Thursday, March 30, 2017

5 Career Tips For Aspiring Singers!

 

Hello Singers!
I get asked for career advice from up and coming artists all the time. Here are a few things every aspiring singer should be thinking about career wise:

1) Work your voice so you are getting the most out of your instrument! Raw talent is never enough. Keep working on your craft so your voice is always growing and becoming the best it can be. 

2) Make sure your live show is top notch. No-one is surviving in the music business these days without a fantastic live show. You want audiences talking about it and telling their friends. Otherwise you are going to have a hard time making a living!

3) Be who you are. Often it can take many years of experimentation to find out what really and truly works best for you in terms of material, production, direction etc. Dig in and make sure you are being authentic in what you are giving to us. Audiences can smell it when we are faking it. We crave authenticity and integrity more than anything else these days!  



4) Understand who the audience for your music is so you can figure out how best to market to them. If you are a Jazz artist like myself you are looking at a speciality market, (i.e.: people who like fine wine, are college educated, own their own homes and have grown children etc) Identifying your audience will make a whole bunch of decisions much easier, such as where to perform and how to best target the people who will be most interested in learning about you and your music!

5) Lastly don’t rush to build a team around you (managers, label, agents etc) Its always better to go slowly and build a team of true believers who really get what you do and want to be there for the long run rather than the low hanging fruit that are easy to attract! IF you aren't finding that higher level folks are attracted to working with you have a long hard look at your own development, thats generally where the problem lies!

OK there are a few things to be thinking about, hope you find that helpful! I'm always happy to consult and can be reached through micah@singersplayground.com 
Cheers
Micah Barnes

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

FINDING THE PERFECT PR PERSON (OR WHERE DO THE UNICORNS LIVE?)



 The one thing that everybody agrees on in the music industry is that there is no ONE publicity person who is good at everything.
A lot of established PR people only have relationships in the dying world of old school media where journalists are losing their jobs and print space is declining every day. Some PR folks have terrific relationships with media but can't write a proper press release to save their life. Some are fantastic at expanding your footprint on social media platforms but can't translate that story to TV, Radio and Print. Some are really believers and passionate about their clients but simply don't have the skills to find them coverage. 
ALL of these PR may have a place in your journey. It's all about defining what your current goals are and hiring the PR person who can help you reach them at this time. 

Where should you be spending your marketing dollars then? At the beginning of your career the smart money will be spent on the online content (pics, video's etc) that keep a growing audience engaged while YOU handle the day to day posting on your social media platforms. (When we pay marketing people to do our daily posts it usually means we sacrifice developing our own unique voice and our brand online and that can hurt us in the long run.) When you have a BIG event like a CD launch or a batch of tour dates then it makes sense to contract the services of a PR person who can take your online story and focus old school media on what you are doing. (Beware of ongoing PR contracts without an end date, that is usually of more benefit to the PR person or firm than to the artist or act.)
 
Our job as the artists hiring a PR person is to have a clear understanding of what our current needs are. If we are a local act then we want a PR person who can excite  local media to get turned on and become champions of  what we do. If we are looking to break nationally then we want a PR person who has the national contacts and relationships.  When meeting and interviewing possible PR folks that we are thinking about working with we want to be asking them a lot of questions such as what acts have you enjoyed working with etc. Get THEM talking about their world and listen carefully for what they tell you about their successes. An honest approach is always best, if you have concerns bring them up and see how the PR person reacts. If they admit their strengths and weaknesses you are in a good position to move forward knowing what area both of you are expecting to focus on!

Almost all PR people will warn their clients up front that hiring their services is no guarantee of coverage. Most clients will hear this as fair warning. BUT watch closely because any PR person worth the money will have trusted and true media relationships that should result in immediate coverage, (if only to impress the new client!)  If you don't get any coverage in the first round thats a sign that the relationship isn't going to work. I recommend moving on quickly with a simple polite conversation about it. (Keep in mind that the pool of resources in this industry is small and you may well be in a position to need that PR person again in the future, so no name calling and no sour grapes. It wasn't a good fit, simply move on!)


When are you ready to start paying a PR person? As soon as you have more than a few shows in one market your marketing could probably benefit from the assistance of a publicity person who knows local media and can help position your story for coverage. But this is assuming that you have already become adept at audience building through social media. Thats how you build your brand in the marketplace NOT by spending money on a PR person. The PR person you hire is there to translate an already existing story to the TV, Radio and Print mediums. The 1st key to building your success  is always going to be  how you focus your brand on the various social media platforms that best target your demographic…

Monday, October 24, 2016

FINDING A MANAGER: (LOOKING FOR BIG DADDY TO SAVE US!)



