Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Does A Coach Do?

Writing to you as a light snow falls outside in Toronto end of Nov 2011, in preparation for the Q & A video what we will be posting in the New Year in response to your questions, (please send 'em to micah@singersplayground and we'll pick a few to film answers for!).
I've been ruminating about what we coaches do for our clients. I've been coaching in Toronto, Los Angeles and recently New York over the course of almost 30 years and have found there is are consistent themes in the way singers can use a coach.
The first way is as a trusted partner in the building of the singers voice. This is the single most important (and life changing skill) that a coach can bring to a client. The issue that would bring a singer to a coach is usually one of lack of knowledge and experience around technique. The challenge as a coach tends to be how few singers actually dig in and spend the time (and funds, which is a practical consideration), to complete the process of acquiring a solid technique.
A good coach can make the quick changes necessary for the singer to feel a new freedom, and of course managers, labels and producers (as well as artists) rely on quick results. It's fun playing magician a few weeks before a singers studio session or tour dates, but in truth thats not how the best results are attained. In my experience the best results come from regular sessions (and lots of practical application) over the course of many months. This can be hard to do (especially with busy schedules) but in truth thats the only way systemic changes in technique can really take root. Singers have trouble thinking of their voice work as a daily practice over the course of time, but in my experience thats how real change is best achieved.

The second way that I try to be useful is as a trusted advisor to the artist in things connected to their approach to their work. I was never confident that I could be really and truly helpful in my early years of coaching and kept my focus on the voice but in recent years as I've gained knowledge and experience in the music industry, I have found that I've been able to extend my support to both fledgling and mid career artists in their business practices.
Changing perspective so that artists feel their empowerment and putting themselves in the drivers seat is essential for careers to function well.
That usually entails a large scale shift in perspective for even though the industry has crashed around us artists still feel the need for "Big Daddy" to come and rescue them from all the hard work it takes to establish a career.
This shift in perspective can happen during Private coaching sessions and in group seminars that are designed to expand the singers knowledge and help them find practical application and design step by step game plans for themselves.
Assembling a team to support the singer is an important focus for me in these Career Strategy sessions, and making sure the singer is taking full responsibility for the health of their career is also key. I think it's important when I coach "music industry skills" that I never seek to take the place of a manager or producer but help the artist ask the questions they need to be asking themselves in order to better be prepared to attract top notch professionals from the industry to work with them.

So, as we prepare to film Q & A video's please dig into your voice and career challenges and ask away! Please slip me an e mail at and we'll try to get everything answered whether it ends up in the upcoming Q & A video clips or not.
These two areas VOICE TECHNIQUE and CAREER STRATEGY are good places for us to start…what would you like to know?
Micah Barnes

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Notes On "The Warm Up"

Our goal as performing artists is much like that of a top athlete or dancer, to be completely relaxed at the same time as being ready for anything. To be energized, (like an athlete or dancer), we need preparation. Being this "available" to the moment entails warming up properly.
For singers with stage fright or less than strong technique a quick vocal warm up before soundcheck isn't enough to contract the underlying panic and ensuing physical tension. We need a more comprehensive approach that includes a really solid vocal warm up, so there are no lingering doubts about our ability to perform the material.
A vocal warm up not only prepared the voice for the demands we are about to place upon it, but can also create a psychological calm knowing we are truly ready for the job at hand. I also highly recommend a good physical warm up made up of relaxing exercises that will help focus both the mind and body to be present and ready for anything that might come our way on stage.


For a singer this warm up always starts and ends with the breath. The breath is the first place that stage fright will manifest. Fear makes us freeze up so that our breathing becomes shallow. Sometimes our diaphragm will stiffen leaving us unable to create sound in a relaxed and liberated way. Taking the time to breath through a warm up will help remind us to breath during the show and plant the idea in our heads that we can only do "the best we can" under the circumstances.
I have found the single most important way to counteract perfectionism
and the ensuing anxiety singers experience before studio or live dates is to use a vocal and physical warm up that is calming at a core level. It is important that the warm up builds in the idea of just "doing our best" and let go of the pressure to achieve the "perfect" performance.

