“Park and bark.” A little harsh, perhaps, but that is an industry term that refers to those that just stand and sing, paying no attention whatsoever to the words they are singing, but instead just trying to impress with vocal acrobatics. In this article, I will explain the importance of communicating with your audience while singing.
Music is an inherently emotional experience. One of our most valuable tools as singers is the ability to communicate with our audience and make them feel something. Sometimes singers get so caught up in making impressive vocal sounds that they lose sight of communicating the content of the song. Think about the performances you’ve seen that have really impacted you. I challenge you to find one example where the singer wasn’t really feeling what he or she was singing about.
There are many different methods used in preparing a song emotionally, and working on a song this way is a very personal experience. If any of you have taken acting classes, some of this may sound familiar to you, which is great! These concepts apply most directly to musical theater, though a lot of the concepts can certainly be applied to other genres of music.
The first step is to prepare yourself emotionally for the journey you are about to take with your audience. This is the work that is done before you even begin singing. You can take the song out of context of the show that it is from and make it fit your life. Let’s take “On My Own” from Les Miserables as an example. Now, you don’t have to put yourself exactly in Eponine’s shoes, as perhaps you can’t imagine what it would feel like to be a dirt-poor girl who is madly in love with a revolutionary who doesn’t love her back. However, maybe you do have a really big crush on a guy in your math class, and it seems like he might not be reciprocating the same feelings. There you go! That is a starting point to relating to the meaning of the song. Now, you need to just do some “homework.” Think about how much you like that boy and why you like him. Then imagine what it would feel like if you got up the nerve to tell him so, and he flat out rejected you. In fact, he told you he really has always liked your sister…do you know if she might like him back? Ouch. That homework is called your preparation. Think about all of this before you sing the song, and then let it go, once you have stirred up the feelings you need for the song. Then, just sing the song and really think about the words that you are saying, not how your voice sounds. I promise you a magnificent performance.
Now, you must know to whom you are talking and your objective (what it is you want to achieve from this person by the end of the song). Who might you confide in about this boy you are so madly in love with? Let’s imagine it is your best friend that would lend a listening ear. But, what is it that you need to achieve from her by the end of the song? This is where you have to make the stakes high, to give you the most powerful set of circumstances to work with. Perhaps, she is also good friends with him, and if you relay to her how much you love him, she will be able to talk to him for you. Create whatever imaginary circumstances work for you – it is a personal choice based on your life experiences and what makes you come to life. If you are really trying to communicate a message/achieve a goal, your audience will be on the edge of their seats.
Besides helping you to communicate better with your audience, these tools have an added bonus. Concentrating on what you are saying will take your attention away from your voice. Most of you know that the best vocal sounds are made when you are relaxed and not worried. Conversely, if you are anticipating a high note and start tensing up your body, the note probably won’t go as you wish. Tension and nervous energy will not help you sing beautifully. Putting your attention on the words of the song and the message you are trying to relay will take the attention off of the singing. This will free up your voice to make the beautiful sounds that you make alone when you are practicing!
Just remember: you love music because it moves you, and your audience is drawn to music for the same reason. You have the power to make your audience think, help them relax, help them to grieve or celebrate – it is such a gift! Although you as a singer might be proud that you can belt that D (as you should be!), most of your audience will probably be more impressed by watching a living, breathing, human in front of them who is telling a story. Happy performing!