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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Singing with Bands Unfamiliar With You

I got a great question about singing with musicians in "instant situations" where you sit in with those who don't regularly accompany you.

This situation can happen at big and small events, such as:
  1. Bars and clubs who invite new singers to sit in.
  2. Contests or auditions where the accompaniest plays for you with no rehearsal.
  3. Informal jamfests where you're invited to "do something you know", and someone there plays for you.
  4. Events where artists have to fly or bus in and perform with a house band of some kind.
  5. TV shows where the artist plays with the house band.
It's always tricky. Sometimes a musician or band can be awesome, but even with great musicians this is never the optimum situation. What you can do is limited, but here are some suggestions from my days of doing these things:
  1. ALWAYS know the key for a song you are considering singing.
  2. ALWAYS be able to give them the "feel" and the tempo right before they count off. If you are confident with doing so, you count the intro off yourself.
  3. ALWAYS show respect to the band, no matter how limited or strange they play.
  4. ALWAYS try like crazy to get a rehearsal or at least a soundcheck. Not always possible, but try anyway.
  5. Be ready to sing as if you're singing acapella. If they don't play the song the way you know it, you'll need to confidently plow ahead and let them follow you. Practice this by doing a lot of acapella singing.
  6. If the players ARE good, consider changing your own performance to an "in the moment" feel. You'll have to literally feel this out.
  7. Sometimes you have a situation where your own band member(s) can't get to the gig for some reason, and you may be offered the services of a substitute. If you can rehearse, and if you have the authority and confidence and kindness do so with respect, pay rehearsal fee to a player who hasn't had time enough to master your songs. Then tell them you're just not going to be able to use them for this show, because it came together so fast. It's usually better to play with just one musician (or trio) than to play with an unprepared band.
  8. Remember to sing TO THE AUDIENCE... don't perform as if you are rehearsing.
  9. Leave the band and the audience wanting more:)
  10. If asked to sing and you don't think you and the band are a good enouth fit, politely decline the invitation. The last time I declined to sing was an event where the band was absolutely incredible... and I didn't know any of their genre of songs! I saved myself some embarrassment there!
Lest we condescend, remember that plenty of musicians have stories about having to sing with singers who don't have a clue, too! Make it easy on them... be prepared... and be respectful. Let that be your reputation among musicians and it will pay off in droves. The last thing you want is for a band to groan as you asend the stage towards the microphone:)

Anyone else have suggestions?

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  • At June 17, 2009 at 2:06 PM , Anonymous Kim Rushing said...

    hi judy

    my 2 cents....

    1. KISS RULE: Keep it simple, sugar!
    2. pick the most well known well played and simple songs you know
    3. be flexible.
    5. Use eye contact and hand/arm signals to indicate tempo, ending, top, bridge,etc.
    it's both leading and following...see #3

    I"ve done the vast majority of my gigs when i lived back east (Boston, NYC) with no rehearsals--many private party gigs were done like this, the singer is expected just to step in and sing the "usual" repetoire for
    these types of jobs. It was great when the contractor would put me w/ the same
    band, but sometimes i'd get put w/ a new band...when the client requested that they
    "add" a singer..etc.

    when i lead a band, i try to get the same guys, but sometimes need to call a sub.
    (lucky for me, i'm married to my drummer LOL; but sometimes he would get booked out from under me!)

    the guys should know the tunes that "everyone plays" at these jobs, but having one's
    own charts (lead sheets) to pass out to the band is great...when appropriate..

    if i think i might be called upon to sit in, i tuck a song list w/ keys in my purse before setting out ...if not, a standard blues is often useful here!

    when not able to sound check, i take a minute to say a few words to the audience over the mic if i can;' this helps me connect to the listeners, and also to
    hear what i've got in terms of mic and PA; also i try to find the "sweet spot"
    that is, the spot where i can best hear myself on monitors/PA...

    thanks again for a great post!

    xo...Kim R

  • At June 17, 2009 at 2:08 PM , Anonymous Gordy Thomas said...

    First time as a stranger to the band, the fewer chord changes, the better.

    I once got up on stage with a band and called "Pretty Woman", and the bass player said "Don't know it".

    So I switched to "Long-Haired Country Boy" and everything went fine.... Read More

    Had the same response to "El Paso" at another bar.

    Switched to "Singin' The Blues" and that worked.

    Both times were over 20 years ago, but I still have a "simple" option in mind in case my first choice is nixed by the band.

    NEVER try to tell the band something like, "Oh, it's easy, it goes like this:" or "You'll hear the changes...simple"

    "Arrangements While You Wait" are for florists, NOT guest vocalists.

    Thanks for the great post, Judy. You reminded me of some things I should NEVER forget :^)

  • At June 17, 2009 at 2:09 PM , Anonymous PJ Steelman said...

    I have found that I can use Honky Tonk Women, whether it is with a rock band or a country band, I haven't found a crew that doesn't know that one, yet. It gives me confidence in them...and it gives them confidence in me. Then stick to standards until the first break, when you might have a chance to compare notes. Excellent topic.

  • At June 17, 2009 at 2:10 PM , Anonymous Michael Hopkins said...

    I've always found " The Joker" simple, yet fun for everyone.. and you can jam around with it,change up tempos and feels... or just play it straight 1,4,5,4,1

  • At June 17, 2009 at 2:11 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thanks to everyone who has commented for your generousity in sharing your experiences and tips. Wow... we all make each other better. Anyone else? Chime in!


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