And if we find ourselves losing control, straining for notes, losing pitch or running out of air? The best rescue for a song going wrong is always big deep breath. All the useful oxygen floods our brain, and the motor of the car is suddenly flush with gas. Your pitch will start to correct and suddenly you will be able to hold notes again. Try it! You'll be glad you did!
It takes years to develop the pre show warm up that works best for you but once you start preparing for shows in this way you will start to feel an increased sense of liberation and ease in performance knowing you've done everything in your power to make the experience easier.

Happy Singing!
Micah Barnes
(PS DEC 4TH SINGERS PLAYGROUND Performance workshop at the beautiful Winchester Street Theatre in Toronto is filling up get in touch if you are interested in jumping in. We do cover a proper warm up in class!
Details at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dances With Coaches pt 2: Choosing A Coach

Lets take a moment to talk about how to choose the voice coach thats right for you shall we?
A lot of times we hear that a coach has done wonders for someone's voice, or has an excellent reputation and so we eagerly sign up for sessions with that coach hoping that miracles will occur for us, sometimes without really looking into how the coach works or what their actual experience is.
For example classical coaches often have no experience with other forms of music or voice production and sometimes actively discourage ways of producing sound that are outside the specifics of classical technique. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are looking to work in classical music of course, HOWEVER, sometimes a singer is working with a classical coach from a very early age and later discovers an interest in pop songwriting or musical theatre and is actively discouraged from "ruining their voices" with other styles. Yes. Happens ALL the time.
Likewise, a coach who works as a Musical Theatre coach will understand how to prepare us for auditions, support our working up repertoire and a specific style of performance skills, but could be ill- suited to helping us work with jazz or pop material.

Jazz and Pop coaches tend to be attractive and powerful personalities,"self taught" in some instances, and although potentially very useful in the short run for helping us understand ourselves as artists, sometimes their lack of technical understanding shows up in our lack of foundation as we move out into our careers and stumble on our own bad habits.
Not all coaches have YOUR best interests at heart!

Many coaches may have a decent skill set but are in fact frustrated singers, demanding of your respect and obedience without offering a respectful and supportive environment for you to grow in. You'll know it because you will feel like you are never "good enough", and you're working to "please the teacher" rather than understanding the technique for yourself and growing into a "self coaching" professional singer!

SO…Not all coaches are good for all things. I always suggest a singer INTERVIEW THE POTENTIAL COACH FIRST in person or on the phone. Most pro coaches will have a short "meet and greet" moment with a perspective client. Take advantage of that and ask as many questions as you can about their background and experience, client base and working methods!

A quick interview will help you determine if the relationship will feel good to you and allow you to be supported while you grow!
Find out how they trained, who they coach, how they work and what their expectations are before diving in and becoming either financially or emotionally committed!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dances with Coaches part 1

This weeks "Basics of Singing"clip #7 is about the "trill" or the rolled "R". This simple exercise isn't easy for everybody, but it's the fastest route to increasing head resonance. In fact it's been a common exercise covered by every single coach I have ever worked with as a singer.
Lois Pearson, who was an excellent first voice coach to have, taught me the basics of breathing and how to vocalize safely after I lost my voice touring my rock n roll band as a teenager. Although we sang Frank Sinatra songs in class which was awkward for me at the time, her knowledge of how to coach breathing technique is something I still use in my work today.
The trill was part of how she started me vocalizing without pushing and squeezing on my chords to produce sound. Loy Coutts with whom I studied voice for stage used the Linkletter approach which also utilized the trill to bring the skull resonance into focus.
Jose Hernandez, (who now coaching the Canadian Opera Company), was coaching singers I respected like Jane Siberry and I could hear the changes in their sound, so while I was performing regularly with my band on Queen Street I would visit his studio and learn the deeper and more powerful breathing techniques of Classical singers. Jose's work with me helped broaden my range and allowed for a kind of comfort and ease, he used the trill along with other exercises to create a more resonant sound.
It was when I joined the Nylons that my need for a coach became essential. Producer arranger Peter Mann helped me focus my Baritone voice but the arrangements also asked me to reach up (dependably!) into falsetto and occasionally down into the bass range, (something I never really mastered truth be told). Bill Vincent had been helping Nylons frontman Marc Conners achieve a vocal freedom and precision that I was very impressed by. Bill was a taskmaster who demanded a rigorous attention to detail and a deep focus. Under his tutelage I gained a freedom and ease that allowed me access to ALL of my range night after night as we toured and played concerts around the world. His extensive warm-up exercises set my technique for life…..and relied heavily on the trill!
When I worked with Seth Riggs while in California, (he basically checked the technique I had learned with Bill), his "speech level singing" approach used "less energy for larger results", perfect for his high level clients whose demanding schedules ask them to be in good shape vocally at all times. And trilling was one of the arsenal of techniques Seth used with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

