Hello there, welcome to my blog! To make a good live performance, you need a good preparation. Let me show you how to you prepare for a live show!
I can see you… You just joined a new band or duet or project. Or you freshly got invited to share the stage with a great artist or band. Or you’re going to release a new album and will soon introduce new material on stage… All these situations have this in common: you never performed these songs live before! And yes, the freshness of a new beginning is exciting and intimidating at the same time! Sometimes we don’t know where to start and we feel the pressure rising since that by the end of the day we’ll have to give our best on stage! So I want to guide you with this process which I have been through many times in my career. Today I will walk you through the 5 steps to prepare for a live show. Let’s go!
1. Learn your material
As super obvious as it sounds, yes you have to learn your material! You have to learn your lyrics and your songs, more than by heart! What I mean by that is that you have to know your part so well that no external event should distract you from performing.
I’m sure you know how terrible it feels to realize you’re on stage and can’t recall the lyrics of that next verse. Panic is rising as only a few seconds are left before you have to start singing… Sometimes your brain is so well trained that the lyrics pop up at the super last second. Sometimes you have to start singing nonsense for a few seconds before the words come back to you. Oh how stressful! We don’t want that! We definitely want to fully prepare for any live show.
In order to free your mind and avoid stress, make sure you know your lyrics perfectly. No hesitation, no word mixing, no mistakes. Here, perfection is clear and totally achievable for it is super objective. Words are words! Here I walk you through the 9 easy steps to memorize lyrics and never forget them.
Beyond words, you also need to work on your interpretation. Knowing your lyrics by heart gives you the freedom to focus on interpreting the words. Take the time to understand what the song is about and what you feel when you listen to it and sing it. If you wrote the lyrics yourself, the whole process is way easier. It’s easier to remember the words and to get into the right mood, since it comes from within. But if you need to learn someone else’s work, focus on your personal feelings and the meaning you give to the song. The feeling will drive the words and your singing.
Secondly, you must know the song as a whole piece. Not only do you need to know your parts, but also when they start and end, what comes before and after so that you never get surprised when it’s your turn to shine! Knowing the songs themselves will enable you to know when and how to interact with your bandmates and the crowd. If you haven’t read this article yet, interaction is the 4th pillar of a good live performance!
You should work on those 3 aspects before you get into the rehearsal room with your bandmates. The #1 rule when it comes to practicing songs with other people is: rehearsals are NOT the place where you learn your material. Rehearsals are meant to practice as a band. Arrive at the rehearsal room fully prepared so that you are ready to focus on the band’s performance and interpretation.
The next step when you prepare for a live show is to create your stage performance.
2. Start working on your stage performance
Working on your stage performance starts way before getting on stage and even before rehearsing with your bandmates! Here are two ways on how to get started with this aspect.
You can train in your living room! You must know this cliché of singers practicing in front of a mirror holding their hair brush as a mic! Well, been there, done that…! Your home is your first stage. When nobody watches you, you can’t be ridiculous! Stand up, drop the lyrics sheets and use your imagination to visualize a stage, a crowd, your band mates, and perform your songs! This gives you the first feel of what it’s like to embody the song. It tells you which part deserves more attention. It lays the groundwork for your posture and movements. This exercise makes you save a lot of time when refining your stage performance in real conditions.
I believe that everything that exists existed first in our mind. The same can be applied for stage performance. It’s a great exercise to practice visualization in any aspect of your life. Creative visualization is a wonderful tool. I have used this a lot to imagine my stage performances before I could actually get on stage. I’ll go into the details of that in another article!
3. Prepare your stage outfit and make up
When you prepare for a live show, you should not forget about the looks. You obviously need to wear something on stage and I’ll get into the details on how to create a good stage outfit in another article! But the idea here is that you must really plan it upfront and not get in the stress of wondering what to wear at the last minute.
The key idea to me is: what you wear should feel comfortable, empowering and coherent with your artistic universe. Even though some exceptions on coherence have created new trends and strong personalities. On that aspect, the scene you’re evolving in might have codes and it’s up to you to follow or break them! I personally love coherence and I make sure my outfits serve my band image and universe.
Practice to put your stage make-up on. Until you’re that kind of artists (and I wish you to get there!) who can afford their own MUHA (make up and hair artist) on shows, you will have to learn to do your own make up. For some of us it’s finally time to get all these beautiful make up products and play with them, for other people, it can be quite a chore. That’s even more reason not to have to figure it out at the last minute, in your dressing room, caught between a flight case and a case of beer, surrounded by loud guys!
Take some time at home to try products, colors, shapes, based on what you like on others, on which colors suit your skin tone, your hair and your outfit. The more you’ll practice, the less time you’ll need and the more relaxed you will become. If you love make up, it’s time to get creative! But I would always recommend knowing and practicing in advance which make up you want to wear when it’s show time!. This is because my goal here is to spare you some useless last minute stress!
4. Rehearse with your band mates
Once everyone in the project has learned his or her material, it’s time to rehearse together! Let’s prepare for a live show and let the fun begin!
In a rehearsal room, you should be comfortable sound-wise. It goes without saying that if you play without a drummer and the sound doesn’t get too loud, you might not need in-ears nor ear-plugs. So you can skip the end of this paragraph that I wrote for singers who play with a drummer and need ear-protection.
But if you fall in this category, I suggest you use the same equipment as the one for live shows: your live microphone and your in-ears. Being able to rehearse with in-ears means that your band owns its own monitoring system. To me, this is the most effective and practical way to go as soon as your band can afford it. Later, when your career allows it, you might have the chance to rehearse in a bigger room with your own monitor engineer. That’s exactly how we did it when we prepared for TARJA’s 15th anniversary shows for her solo career early 2020.