Taking responsibility for our career is scary for artists. Most of us don't have the skill set, we only have the desire.  This business asks us to be the best singer we can be, the best writers the best live performers etc. And thats a LOT of stuff we have to get GREAT at before we are ready for the world stage. Most of us don't want to include business skills in that package. It just seems to hard, too daunting and too difficult.  So we get stuck looking for BIG DADDY (OR MOMMY) to save us..  a manager who will be the answer to all our dreams and make it all magically happen. THAT is mistake number ONE!!

MOST MANAGERS HAVE NO REAL POWER
You think that this new person on your team believes in you and will now take care of everything that you hate to do. Booking shows, making sure an audience is going to be there, finding musicians, arranging band rehearsals, finding the right producer for your project and basically making all the important decisions about what is coming next etc. The manager who signed on to do all of this "grunt" work is generally NOT the same person who has worked for many years successfully in this industry and is connected to the labels, agents, PR, publishers etc who can really help your career.  That doesn't mean that having someone who believes in your rolling up their sleeves and helping out is a bad thing. BUT before making any lasting ongoing agreements it is wise to consider whether their strengths will best serve you in the short term or the long term and make sure there is room for a new powerful manager to come on board once you've created more leverage for yourself!

MANAGERS ARE JUST PEOPLE
Beware believing that any one manager can be responsible for everything "clicking" in your career. Almost all managers have strengths and weaknesses. It's good to know what they are before building up big expectations which will lead to terrible disappointment.
 Some managers are really good at getting you gigs..some never touch that part of your career and will leave that to you or an agent. Some managers have a special knack at putting together recording deals for artists. Some are excellent at designing a marketing approach. The truth is that most will not be good at everything and it's YOUR job as the defacto manager to see the holes and get proactive to fill them yourself or with other members of your team.


YOU ARE ALWAYS THE ACTUAL MANAGER
Successful artists always retain control of their forward motion. If you remain in a position of responsibility you will always be protected from the worst outcomes of someone else's bad decisions. YOU are the one watching the company store.  Your career and your future are no one else's responsibility but your own. A manager acts as a guide and as an advisor. Regardless of how powerful or well connected your manager may be your hand never leaves the steering wheel! Why?  You are the person who must ultimately live with the decisions you make as a partnership. 


IT STARTS WITH A QUESTION
I almost always suggest artists play the field for a while before signing anything with a manager.  Better to start with dating before any real "commitment" happens on either side. A lot of times the relationship starts when an artist is stuck and looking for a specific solution and reaches out to a manager that they may know and trust and have access to ask that all important question. "Can you give me some input about this decision I have to make"?  If things go well the artist may be invited to "call anytime with anything you need help with". If things progress and a certain amount of trust is built up then a relationship may start to get deeper. 
   

 BUILDING THE TEAM: MANAGEMENT (DON'T CALL US WE'LL CALL YOU!)
Seeking management is one of the main things artists feel they should be "doing". But thats not a useful goal to the working artist. How come? Interestingly enough most successful artists I know have had their managers seek them out. Why? Because as artists they were already doing the music and making the audience and creating the energy and buzz around their work and their career, enough so that a manager seeking a new act to work with would end up hearing about them through their network.
People in the music industry talk to each other. There are listening and watching for the truly "special" and "unique" artists that stand out.
Sometimes it's the combination of talent and looks and drive that clicks, sometimes it's because the artist has something really "fresh" in their approach. Sometimes it's simply dollar signs that get the manager interested... 
but it's always the manager who takes an interest first almost NEVER the other way around in my experience.


START A RELATIONSHIP!
SO..if you are seeking a manager there's nothing wrong with starting a relationship with a couple of well placed folks where could bounce your challenges and ask questions.   Usually the manager is watching carefully to see what kind of a person the artist is. Will you make the managers life difficult? Do you follow through on suggestions? Are you taking responsibility for your own forward motion?

There are a million new acts trying to break into the publics consciousness each year. How do you get heard about the din? 
By doing what you do the best you can do it. Pretty simple really. 
Do what YOU do so well that you attract the team you need to bring it to the world.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Developing Our Own Material: (Being Willing To Suck!)



