Today we lost legendary R&B singer Etta James, whose adaptable style, powerhouse voice, and fiery hit “At Last” made her one of the most recognizable blues performers of all time. Her talent has been recognized in several different ways, with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.
As with many soul singers, a voice that powerful demands a commanding stage presence as well. If you’re on the shy side, sometimes all it takes is some extra performing experience to break out of that habit. Anytime you see an opportunity to perform, grab it! And yes, that includes karaoke, as cheesy as it sounds. Check out this great list of other ways to gain experience and increase your on-stage confidence:
– Open mic nights. Great for getting used to singing with a live band, and for getting seen. Many bands started as a result of people meeting each other at open mic nights.
– Peruse Craigslist for bands looking for lead or backup singers. (Being a backup singer is a great place to start if you have no prior live band experience. You’ll learn a lot even as a backup singer.)
– Start or join an a cappella group.
– Student recitals. If you are taking lessons with a voice coach or at a music school, there are probably performance opportunities through there. They may not be the rock-star performance situations you ultimately envision yourself in, but they’re valuable stage time nonetheless.
– Start a duo. Team up with a pianist, develop a repertoire, and start playing in restaurants and bars.
– Start a band. Easiest if you are a teen or twenty-something, before your peers have real jobs, kids, and mortgages.
– Hire a band. For those with deep pockets: if you’re willing to pay for a professional band’s rehearsal time, even a novice could start a rock trio and play standard covers in bars.
– Try out for a role in a musical theater production.
– Join a choir. There are lots of community choirs – some are open to all ages and levels, others require auditions.
– Prepare yourself to sub in a party band. Even if you don’t win an audition to be a party band’s new lead singer, they may find themselves in a tight spot one day if their lead singer gets sick. If you prepare a standard party repertoire, you’ll be ready to step in if and when a last-minute opportunity arises.
– Make a live music video. Design a stage area somewhere – your basement, your garage – and videotape yourself performing to backing tracks. When you’re ready, call some musician friends and have them come over and play the song(s) live with you performing up front. Videotape that and put it up on YouTube and on your own web site to help you connect with bands looking for singers.
– Learn an instrument. If you don’t play any instruments, guitar is a great one to start with because an acoustic guitar is very portable and is enough accompaniment. This opens the door for you to write your own music and get hired for small gigs. (Search for a music teacher here!)
– Play on the street. If you do play guitar – or, once you have learned a few chords – go out somewhere and practice playing in front of people.
What are YOUR favorite ways to get performing experience, and what has helped your stage presence?
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