Just please, avoid practicing only with the speakers but if you don’t have the choice then:
- Put the speakers up. They should be facing you, at the height of your ears, mix your voice loud enough so that you hear yourself decently
- Everyone, especially the drummer, should make an effort to reduce the loudness of their playing
- Use ear-plugs, even though they give a weird sensation and they make it harder to place your voice sometimes
This is one step closer to real live conditions, check your sensations. It already feels completely different to sing in a rehearsal room with the real instruments, compared to practicing at home on a recorded version. Your singing sensations will change. You might not recognize everything from the original songs as some details will get lost in the volume and distortion. On the one hand you might not sing as naturally as you do at home when no one listens and when the volume around isn’t as loud. On the other hand, the power from the drums and live instruments can lift you up and help you get the right energy to support your singing better!
Anyway, this is a first step to practice the songs live which you should quickly adapt to! When it comes to the lyrics, you don’t need them, you know your songs ;), but I recommend to have them with you, in a folder, next to a pencil to take notes and have a quick look at them if needed. Having them on an iPad works too of course.
While you’re adapting to sensations, it’s time to check the band’s tightness and interpretation. You’re not singing alone and rehearsals are meant to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to playing the songs. The goal is to reach tightness and expression, as a band. When you feel more comfortable and are able to detach yourself from what you are doing, you can pay closer attention to what the others are playing and actively listen to what’s going on, in order to make sure everyone’s on board.
When everyone gets more familiar with the songs, start interacting with your bandmates. Rehearsals are a first good place to lay the basis of interactions between your bandmates and the crowd. Identify the moments when you could all do the same movement or could play with each other easily. Consider the moments where you could get the crowd involved, cheering them up! Don’t hesitate to practice these moves even if there’s no crowd. Repeating them will enable your body and brain to remember them, hence less things to think about once on stage!
Rehearsing enables to play the songs one after the other to start building a setlist. During the rehearsals we can explore how the songs feel once played after each other. Let your sensations as a band guide you to build a dynamic setlist where the order of the songs is though-through in order to create tension and relief.
Last but not least, I know it’s not a given at the beginning to have the chance to do so, but rehearsing in live conditions is very good practice to prepare for a live show.
5. Rehearse in stage conditions
Before going on tour, we at VISIONS OF ATLANTIS gather to rehearse a couple of times in a venue. This gives us the possibility to adapt to live conditions prior to hitting the stage for the first time in front of a crowd.
Being on stage, it’s time to coordinate the band’s performance. Playing the songs with stage conditions gives you the opportunity to perform for real. Find your marks, try your movements, play with your bandmates. Check how the songs and moves feel, how different the sound is from the rehearsal room. Try finding your flow from your performance, performing with your band and interacting with the crowd. Don’t be afraid to try things during this time, better to realize something feels weird now than on stage in front of your audience!
Rehearse in your stage outfits and with stage props. The ultimate way to rehearse a show is performing as if it were a real show. Pretend you’re going to play a show, start and end that rehearsal like you would start and end a show. Take it seriously. Define and practice your stage entrance AND your stage exit. Both are important and are still part of the show. Wearing your stage outfit you’ll realize soon enough if it feels comfortable or if something needs changing or fixing. Get used to the stage props which can range from side drops, to stage risers and fans, lights, mic stands, stage décor, smoke-machines and pyros!
Play with the light show and refine your interaction with the crowd. The advantage of rehearsing in live conditions is that you can work on the light show directly with your light engineer (if you are lucky enough to have one!). Even though the work should be done ahead of the rehearsals, trying things out for real allows to adjust and make sure the light ideas work with the show! As a singer, you should focus on finding the spots where the light hits your face (if that’s something you wish for from an artistical point of view). Pay attention on where to place your glance in the venue. Get used to the moves directed to the audience which you can already train to look at! You can also take the rehearsal as an opportunity to practice talking between the songs.
Well, that’s it for this overview of the aspects you should keep in mind as a singer when you prepare for a live show. I hope it made things clearer or that it was helpful as a reminder if you are already used to getting on stage.
Feel free and invited to leave your thoughts and questions in the comment section below!
Also, let me know which struggles you face when you prepare for a live show! What needs most of your attention? What gives you a harder time?
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Great perspective! Thank you for taking the time to write this. It was very interesting to think of the importance of learning someone else’s lyrics, and the meaning you, as an artist, can give to the song.
In reading things, I feel like the struggles in preparing for a live show have parallels to preparing for a business presentation. You have to “know your audience,” they say. But at the same time, I think it’s important to know who you are, and who you’re not.
Your article on arriving prepared for a live show speaks to this, and will give me much more confidence in my next business meeting. I can’t wait to try some of this stuff out in a meeting—even if only virtually—for the time being. Hahaha
Take care and hope to see VOA back in the states when the road resumes!
Me encanta todo lo artístico… pero siempre que sea “destrás del escenario” (como ser el guionista de una pelicula) . Admiro las personas que pueden representar algo delante de miles de personas.
En cuanto ti Clémentine… siempre me gustó tu interpretación teatral, la pasión , el profesionalimo , en cada una de las canciones. Siempre creas la atmósfera adecuado .
Espero encontrarnos pronto en un recital . Se los extraña !!!!
An interesting and informative article, and very good advice for any live performance.
I remember taking part in live shows (not musical) where not all of these good steps were followed and the results were not pretty!
Looking forward to the next post.