We're not all composers. But we all know a good song when we hear one. Maybe thats what stops us from taking those first awkward steps towards developing ourselves as songwriters? The first couple of songs we write can feel tentative, unformed and generally leave us feeling like we'll never become songwriters, with our first attempts unfinished and unheard.  Thats normal and a natural part of learning a new skill set, it's really challenging to compare our first attempts with our favourite songs. We're bound to come up short. However there are some ways that we can deepen our craft and get better at it, if we are willing to suck for a while.

                    No One Gets There Overnight!
The key is to know your emotional life well enough to be able to boil our feeling in a given situation down to a few simple lines.  Many a great song has been born when a singer trusts their collaborators enough to bring a few snatches of lyric to a musical composer, a producer, a band mate etc and allowed them to help finish it into an actual song. 
Sometimes we can stay in the process and help steer and shape the outcome, sometimes it's best if we get out of the way and let the more experienced "professional" finish the job. That doesn't matter, what matters is that the final product will have some of our emotional life in it's DNA. That will make the song feel closer to our emotional centre and much easier to perform!

               We Deepen Our Skill Set Over Time!
However if we are going to become composers there will be a drive to do better, to learn the craft, to co-write with more experienced composers, to learn the tricks etc.  


Practical Coaching Advice: Breaking the Negatives
Because we haven't "finished" songs that we feel proud of it stops us from investing in the journey. 
BUT in truth the only way we ever get there is to BEGIN! Those few tentative steps we take are the most important ones!  Here are a few suggestions to get you moving!!

*Keep a "lyric" journal by your bed. Fill it with your dreams and unfigured out feelings..grab a hold of any pieces of lyric that float in for you first thing in the morning. Write and DO NOT worry about how it might become useful as a song.

*Read poetry to discover the power of language separated out from music. Dive into the world of the word and discover your affinity to expressing through language.

*Learn to play some simple songs on the piano or guitar and get used to singing to an instrument that you are playing. That will go a long way towards allowing your first tentative composing efforts!

*If you can't seem to finish songs bring them to a more experienced collaborator and pay attention to the way that they help build the final song from simple building blocks!

Songwriting looks hard.. but is in fact very simple. Its ALL about trusting your instincts and following you heart. Of course the more experience you have at "problem solving" during the process the easier it gets! But you will never get to your destination unless you START YOUR JOURNEY!   

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

5 Things to Think About When Looking For A Vocal Coach


The singer’s relationship with a coach is a potentially life changing one. It’s not just about getting better at hitting your high notes. A good voice coach works with a singer on their most intimate fears and deepest challenges, digging down into the places we are scared to go to on our own, so it’s very important that we be able to put our absolute trust in our coach.  
Where Do I Find A Vocal Coach?
The best approach is to ask other singers who they have benefitted most from working with, keeping in mind that not all singers are looking for the same thing from a coach. Sometimes the most established or well-known coach isn’t necessarily the perfect coach for your needs. I would stay away from coaches who promise immediate results and start by reaching out to the coaches whose reputations are rock solid within the music industry.
How Will I Know If A Coach Is Right For Me?
Ask them a ton of questions! There are just as many different kinds of coaches as there are singers! I highly recommend “shopping” for the right coach for your needs. There are some coaches who teach a specific vocal technique, or who are more knowledgable about a certain style of music. Although reputable coaches can usually handle most issues that singers need support on, every coach has a speciality or two. You’ll want to know if it’s a good fit before booking a batch of sessions in advance!  It’s always best that you start by having a real conversation, either on the phone or in person, so you can get a feel for their personality and get a sense of what their focus is, and then I would recommend booking a single session and seeing how it goes.    
When Should I Actually Be Working with a Coach?
The answer is long before you think you need to! :) The challenging thing about being a voice coach is that we usually meet a new singer when they are crazily stressed about an upcoming performance or recording session, vocally exhausted from singing with bad technique, or under a lot of pressure from their manager, agent, label or financial backers to make some kind of change in their vocal approach. Any experienced coach worth the money should be able to make a noticeable difference in a short period of time, however the best coaching (and learning) happens slowly and over a stretch of time, so this kind of “emergency” is not the ideal circumstance to make a lasting change to a singer’s technique. In my experience it’s the singers who come to work with a coach many months in advance of a new tour or recording or showcase opportunity that are able to go the deepest and benefit the most. Besides most of us learn best when there is a little bit of breathing room in the schedule. 