Next week: Dances With Coaches part two: Choosing A Coach

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BREATH IS CONFIDENCE "The Basics of Singing" 6: The Belt

When I hit stage, whether it's a new situation (under rehearsed with a new song, working with unfamiliar musicians or performing in a new venue) the one thing I have unshakable confidence in is my breath. I feel like there's nothing that you could throw at me that I couldn't do because of having a flexible, worked and accessible diaphragm. That kind of breath control lets me be calm and peaceful in situations that could be stressful and scary. It gives me room to create a relationship with the audience, or sink down into the emotional lie of my material instead of worrying about whether my air will last to the end of the phrase!
Our goal should be feeling we have enough breath to do anything!
That kind of confidence is something our audience can feel in our presence and our fellow musicians can feel it in our approach to the job. We're easier to work with because we're less scared and more relaxed as performers! We find ourselves much less given to stage fright and performance anxiety when we know that our bodies are working at peak to help us do the job at hand. It does, however take lots and lots of practice to build the diaphragm into a working muscle! I am able to get a whole lot of air into my body quickly because of the hard work I did with classical coach Jose Hernandez back in the day. Jose went on to coach the Canadian Opera Company but at the time his clients were artists like Jane Sibery, Taborah Johnson and Rebecca Jenkins. We all grew immeasurably under his guidance. I learned the "belt" technique from him. The new clip demonstrates using a belt to help build the diaphragm as a muscle, It's best used in tandem with the mental image of our diaphragm as an inner tube that we are expanding. An inner tube that is wrapping all around our torso and that we are consciously filling with air, working against the belt to build the muscle up and get it activated. Now of course it's actually our lungs that are filling with air BUT the use of a visual image of our filling and emptying an inner tube is useful to expanding lung capacity. The more our "inner tube" or diaphragm expands the more air can fill the bottom part of our lungs (which is where they are largest, the lungs are actually pear shaped!). The belt offers resistance for the muscle to work against and that helps us develop the muscle tone needed get the most amount of air into our bodies!

Friday, September 9, 2011

If you're career isn't where you want it to be, you aren't working hard enough!

Artists don't like to hear it but if your career is NOT where you want it to be, likely YOU are actually the problem. Of course the "problem" will most seem like it's the industry out there that isn't paying attention. Either you don't know anyone who is truly "connected" or industry folks aren't getting back to you. (File under it's "their" fault).
Sometimes it's the band or the club owners or agents that are too difficult to deal with, or it's a producer isn't delivering the sound you had hoped and paid for.
The fact is we artist are crazily driven and ambitious creatures who think the world revolves around our desires and without a very good sense of "reality". Egomaniacs with low-self esteem that need approval from an audience and industry to feel validated. We almost always take things personally, as if the entire music industry is designed to keep us back and miss the simple fact that the onus is ALWAYS on the artist to create enough "buzz" to warrant the industries attention.
How do we create that BUZZ you ask? By being incredibly good. By being OUTSTANDING! (Nothing less is actually going to win any attention in the long run)
Usually it is our own "product" that is missing an important element that makes us a complete package. Sometimes it's our songs which may express our experience well but simply aren't packing enough punch to have impact in a crowded marketplace. Sometimes our voice isn't up to scratch and we're getting by on shoddy technique or not getting the most our of our natural gifts. Could be our live show isn't a stand out experience for the audience, or that our recordings aren't serving our core "identity" as an artist.
If even ONE of these elements are weak then folks int he industry will hang back until we have solved the issue. Challenging? You bet! But the industry, which used to do "artist development" deals, is not financially in a position to take on an artist any more. Its up to us to figure our weaker links and get help in solving the issues.
We need input to truly understand what our strengths and weaknesses but most of us are too afraid to ask the question "What am I missing", or "What would I have to do in order for you to work with me"?

