it comes alive again... it's like he's doing it for the first time again. To this day.

What is the difference? There is more than JT and band in the mix... there's ... the LISTENERS!

Somehow, I think you need to separate rehearsing technically from rehearsing performance communication. Imho, you should rehearse technically until you don't have to think, then completely go on stage in your mind and perform to the unseen other who will be listening to your CD. You have to make this person real for yourself... much like an actor going into character.

DO NOT practice performance much. Just when you're ready, once or twice at the most, a day. Only practice the drills of technically performing the song.

It's a mind thing, and a set-place thing. When you perform, the act won't be authentic without the listener involved. AND THE CONTROL ROOM DOESN"T COUNT! Sing to the beings who will be listening to your CD. But then once you've performed, it can't feel authentic again for a while, because after all, the listener's already heard it... and for goodness sakes you don't want to bore them!! hehe. And think about it... once someone performs in an olympic event, does anyone ask them to repeat that all-out performance again that same day??? Not and live to tell about it, lol!

And I mean not only in live performance, but in seeking that studio master vocal as well. If you have to sing it too many times, you need to park it and come back another day. Even making an actor do a scene too many times takes the life right out of it as they lose perspective and inhibition creeps in.

Does this make sense? Hey, one of the best wishes I can make for you is that you get sick of hearing these songs on the radio :)
Does anyone else out there have experience with this conundrum?

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Alexander Technique and Singing: by AT Practitioner Ethan Kind

Today I would like to introduce you to Ethan Kind. Ethan is an Alexander Technique practitioner who I met at an Indie Connect meeting here in Nashville. He wrote an article on singing and the Alexander Technique that blew me away, so I asked him if he would write a guest post about what he does for my blog readers. I consider him a go-to team member of what I do when I see chronic, mysterious tension in a client that I'm having trouble helping them release. His contact information will be at the bottom of this post. - xoxo Judy

Ethan Kind:

My approach to all musical performing as an Alexander Technique teacher is... can I show the performer how do to do the least amount of work and sing with high dynamic and intensity, without the pain and tension of hunkering down in fear trying to do his or her best work?

I do this by giving the singer back control over her body. What this means is, I give the singer back the ability to release the accumulated tension in his body as he performs. I make the performer aware of where she is habitually holding in her body, and gently teach her how to release this tension, which in many singers manifests as strangling the voice and causing physical pain.

The effect of letting go of the tension that doesn't work, is to let the voice come out bigger and with more beautiful tone. We have a saying in this technique,

"If you can let go of the tension in a muscle, you have control over it and can do what works".

If you replace one set of habits with another set of habits, even if the new habits are much better technically, you can still get back into physical trouble. Unnecessary tension causes compression in the joints, forcing you to hurt and be off balance, and makes what looks right fail.

Singing with high dynamic means you perform with expressive intensity. It is my job to see that you do this without sacrificing your body, without hurting yourself. When you work with an Alexander Technique teacher you become taller and balanced as you stand or sit to perform, so that you are free to really go for it, which means it sounds like you want it to sound.

About Ethan Kind:

Ethan is a certified Alexander Technique teacher now located in Albuquerque, Az, who has been published in this country and abroad in journals including Music Teacher, American Teacher, American Music Teacher, American String Teacher, New Mexico Light, Massage Therapy Journal, and Yoga and Life. He also authored e-books on Alexander Technique located at this page on his website, and a blog available here He has been a musician and athlete all of his life, and works with people in those fields as well as many others.  For more and to contact him, go his website . 

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Recording Producer: The Politics and The Money

This is a follow-up post about choosing a recording producer. We'll also talk about costs.

There is one more factor in your choice of producer - the POLITICAL factor. Questions you may wish to explore: Can this person get your project heard by the industry? Who does this person know and are they willing to submit (pitch) your project to record labels? What is their track record of getting artists signed?

You may be surprised, but I suggest it's smarter to go with someone who will not promise to submit your project. The truth is, a producer that submits every project they do to the label powers-that-be will have a very poor reputation. This is because not every project is going to fit the business models of the people the producer knows. The wise producer knows to wait until the final mix is done before deciding when, where --or if -- to pitch it to their contacts.

There are, of course, producers who do pitch everything they produce. These are major producers with track records of commercial success which they want to keep building. They will only take certain projects on - because they know that they are gambling their reputations with the labels on every project they pitch. If they agree to work with you, their fees and negotiated points will be much more expensive. Actually, they usually only take on projects already signed with significant record labels.

Bottom line:

Your project could end up being something YOU have to promote and sell -- or pitch to powers-that-be. You need to know and be willing to do that before you commit your time, heart, energy and money to a recording project. A producer may legitimately fully intend to pitch you to his or her contacts. But if someone promises that if you choose them to produce your project they will make you a big star, run the other way. And don't look back!

A creative, independent producer of the highest integrity with whom I work as vocal producer is Tom Paden. I asked him for his opinion as to what a new artist can typically expect to pay an honest producer who can get a great, possibly radio-ready project done on a limited budget. His thoughts confirmed my experience:
  • A common range of producer fee is from $200 to $500 per side (song), according to time in the studio and type of project required (demo or master, backing vocals or not, is there a vocal producer on the team, how long to budget for lead vocals, tuning, mixing, etc). This usually brings the cost range of a "limited press" project to around $1000 - $1500 per side (song).
  • An average fee for major producers (if you can get one) is $5,000 per side plus 2 to 6 "percentage points" of sales. Total costs per side can be from $10,000 per side upwards.
The producer's fees of course are added to the budget along with the costs of musicians, studio, engineer, pre-production vocal lessons, etc. If you are doing a project for sale, remember to budget for photo shoots, graphics & duplication, etc.

Hope this gives you some framework when you are speaking to prospective producers. Any more thoughts or questions? Comment! Thx!

PS... You have another opportunity to hear performance coach Diane Kimbrough and music business pro Vinny Ribas speak at Indie Connect this week:

"Making Your Act As Commanding Visually As It Is Musically Is What Sells" with Diane Kimbrough
Monday, May 4th
11:30 AM - 1:30 PM
Corky's Ribs & BBQ
100 Franklin Road
Brentwood, TN
"Making Money Making Music" with Vinny Ribas
Monday, May 4th
6:00 PM - 7:45 PM
The Closing Bell Wall Street Pub
1524 Demonbreun St.
Nashville, TN

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