5 Ways for Singers to Survive Working with a Band

Originally published in Voice Council Magazine.

Here are 5 pointers to make sure you are working well with the right people – says Lis Lewis.

L.A vocal coach Lis Lewis plays a massive role in the lives of major recording artists such as Courtney Love, Miguel and Gwen Stefani.

In this wide ranging interview, she explains what keeps a band together, and what keeps a singer sane.

1. Gain Respect

Ideally you will have a strong hand on the dynamics of the band. But this is easier said than done for a young singer, particularly for a female.

One thing you can do to gain respect from your band mates is to learn the language of music. Often the singer can’t tell the players what they want them to do differently. They don’t understand the various parts of the drum kit or don’t know the difference between rhythm and lead guitar. It isn’t helpful to say ‘make it jazzier’ or ‘it doesn’t sound right’. Is the guitar part too busy? Should the bass player play down the neck of the bass instead of up the octave? Be specific.

A front person has a lot of learning to do in order to be the musical director. This is an important job that not everyone is capable of doing. Consider passing this responsibility to another band member or recruiting someone.

2. Friends or Session Players?

Lis with Tyson from The All American Rejects

The pros of working with your friends are endless. You can be creative and exploratory whilst fooling around and having great fun together.

The cons are that none of you really know what you are doing. It can be the blind leading the blind.

Your success depends on how talented you are, how easily you spot talent, and how you deal with hiring and firing people. When it becomes a business, it’s a whole lot harder to stay friends.

The pros of having a hired band are phenomenal. They practice and pay their parts well and they know what they’re supposed to do (as long as you direct them well!) They don’t fool around and they get stuff done. They can be creative and imaginative.

The cons are that they don’t have anything at stake. They get paid, then go home. I’ve seen hired musicians play a gig whilst reading music onstage – which I think is the worst! I want to see a band that’s excited and engaged, not one that’s working for a living. They also aren’t going to bring people to your gig. Your band might not be a long term goal for them.

3. Get Heard

If the drummer is a young player who loves the sounds of his/her drums and just wants to make as much noise as possible, there is not a thing you can do to be heard. Its acoustically impossible. If the drummer is hitting the ride and crash cymbals constantly, your vocal will be obliterated because both sounds occupy the same acoustic frequency band.

The only solution to being able to hear yourself is in-ear monitors. Otherwise you may not be able to resist the temptation of shouting over the band to hear yourself.

There is only so much twang you can use in your technique. Twang can add bite to your sound and add treble but you can’t do it all the time! It will end up sounding too much the same and lacking in colors, and you could still fatigue after a 2 hour gig.

4. Prevent Injury

Record your shows. You may cringe at hearing yourself trying to add as much volume and power as possible. It may feel amazing in the moment but when you listen back it might sound terrible! It doesn’t sound like emotion, it sounds like shouting.

You are most likely to blow your voice out towards the end of a gig. You’re tired but you still want to hit those high notes and sing all the big key changes. If you’re fatiguing, you will use extra muscles which can cause tension and throat constriction.

A well designed set list is important so you can space out the harder songs. Don’t put them all together at the end. Pace yourself. You don’t want to feel you have blown your voice out within the first part of the set, and be aware that it’s difficult to sing a soft ballad after a hard belt.

If there is a band on before you and you are in the audience talking to friends, you’re going to turn your voice into a mess. You need to be quiet before a gig. Besides your voice, you could do with saving your hearing. All singers should wear ear protection.

5. Nurture Your Relationship

A band is like a marriage. There are bands who have had a marriage counsellor travel with them on tour! They were each other’s family – they were on the road all the time and they needed someone to help them communicate.

All the issues that come up between two people in a relationship like bitterness or financial disagreements come up in a band of four, five or six people. A band’s skill set isn’t communicating – a band’s skill set is playing music, so sometimes help is needed.