In the special Vocal Issue of the new Winter/Spring 2003 edition of the MUSICIAN'S GUIDE TO TOURING & PROMOTION, we ask some of the top rock, R&B, hip-hop and country vocalists how they keep their voices in shape and what tricks and tools they use to create a great concert sound. It's essential reading for any act that wants to improve their concert chops.
Here's an excerpt of our Winter/Spring 2003 cover story:
Ask a variety of singers how they take care of their instrument, and you'll find the things that keep you firing on all cylinders offstage are the same things that help you onstage: drink plenty of water, eat right, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Conversely, the things to avoid in the real world are the same things that trip you up on the road: too much partying, too much acidic food, and too much smoking,
Everyone stresses the importance of exercising and warming up the voice to get it properly prepped for a performance. "Your voice is like an instrument," explains Goo Goo Dolls front man John Rzeznik. "You've got to loosen up your fingers before you go onstage to play your guitar, and you've got to warm up your voice the same way."
Warm-up programs can vary, but common elements include breathing exercises, yoga, scale-running, and facial contortions.
"It's things that guys in bands don't like to talk about, cause it's not cool," says Rzeznik. "And you feel like an idiot when you're standing there going [mock scale-running sounds]. But that's the only way you're gonna be able to consistently deliver."
As the band's lead singer, Rzeznik takes his responsibilities seriously, on the road or in the studio. Formed in the mid-'80s in Buffalo, N.Y., the Goo Goo Dolls have been on a commercial hot streak since the mid-'90s, scoring such hits as "Name," "Iris," "Slide," and "Here Is Gone," the latter from the band's current Warner Bros. Records opus, "Gutterflower."
Everclear is another act that has logged a few frequent touring miles on the road. Lead singer Art Alexakis performs a set list of pre-show exercises before taking the stage. His regime consists of "basically running scales, making gurgling sounds ... things I learned from various vocal coaches."
Rock purists may scoff at the notion of scale-running exercises and formal voice training, insisting that those things are not in the true spirit of rock'n'roll. Shouldn't a real rock front man gargle with Jack Daniel's and belt it out with wild abandon? "That's nice," counters Rzeznik. "You can do that if you play once a month, and your throat can heal up. But, when you gotta go out there and do it every night, you've gotta know what you're doing.
"Some guys are afraid to go to a vocal coach, cause they think they're going to sing like Pavarotti," he adds. "I just learned survival techniques for my voice. I still sound like me. I'm just protecting my voice."
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