What Should I Be Working On With A Coach?
If you are experiencing vocal exhaustion, then more than likely your technique is not supporting you properly. Working with a coach to bring your technique into sharper focus is usually the first order of business. Proper breathing, voice production, vocal placement, physical tension,  proper warm-up, there is no end to what we can be working on when it comes to deepening our singing technique. Sometimes we need support on our live performances and want to work on our material selection, finding the right keys and the songs that suit our voice best. Some coaches have more experience dealing with the issues of the “working professional singer” than others. The key is to be sure that your coach has a good grasp of the area of music that you are looking to specialize in. Many singing students end up trying to please the coach by working on material that is outside of their area of interest. Always keep your own instincts alive as you work towards a clearer understanding of what suits you and your style best!
What Do I Do If It’s Not Working Out?
Sometimes a singer and a coach don’t click personality wise, sometimes we don’t feel comfortable with a coach’s teaching methods, and sometimes we simply aren’t seeing the results that we were hoping for. Before automatically blaming the coach, I would suggest that every singer take a look at whether they have been actually following the suggestions and doing the daily work that it takes to change one’s vocal technique. Sometimes we just don’t have the time or ability to properly focus on the work we are being asked to do, but usually we end up procrastinating out of fear. (In my experience many singers who find they aren’t able to focus on daily exercises end up blaming the coach’s methods when they don’t see enough results.)   I recommend an honest conversation with your coach about “how it’s going” whenever possible. If you honestly don’t feel that things are working, find a way to gracefully move on and try working with someone new.  Keep in mind that coaches are used to singers moving on. It happens all the time and you don’t have to feel guilty or bad about it. Just make sure you don’t repeat the same work habits with the next one! :)
I hope these “5 Things to Think About” have helped you in terms of what to be thinking about when looking for a coach. The right coach is out there for every singer! Good Luck!  
–  Micah is the founder of Singers Playground (www.singersplayground.com) which has supported the next generation of artists with vocal, performance and career strategy in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto since 1996. Micah’s masterclass and private sessions have brought a deeper command of their craft to thousands of artists across all areas of the industry and genres of music. His special interest is in coaching singer-songwriters, having travelled the world as a member of A Capella act The Nylons and as a chart topping solo recording artist himself.
Micah Barnes Coaching Highlights:
  • Created and taught curriculum for the Seneca College “Performing Singer-Songwriter” program, Toronto 2015
  • Worked extensively as voice coach Golden Globe-nominated Tatiana Maslany on hit BBC America TV series “Orphan Black”, 2014-2016.
  • Vocal coach for cast members of the Tony Award winning Broadway productions of “Matilda”, Pippin”, and “Pricilla Queen Of The Desert” 2012-13, New York.
  • Vocal Coach for Universal Recording artist and “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” star Blake McGrath for his national tour, Toronto.
  • Created and taught curriculum as head of Voice Faculty for Aboriginal Voices Program at the Banff Centre for the Fine Arts, 2010-12, Banff, Canada.
  • Vocal and Performance Coach on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit CBC TV show “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” CBC. 2011, Canadian TV.
  • Assistant Vocal Coach at Elaine Overholt’s Big Voice Studio (Award-winning movie musicals “Chicago” and “Hairspray”). 2010-2011, Toronto 
  • Vocal Coach for Nina Dobrov ( NBC’s “Vampire Diaries”) for her work on the MTV Feature Film “American Mall” 2009, Los Angeles.
  • 2007-2010 Micah designed the  curriculum and served as Voice faculty at The Centre For Indigenous Theatre, Toronto
  • 1998-2006 Micah served as faculty for The Highways Performing Arts University developing and teaching performance workshops for musical and theatrical artists, Los Angeles.   
Micah travels between Toronto, New York and Los Angeles on a regular basis to work with clients as well as coaching private sessions online. His Singers Playground performance workshops which he developed at The Highways Performing Arts University in Santa Monica have helped thousands of artists deepen their skill set as performers on both sides of the border.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Top 5 Tips for Singers from Vocal Coach Micah Barnes



 Tip #1   The most important secret to being a  good singer is in working your breathing.  If you can breath without tension then there will be no "difficult" note or challenging song that will be outside of your ability to sing it.  Breath is always the answer. 

 Tip #2   Your job as a singer isn't to impress anybody with your voice but instead to make a powerful relationship with your audience. We're not interested in high notes or lung power, we want to get to know the singer as a person. If you are really and truly communicating with your audience they will be yours for the rest of your career. 

Tip #3  Know your material well enough that you can really inhabit it onstage or in the studio.
Don't just memorize the lyrics, really take the time to understand where the song lives in your own emotional experience. If you are living the song while you are singing then I guarantee your audience will come along for the ride.