We are scared to hear the answer, we're scared to have to do the work.
Why? Everyone is scared they're not good enough. But artists are extra insecure and we expect the world to fill us with praise, making it hard to ask even the most basic questions that would potentially move us ahead.
The most successful people in every walk of life are dedicated to "getting it right" and work tirelessly to achieve their goals. Sure they get scared, sure they have self doubt but they raise above their fears with courage. Thats what we must develop if we want to be high functioning in this world. What is it about artists that makes us believe we should simply be "discovered" in our naturally brilliant state? Thats a myth that simply isn't true.(more on artist development in future posts)
An industry built on stars being perceived as "unique" and "special" has handicapped the up and coming artist looking to achieve their goal, it's lead us to believe that singing on a TV show is all we need to be "discovered" and become a star.
There is no one at the top of this business in front of the audience or behind the scenes who doesn't work really really really hard to deliver the strongest possible product. Simple Fact. Check the story of any of your favorites stars careers and how much they did before we ever heard of them!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Physical Conditioning for Optimum Singing Health

Question: Does the body we sing with need to be "in shape" to make good sound?

The more I learn about the world of Broadway (having worked with a few performers in big shows), the more I understand the pure physical stamina that it takes to crate a compelling performance.. 8 shows a week. Thats not for the "out of shape" or less than healthy individual.
Now that dancing is an expected part of Pop performing the more "together" a singers physique the better. Rock n Roll is also a purely physical performance style based on intensity and abandon. Thats how the music is made vital and important to an audience.

But it doesn't matter what style you work in, Jazz or Country or Folk, stamina is what is really needed to make a life in music work. Music professionals spend long days filled with rehearsals and meetings and creative sessions. All the busyness that goes into an active career takes the kind of core stamina that we associate with athletes.
So, being in top physical shape is key to delivering the product. A few extra pounds on our frame shouldn't impact but the overall health of your body will make a huge difference to your longevity and your ability to give a kick ass performance.

Question: What about those plus size opera, gospel singers who seem to get such a large sound. Isn't there body fat a part of why they sound so big?

Nope. Has Jennifer Hudson or Jennifer Holiday's sound changed at all post weight loss? I had the deep pleasure of sharing a stage with Ms Holiday on more than one occasion and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the slimmed down version still delivers the kind of vocal punch that leaves her audience wet and dripping from exhaustion.

Question: What should I do physically in order to have optimum performances?

I recommend dance or yoga class to remain limber and stretched and "present" in our bodies.
It's not just about being in shape, it's about inhabiting the body we have completely so boddy awareness is very important,

Running, for stamina and endurance, and swimming for overall body fitness and health are both excellent activities that help focus the mind and body for the task of performing.

Weight training at the gym has also been very important for me in maintaining general health and staying in fighting form as well, especially as a "mature" performer. As we grow older in our careers the impact of being out of shape takes more and more of a toll. Our audiences expect us to kick butt though, thats why they came!

Public Performers of all kinds who are in front of the public must continue to grow a disciplined approach to body fitness throughout their careers in order to maintain their abilities, singers are no different...if we are in better shape then we have longer careers, it's as simple as that.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Misconceptions about Jazz Singing

