Good Vocals: The Art Of Preparation

Written by December 19th, 2012 at 11:42 am

On one level, singers are master preparers. We spend tremendous amounts of time training and practicing, and for many of us, songwriting as well. In fact, we’re so focused on our instruments and material that we can be virtually non-stop in our physical and mental preparation for success, whether or not we have any performance or recording dates on the horizon.

Yet there’s another kind of preparation that we neglect all too often, and that is with the technology that makes our recording sessions and live performances possible.

Indeed, for all of our training and practicing for live shows; for all of our writing and rehearsing prior to recording, we singers rarely take the time to proactively work with the technology that facilitates both.

There are a number of reasons why this happens, including access and money. Not everyone has friends who work in recording studios or have Pro Tools rigs at home. Even fewer people can afford to book studio or stage time to practice, much less record or perform.

Yet there’s more to it than that. There is an often unspoken and unquestioned expectation that when the time comes, a singer can show up to the studio or stage and everything will work out. That we should simply sing and perform the way we always have, and that the technology and those running it will meet us where we are and ensure that things will turn out perfectly.

It doesn’t work this way. And with a bit of objective thought, the irrationality of this expectation becomes clear: In what other setting, line of work, or discipline can we just show up — with little or no training or practice– and do a great job?  Where else in life can we, with no real knowledge of how they work or experience with them, use an entirely new set of tools competently, much less expertly?

Absolutely nowhere.

It’s like expecting to ride or swim flawlessly or even effortlessly the first time you get on a bike or into a pool. Practice and patience are not only required. They’re universally acknowledged to be necessary.

Thankfully, access to studios, friends in high places, and deep pockets aren’t mandatory to gain the skills required for stage and studio singing. This is particularly true today, as technology itself continues to graciously open up its mysteries to us. With a pair of inexpensive studio headphones, a handheld microphone, and an average laptop, we can learn the practical basics of studio hearing and singing. We are able, with the same microphone and a semi-decent pair of speakers, to practice balancing our listening and performing in a live setting (to say nothing of the countless open mic nights available in many cities).

Singers and songwriters spend an inordinate amount of time training, writing, and rehearsing. Yet rarely do we properly prepare for our work on stage and in the studio, either in terms of actual practice or self-education. For our own sakes, as well as for the sake of those with whom we work, this needs to change.

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Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in self-expression. Based in New York City, Jennifer works in private practice with musicians and non-musicians alike to discover, develop, and confidently release their best personal, professional, and performance voices. Her clients include Grammy, CMA, Emmy, and Tony award-winners, as well as corporate clients across an array of industries.  Jennifer’s insights and experiences have been captured in her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voiceheralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of musical and personal performance.  Jennifer also writes regularly for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today on matters of creative expression and her new book: Learning To Sing: A Transformative Approach to Vocal Performance and Instructionis now available.

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