Tip #4  Be smart about what you choose sing! Take the time to figure out what key to sing a song in and which material suits your voice best ...and stick with whats most comfortable for you when the pressure is on.  If you aren't sure what you sound best singing ask your closest friends for their input. Certain voices lend themselves better to certain songs and styles and if you are armed with that knowledge you can put your best foot forward when "important folks" are listening.

Tip #5 Don't be afraid to ask questions and take advise career wise.  It takes a village of support to make any real success story, so don't get stuck because you're not sure how to go about the next steps. Ask everyone you can and be willing to reach outside of your comfort zones to get the results you are looking for. 
Being willing to take risks is a singers greatest asset…

Ask about Micah's private coaching and upcoming workshops at Singers Playground



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Talking On Stage or "Help! I Don't Know What To Say"!

                       
After all the practice we do to prepare the music most of us are caught in a terrible bind when we hit stage and suddenly have to talk to the audience between songs. As good as our musical performance may be, if our stage craft doesn't include preparation for the conversation with the audience we have left a huge part of our performance up to chance. And that usually leads to feeling awkward, saying stupid stuff we didn't mean, long wandering intro's that kill the vibe etc. The worst is "this next song is called blankety blank, I hope you like it". Although thats where most of us go, it's so cliche and in no way allows the audience feeling engaged or interested.  
My first piece of advice is don't leave the stage patter to chance. 

 You Are The Party Host!
This is your opportunity to tell your story, let us into your world and who you are as a person and as an artist. 
If you think of yourself as hosting your show the way you might host a party, it will help you make some decisions around what you choose to talk about.  Imagine yourself hosting an informal evening at your residence, greeting your guests at the door. What you say and your manner of speaking lets them know what to expect for the evening. If you give them a little guided tour, taking their coats and asking what they would like to drink you are preparing them for a very different experience than if you tell them to throw their coats on the bed, grab a drink in the kitchen and enjoy themselves.
Your stage patter is going to let the audience know what kind of a party to expect.

Bring Them Into Your World!
Every thing you say reveals more about who you are. Thats why we go to see our heroes in concert. We are eager to know more about who they are and what makes them tick. 
 So it's good to give the audience a window into your world. 
YES They will want to know about your day. What your reality has been about before stepping on the stage. It will reveal more about who you are and why they might want to listen to your material.
YES They will want to know how you came to write a song.  What you are trying to express and communicate in that piece of music. You are handing them a key to unlock the material when you explain your process. 

Most importantly be yourself. Who you really are is always going to be the most interesting to the world.
Not your idea of what might be entertaining or engaging.
Your honesty and integrity about who you are is the biggest gift you can give your audience.
              

My Stage Fright Shuts Me Up!
Most of us find that our nerves are most evident when we have to speak on stage.  The best advice I can give is to make sure you PLAN out what you want to say so you have a basic road map of where you are going. Writing it out and rehearsing it through in advance will give you confidence and provide a place of safety when your mind goes blank. 
If writing out what you are going to say feels too scripted for you at least plan what you want to cover in your intro's, otherwise the possibility of talking too long, or not being able to talk at all because of nerves can happen to the best of us!

Do I Need to Be Funny?
No you do not need to be funny. BUT a lot of us use humour to diffuse our nerves and that can end up to be both entertaining for the audience and a release of the pressure valve for us. IF humour works for you when you are nervous on a first date or at a party then it can work on stage too.  
Being awkward and shy, or goofy and ridiculous are all human and can work to our advantage when we aren't feeling confident. The idea is to be as real as possible with your audience within the context of performing for them. They will always be attracted to the truth more than your pretending not to be nervous or scared.

Keep Solving The Problem!
So, there are some ideas about how to approach talking on stage. Learning to be relaxed and confident as we talk to the audience is a process and we don't get good at it all at once. There is no right way to prepare for this, no hard and fast rules about how to prepare.
I suggest you see performers in concert as much as possible for a period of time while you are working out your stage patter. That will give you a lot of ideas about what works and what doesn't and suggest new ways of communicating that you might not have thought have.
As you try different approaches take note of what seems to work and listen to the feedback you get from the audiences. They will tell you whats working simply by their level of attention and engagement IF you are listening and paying attention to them!

And isn't that what communication is all about?

Micah Barnes coaches private and group workshops in Voice and Performance in Canada and the USA. 
For further information please log onto Singers Playground or click here to CONTACT MICAH BARNES