Recently I had the pleasure of catching up with a bunch of kiwis at a mate’s birthday party. It’s crazy how simple things like using certain slang words and phrases without having to explain yourself can be quite gratifying. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable evening. What made it more interesting was the fact that a number of people in attendance were somehow involved in the music industry. I got to chat with some pretty established musicians, which allowed me to gain some insights that will be implemented in our future endeavours. I left this party with elevated confidence levels and that is saying a lot given the couple of weeks that lie ahead. One conversation in particular really resonated with me and I decided to use it as the basis of this post. At some point during the party I found myself on the mic entertaining the few people in attendance. After this impromptu performance I had a chat with one of the industry peeps in the building and he complimented my breath control on the mic. We went on to have a conversation about the art of vocal performance which was quite intriguing. What stayed with me from the entire exchange, though, was the topic of breath control and how that is a big part of performing live and yet I never have to think about it, at least not anymore.
Practice makes perfect – The rinse and repeat method
I keep circling back to this post, which I wrote earlier in the year about the importance of rehearsing. It’s important to note that this concept is the first step to the equation, i.e. to be good at anything you need to prepare adequately. With regards to something as subtle as breath control, it goes deeper than having regular rehearsals. For those of you not familiar with the concept, what I’m talking about is having the ability to enunciate lyrics clearly without muffling words as a result of taking a breath. I must say, when we have our highly energetic sets, I find myself running out of breath at times but this is a result of me being grossly unfit. The ability to control one’s breath comes from an intimate knowledge of the lyrics and countless repetitions, which is achieved by going beyond rehearsals. When getting ready to perform new songs live, I obsess over my lyrics and will recite my verses repeatedly for days on end. This sets markers in my mind as to which gaps in each verse are suitable for me to come up for air. By the time we get to rehearsals, I am usually very comfortable delivering my verses and hooks that we get to focus on more important things like chemistry and song/set arrangements.
Experience is Key – Tapping into the memory bank
Even though I wholeheartedly believe in relentless practice when gearing up for live performances, there are some intangibles that come with time. Having performed on various stages throughout my career, I have learnt a few tricks that come in handy when on stage. I once had a heated debate with a fellow musician about live performances. He was of the belief that an artist need not rush into doing live performances, rather they rehearse relentlessly until they are solid at performing before they start booking gigs. I couldn’t disagree more. I feel there’s only one way to get really good at performing live, and that’s by performing live constantly. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve bombed on stage, check this post about a recent occasion I stunk up the joint. Each performance I have done from the beginning of time is saved in my memory bank, and I reference these past performances whenever I hit the stage. There are simple tricks that I picked up over the years that allow me to breathe easier when on stage. A good example is skipping unnecessary words like conjunctions, or lyrics that don’t necessary contribute to the narrative, can give a performer time to catch a breath. This is easier when you are in a crew, or if you perform with a hype man, as your co-performer can fill in the blanks if necessary. That said, most tricks can only be applied once the performer is fully dialled into their lyrics.
Making it memorable – A bit of flair never hurts
Breath control is a very subtle aspect to live performances, but once it is mastered it can open a world of possibilities. There are a whole range of bits and pieces that can then be incorporated into the show to make it more interesting. I didn’t intend to make this post part of a series, but I think I will cover other elements of live performing in future posts so watch this space.