After I published a blog on how to follow your dreams without TV Talent shows, a couple of people asked me how to get out there and gig if you are a singer but not an instrumentalist. It’s all too easy to say pay a guitarist or learn an instrument (and learning an instrument is a good idea), but if that’s not an option in the short term you can still get out there and be heard as a vocalist. I had a long period where I couldn’t play because of rheumatoid arthritis but I still gigged.
Firstly, don’t feel you’re a second rate musician because your instrument is voice. Your contribution is valuable. The music industry relies heavily on topliners, i.e. people who listen to a backing track and put the tune and words to it. People who are primarily vocalists (like me!) tend to write more engaging melodies using bolder intervals than people who are guitarists and very chord-orientated. They tend to use a narrower range of notes when they are learning to write (according research by Dr Joe Bennett at Bath Spa University on this topic). The singer provides the words and hence the meaning of the song, don’t forget.
So, here are some practical tips on using that brilliant voice. Firstly, check on your local music scene Facebook pages if there are any bands looking for a singer. Someone out there could be desperate for your skills! Being part of a functions band for weddings etc. can also be lucrative, with the current rate in Northern Ireland being £800-£1500 for the whole band for a wedding.
If you don’t want to be part of a band but want to perform your own material, you could form a duo with a guitarist or pianist. They can help with harmonics when you’re writing. If working with a long term musical partner is too constraining for you and you just want an accompanist for gigs but are short of cash, consider making contributions in kind. Let the instrumentalist perform a couple of tracks of their own as part of the set, offer to sing backing vocals for them when they next gig… basically, think of a service you can offer in return for their services. The musical community is all about people doing favours for eachother! Ofcourse, if you can afford to pay then pay.
A thorny issue now… backing tracks. I was in a fairly upmarket restaurant recently and the live entertainment was a singer playing backing tracks on a Mac and singing along. No, no, no, no, no. NO. Cheesy, tacky… horrible!!! But had those backing tracks been used in a laid back pub it would have worked ok in all likelihood. It depends on the venue and it depends on the tracks. The old fashioned midi tracks that sound like a Casio keyboard are just never good, but if you can pay for some creative, well produced tracks and loops then you can give a great performance with them. Plus, if you are a really great singer people should be wowed by your voice and not concentrate on the backing so much (but they will if you assault their ears with cheese).
One final little thought, if you are active in your local musical community by joining local soundcloud groups and Facebook groups and actually getting out there to other people’s gigs and meeting them, you will find yourself building a network of musicians you can call upon for help. Don’t just plug your own material in these settings: comment thoughtfully on other people’s work, share their links online, bring your friends to hear them live. This process is pure fun! Support other musicians and they will support you.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and sing!
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