The art of singing Jazz is much misunderstood. I find many singers decide they want to sing Jazz and start from the outside in. From their image of the Jazz singer. Imagining themselves wearing a lovely gown and leaning against a grand piano in a smokey lounge. Or as gentlemen crooners in a smart tux belting out Sinatra standards for a new generation of hipsters.
These are the popular pictures we hold in our minds of "Jazz Singers" But in fact the truth is much grittier.
A Jazz Singer functions like an instrumentalist, taking years and years to learn their craft. Struggling to accomplish the styles and sounds of others that have gone before them before developing a sound and a way of singing that is all their own. There is the sweating it out in low paying gigs and low rent situations, for it is the rare singer who develops a commercial easy to market approach like Micheal Buble or Diana Krall, both of whom fall under the category of "Jazz" but in truth are both more akin to Easy Listening Pop. (Nothing wrong with that, both are fine artists in their own right).
Another misconception is that by singing whats known as the Great American Songbook of the 30's and 40's (mostly made up of songs introduced in the film musicals and Broadway), we could be automatically be considered Jazz singers.
Singing this material without the deeper understanding and knowledge of Jazz usually lands us somewhere in the vicinity of whats known as a Cabaret or Show singer. Also a wonderful art form, (just ask Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein and Barbara Streisand), but no closer to actual Jazz than is Rock n Roll.
Jazz is a interpretive and improvisational Art. Not a "style" you can cop by imitation. We might sing along to and wish to emulate Billie Holiday Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra but until we find a way of singing that is ours alone we are simply students of Jazz. Not Jazz singers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Identifying Your Brand

It's not about boxing you in to anything musically or identity wise. Its about finding the quickest easiest way to communicate the essence of your identity to your potential audience and the music industry folks who will help you reach them.
Because the record business fell apart by not keeping up with the new technology there is no more money to support an act through a period of development before presenting them to the public. This means the onus is on the artist (and the team they are working with) to focus on the best way to market the music to their demographic.
Trust me there hasn't been an important meeting in my career in the last few years where the industry person hasn't wanted to know what I think my artist identity is, what I perceive my demographic to be and how I intend to market my music to them.
Finding the answers to these important questions is a process of trial and error. First step would usually entail playing your music for everyone within your reach, both music professionals and regular folks and asking the questions "who does my music remind you of". Why? Because as much as we artist hate being put in a box, telling new contacts what other artists we sound like the quickest easiest way to communicate who we are.
"People say my music sounds like a cross between Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Rait" is a useful tool. In one sentence everyone knows exactly what "world" you inhabit as an artist. It starts to suggest your demographic and the various creative ways your music can be marketed to that demographic.

In todays climate every artist is expected to have at least a working knowledge of their brand and how it fits into the marketplace. Start asking questions and formulating the answers. This is a process that takes time and lots of trial and error before hitting the nail on the head.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A New Concept for Self Management

Something very interesting came to light in a recent Career Strategy seminar. Although we usually perceive our career challenges to be a result of the music industry not allowing us to move ahead, in fact my experience has shown me that if we are having trouble reaching our goals the actual place to look should be ourselves. Our Fears. Our Beliefs. Our own Behaviors.

Taking responsibility for our part in the forward motion of our careers is the single most important factor in success in this business. After all we have no control over outside circumstances but we can in fact make changes within ourselves that could hugely influence our ability to move ahead in this industry.

Perhaps this suggests a new concept around the term "self management"!

When I look back at any of the "mistakes" or misguided moments in my career there is usually my own inability to gain a larger perspective at the bottom of the situation.
When the stakes are high we usually explode with expectations both of ourselves and the people who are supposed to be helping us. We become full of anger and disappointment when things don't go our way, sometimes sustaining irreparable damage in the process.
Regardless of whether folks are really on our team, we become deeply suspicious of their loyalty, their abilities and their desire to see us succeed. This only leads to the kind of break down of communication where no one seems to be working towards the same objective and start fighting with each other instead of towards a united goal.
Almost all of us could think of a time when if we had stepped back and gained a larger perspective we could have acted with more clarity about the situation. It's only our fears and insecurities that keep our perspective small.
Reaching our goals should never be done at the expense of our decency or our humanity…and certainly never by treating people badly. That only works when we have leverage of some kind, and people might be letting us get away with it..but believe me they are talking behind our backs and the word gets out fast.
Do you want to be the person everyone "puts up with"? (and only as long as the cash is flowing!) Believe me you don't want to be on the receiving end of the pay back once your wave has crested (and they all do) and you are the other side of perceived "success" having treated people with arrogance and impatience. Trust me, people have long memories in this industry.

