One of the biggest myths I encounter as a voice teacher is the thought that getting out and performing will magically make you a better singer. And in a music town like Austin, Texas, there is no shortage of performance opportunities for ANY singer.
First, we need to distinguish between a great singer and a great performer. While there are many people who are both, the paths that people take to get to each are different.
And when it comes to singing, practice makes perfect; not performance.
Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of excellent skills that a musician can only acquire by getting up on stage and doing it. But great singing is not one of them. In fact, most of the time that you’re performing, you’re only reinforcing bad technique.
It may seem counter intuitive that performing a lot could make you a worse singer but let’s look at an example:
A 17-year-old boy is going through his voice change. He hasn’t taken voice lessons before, his vocal break is rough and every time he sings high, he disconnects into a heady falsetto.
But his family and friends know that he has a dream of being a great singer so they encourage him to “just get out there and do it”.
After a few performances, he feels embarrassed on stage because of the falsetto and break in his voice and he says to himself that he “doesn’t have it”.
If you take this same young man and encourage him to take voice lessons, all of a sudden you’re actually addressing the problem of the flip in his voice. Now he can take a tool like a Gee Gee or a bratty “Nay Nay” and apply it to his favorite songs.
As a result, he starts to feel more confident and his high notes and range become more clear.
We’ve reversed the process from putting him in a position to fail to a position where he can succeed. And because the voice lessons are private, he can continue to hone his craft over time so that when he gets up on stage, he knows what to expect when he opens his mouth.
And by the way, this temptation to “perform your issues away” is not just for the teenage boy. I experience this with singers of all ages, especially singer/songwriters who don’t think vocal technique is any use to them.
They get out there and when the audience isn’t loving it, they blame themselves for being born with a bad voice and they think it has to stay that way. Whereas, if they’d had the opportunity to take a break from performance and could address some of these issues, they would know that EVERYONE has vocal issues and we all just learn to overcome them. Then, after a while they’d be able to forget about the vocal technique and just get up on stage and love the audience.
In short, performance will make you a better performer, not a better singer. And while you MUST be a great performer to make a career in music, great performance is totally different from what it takes to be a great singer. So get into the studio, take some lessons and start reversing some of those bad vocal habits so they don’t show up when the pressure’s on.