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Tips for Singers:

"Smoke and Mirrors"
(What the audience doesn't know doesn't matter)

by Mark Baxter

Voicelesson.comThe crowd erupts as the house lights dim. The band kicks off with a thunderous riff and baits the audience until the singer runs out to center stage; grabbing the mic just a split-second before the first verse begins. As he belts out the words he leans way out over the audience; a sea of outstretched arms reach for him. He slaps hands with everyone as he moves stage left and then pumps his fist to acknowledge all those seated on the side of the arena. As lights flash and music blares, the singer looks like a pinball, bouncing from side to side and all points in between. What a show. From the audience it looks like he's on top of the world; living the dream. In reality, he is living a nightmare. How can that be? Let's view the concert again from the singer's perspective.

The concert is already running thirty minutes behind schedule and you're still arguing with the guitar player over the set list. With your voice in such a delicate condition, there are certain songs you just can't do. The crowd is chanting and the promoter is foaming at the mouth. The road manager swipes the current revision of the set and hands it to the soundman who runs out to the sound board. As the band is hurried onto the stage you're told your in-ear monitors are not working. The house lights dim and the crowd roars but the roadie is still working on the problem. The band kicks into the first song and you're still backstage. What are they doing? Idiots! I told them to wait. Great. As if my throat doesn't hurt enough, now I have absolutely no monitor .

Having no choice but to hit the stage, you run to the mic in the nick of time. The first few words confirm your worst fear; you can't hear squat. Quickly, you move forward and lean out over the crowd to get something from the house system. The people up front love this and start tugging at your legs. Can't stay here. Your throat begins to feel like a giant hand is bearing down around it. Better move. Slapping hands with fans makes for a smooth transition over to the speakers stacked on the side of the stage. A little better but the volume is deafening. Can't stay here, either . A quick dash to the other side disguises your desperate attempt to find a spot on stage where you can hear yourself. Your head is pounding and your throat kills. What little you can hear of your singing sounds like a choking dog howl; and yet the fans are loving every minute of it. At the close of the show you smile and thank the crowd and say you had a great time. Does this make you a phony? No, it makes you a pro.

Whether in front of a casual gathering or a packed arena, all great singers perform magic. The trick is to suspend reality. To do this, only the performer can know what it took to pull off the show. The enchantment of live theater is that it invites people to let go. Disturbing that intention with excuses and complaints destroys the magic. Smoke and mirrors? Of course, but that's entertainment. We all keep a mental list of things that go wrong when we sing. What's vital to remember is that no one else knows or cares what's on your list. People want to believe you're happy with your performance; they're living through you. Allow your listeners to enjoy the performance no matter how much you would like to tell them what's going on inside your head.

To be a great singer even though things aren't going well requires only one thing; you keep your opinion to yourself. Nerves make us confess; we think everyone hears our mistakes as clearly as we do. That's not true. What is true is that people will always notice a predicament once it's announced. So many times I've made the trip backstage to congratulate a client on a great show only to hear a litany of apologies regarding how bad things went. We all know how that feels, but now I see how bad it is to be so forthcoming with the confessions. People never inquire whether you're happy with your performance; they just want to tell you how much they enjoyed the show. So let them. Letting people assume the best of you is not deceitful. It allows others to escape their own list of flaws for a moment.

The more you perform, the easier it gets to make magic out of mush. Think of yourself last as you approach the stage and your audience will always thank you. Remember that magicians are never impressed with their tricks. They are happy, though, when they've got an audience believing in magic. If you end up loosing yourself in a song that's wonderful, but what separates the pros from the amateurs is what happens after things go badly. Above all, the most important aspect to becoming a consummate entertainer is learning how to take a compliment no matter how you feel about your performance. It completes people's experience and elevates you in their mind when you accept their praise. It doesn't have to go to your head. Put it in the garbage if you want, but wait until they're gone. Correcting a compliment is the same as revealing a magic trick; it makes people feel stupid for not seeing the truth. Resist the temptation to divulge what goes on behind the smoke and mirrors of performing and let your audience believe in magic . . . just as you once did.

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at:

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter

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