Diva behavior is just fear disguised as arrogance. Everyone knows it.

"Self Management" is about staying healthy inside so your sense of self isn't dependent on the outside circumstances of your career. Dig into your self and see where you feel strong and where you feel weak. Put your attention on straightening your sense of self there and you will create the kind of attractive powerful calm and peaceful energy that will attract all kinds of people and situations to you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Makes a Performer Great?

Notes From The Playground: What Makes a Performer Great?

As I get ready for our upcoming 8 city tour to support the latest disc "Domesticated" I am excited to get up in front of audiences and deliver these songs that we spent the better part of a year perfecting on disc.

Its made me think about what components go into making a performance great as opposed to simply good. I think it's in the "need" of the performer. How much need we have to be loved.

Whether you enjoy their music one has to concede that Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland and Janis Joplin all had something in common.. performers who needed to play out their need for love on stage..and thats at least part of why they have become legendary.

Its as if they wouldn't exist if they weren't playing out their deepest drama's and appetite's and passions for the masses. They all became undeniable. Completely original..because their need to be loved and accepted was so great.

The basic insecurities we all have seem to have existed in these personalities, but in larger amounts, seeking greater and greater acknowledgment from the crowd that they are indeed worthwhile.
Sure we need great material, a decent singing voice, a career direction, a clear marketing path and a whole lot of luck to reach a public.
But to maintain and deepen our relationship with an audience over the years and grow a worldwide fan base one must possess something more, a magical X factor which makes us hungry for the love of strangers in a darkened club or theatre or concert hall.
Some piece of our soul has to be satisfied by that..twisted? Perhaps.
Normal? Definatly not.Audiences don't pay to see normal.

The more I think about what makes performers great, it seems that it may be the lack of self love that makes us reach for acceptance, a desire to be loved, powered by a deep fear that we are unlovable, which keeps us reaching for the audiences approval.

Turning my thoughts back to our upcoming spring tour...
It's not that I believe myself to be a "great" performer..but certainly something unknown seems to power me on stage that is beyond my understanding. I have a hunger to meet our audience. To entertain them, to reach them, to make them feel something. And it's because I get back so much when I do. Some kind of magical relationship bong is forged for me that makes me feel safe and strong and invincible up there.
I'm getting better at feeling peaceful and safe in life, but back when I was younger I can try say I was more comfortable on stage than off. Not sure what that says about my mental or emotional health, clearly a deep insecurity was driving me to seek acceptance from my audiences.

I believe that we shouldn't be interested in giving my audience an average experience. They can get that from TV and movies and boring chat with coworkers etc. We want to deliver a punch in the gut, a joyful high, a romantic jump start of the heart. Thats something they take away from our show and remember for the rest of their lives..and why a performer like Tina Turner was able to tour for decades without a hit. She gave us joy and a sense of liberation, plain and simple, we didn't care what song she was singing.

As a coach I am always asking my clients "What gift do you have to give your audience"? Its worth thinking about what that it is.. so it can be nurtured!

I'd be interested in hearing from folks about whose performance has moved you the most over the years and why?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Songwriting For Singers (Part 1)

Notes From The Playground: Songwriting For Singers Part 1

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how creating the "right" material is essential in establishing an artist in the publics mind. Think of any of your favorite singers or bands and how you first heard of them and it will in fact be the song they are performing that brought them to your attention. The artist always needs an outstanding piece of material that catches the interest of the industry and the public (not always in that order these days)!
Sometimes an artist is a self contained writing unit, able to create words and music together that express all the lyrical, melodic and harmonic elements that make a top notch song. This is, however, rare. Usually a singer is co-creating their material with another musician, often a producer, who will help shape and craft the material into something that is closer to finished product. There is also the artist who does not participate in the writing of their own material, but in truth that is a rare situation. An artist who writes presents a larger and more varied money stream to the industry and that is why singers who write their own songs find themselves with greater professional opportunities.

