Got a great post from Ashley Maher, a wonderful world musician (http://www.ashleymaher.com/), who wanted to hear about my process of relating to audiences and performing, so i'm starting at the beginning of the process. This is so tried and true you have probably all heard this before, but as I am wont to say, "everything I've ever learned in life,…I've had to learn again."
Practice is the only way to get better. And practicing ten minutes a day is better than practicing seventy minutes once a week. You need to set up a routine and maintain it. If someone calls, you don't answer. If they invite you to something when you're supposed to be practicing, you can't go.
Consequently, set up a time for practicing, that allows you to have a life. I've found that if I go into the studio first thing and practice for an hour, my entire day goes better. See if you can get up early enough to practice first thing. Then have your coffee. And make certain that you start easy, with songs that are not a strain on your voice.
Start with the low easy stuff and then by the end of rehearsal you're into the difficult stuff. And do your experiments there at the practice. Once you get on stage you don't want to let them see you struggling. The most successful musicians make it look easy. The more you practice the easier it becomes and the easier it appears to be on stage. You don't want to make an audience uncomfortable by allowing them to see your anxiety, and the easiest way to do that is to be prepared. And that comes from practicing.
Several years ago, I heard Shayne Fontayne (www.myspace.com/shaynefontayne) perform at Kulak's Woodshed in North Hollywood. He was using a looping machine from Line 6. For those of you who don't know, a looping machine is simply a small recording device that allows you to record something live and then play with it as you are performing. It is very effective and wonderful if not over used. (It's an effect, it's not a way of life. That's why they call them effects. You are changing the sonic texture. This adds a little bit of variety to your performance).
But it any event, I decided I wanted one of those things and bought the Roland loop station. I loved it, but discovered that I had to punch in and punch out with my foot, exactly in time or the loop I recorded was uneven. If you don't step on the pedal exactly on one and then step on it again exactly before the next one, it becomes unusable. It lurches and sounds a whole lot like music in a special ed. class. So I started practicing with my drum machine to improve my time. Now things got interesting.
I played with it so much that I could tell where the front of the beat was, or the back of the beat. I tried putting the songs at an uncomfortable tempo. Too fast or too slow and made myself play the song in that tempo until I made it work at that tempo.
What I discovered is that your time is the most important thing you can hone. If your time is impeccable, then what ever you are playing sounds like music. Now I know there are folks who are going to say, what?, so a machine in a factory is making music? No, but I guarantee that you could play or sing something against that that would be very musical…and fun.
What I am trying to stress here is that you make your sense of time as acute as you can. And yes, some folks have more of a gift for this than others, but it is in all of us. Some of us just have to work harder for it. But then it's all the sweeter when it shows up. And once it shows up, it only hangs around if you use it, so you have to keep practicing. Every gift goes away if you don’t use it. The smallest and the most prodigious. Every gift goes away if you don’t use it. Don't forget. Now back to developing a good sense of time and why you should…
Having good time makes it all that much easier to play with other musicians and there is nothing like making music with other players. I always try to play with musicians that I consider better than me, that way I have raised the bar and must do better to reach it. And strangely enough, once you have mastered time, you don’t have to use it all the time, you can stretch things out or rush them for dramatic effect and then fall right back into your impeccable time. It's a wonderful tool and can have a dramatic effect.
Speaking of dramatic effect, you must deliver the words. You want them to reach people, to touch people, to have an impact on people, whether you've written the words or not. I remember what Bonnie Raitt (www.bonnieraitt.com) told me. That in the car, she recites the lyrics to the songs that she is going to be singing-- on her way to the studio. She makes them into a conversation, BEFORE she starts singing them. That way, when she sings them, they communicate what she wants to have happen. Her reading of "I Can't Make You Love Me, If You Don't" is wonderful and impactful. She sounds like she's singing it right to your heart.
So read over your lyrics and say them outloud. How do they sound? Does it sound like you mean what they say? Is it phrased in an easy way? (This is a great way for songwriters to check to see if their lyrics are working). Is it awkward? Clumsy? Make it work as conversation and it will be easy to sing. And you must sing each song til you own it. The more you sing a song, the more it becomes something out of you and your experience, and not something just passing thru you.
If you have a small tape recorder this helps immensely. Record your rehearsal and listen to it in the car or whenever you have some time. You may discover that you did some magic and didn't even notice it. You will also discover that you just aren't as good as you thought you were. Trust me. All of us go thru this all the time. Nobody is as good as they want to be. Part of the musician's curse.