Singers at the beginning of their careers often feel like they have songs inside them that they have yet to express. Usually they are letting a lack of musical knowledge or an inability to play an instrument stop them from exploring this potential goldmine. My job usually entails creating a safe environment for these fledgling songwriters to discover where their impulses and instincts might lead them.
Developing a sense of confidence about our own instincts also makes it more possible to jump into creative writing situations with other songwriters, thereby increasing our skill set and our chances of coming up with usable material. The idea isn't always to have complete mastery of the craft of songwriting, but a knowledge of what we do have already working for us and a willingness to commit to collaboration with other more experienced songwriters.
IF we are honest with ourselves we will be giving the creation of material top priority, whether we are learning to develop as writers on our own, learning how to co-write with other composers or becoming really good at finding extraordinary material to perform....

Stay Tuned for Songwriting Part 2 ..a look at the more practical aspects of getting started for the fledgling songwriter.

Micah Barnes coaches singers in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York and his popular Singers Playground workshops have helped thousands of singers to a new freedom in performance and liberation in their voice. His blog "Notes From The Playground" can be found at

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stage Fright Part 2

Our goal as performing artists is much like that of a top athlete or dancer, to be completely relaxed at the same time as being alive and energized. Like an athlete or dancer, our brain must hold a lot of information and be able to fire quickly without overwhelming the singer with unhelpful self judgment. Being this "available" to the moment usually entails a very thorough warm-up. Sometimes a quick vocal warm up before soundcheck isn't enough and we need to physicalize with a series of mind and body focusing and relaxing exercises in order to be really present and ready for anything that might come our way on stage. A solid vocal warm up also not only prepared the voice for the demands we are about to place upon it but allows us a kind of phycological calm knowing we've done everything in our power to make this experience easier.

Being well prepared in advance of the show is also another way to help us get through Stage Fright. Having the songs memorized is a very comforting feeling coming up to a gig. Even if we find we forget the lyrics or arrangement details of the material while on stage, being well rehearsed and knowing we've done the best preparation we can do can lower the stress before and during the show.

It also helps us to stay in a close relationship with the other musicians on stage. A lot of times closing our eyes makes us think we can concentrate better on the task at hand but many times that shuts out the other players We become isolated and sometimes find we cant find our spot when we get lost. It also helps us to stay in a close relationship with our audience.
Make friends with them and engage them in a real relationship of give and take. A lot of times closing our eyes in fear doesn't allow the audience in to the emotional life of the songs. We become isolated and cant connect to the crowd in any meaningful way. That doesn't serve our performance, the material or our goal to get out of our anxiety and into the moment.

Over time, working step by step there is almost no case of stage fright that cannot be improved. Make sure you acknowledge the issue and build in the time for a solid warm up on show days, keep your lyrics with you on stage if you have to… …but most of all STAY CENTERED IN YOUR BREATH!!

Thats the key to a strong performance and the secret to overcoming Stage Fright in my experience.

Micah Barnes coaches singers in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York and his popular Singers Playground workshops have helped thousands of singers to a new freedom in performance. This blog "Notes From The Playground", Micah's Bio and the upcoming workshop info can be found at

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Notes on "Perfectionism"

Notes From The Playground: "Perfectionism".

Almost every "successful" artist that I have worked with as a coach has suffered from the terrible affliction of perfectionism. It drives us in negative ways that almost always make us crazy and difficult to work with. But what is it exactly?

The drive to "get it right" married to an insecurity about ourselves?
The inability to accept anything less than the best from ourselves and others combined with a dread that we will never get it "right".
What a horrible conflicted place to sing and perform from!

Sure we all want to do the best we can, BUT (and this is a really big BUT), how do you rehearse in new material if you don't allow the songs to take shape, How do you allow a new player to find his place in he arrangements if you cant accept that it will take time…
and how will you allow yourself the trial and error of discovery so you can grow as an artist if you won't let yourself explore new territories free of the need to "be perfect".

Sadly there is never a feeling of having "arrived" with perfectionism. Although many perfectionists are big achievers, in truth the main feeling associated with perfectionism is that of constantly failing. A lack of patience for ourselves and others.

And we are awful to work with. You can see us coming. We're desperate to achieve the results we desire, so we learn how to manipulate those around us. But we don't listen well, we cant slow down. we have no patience and no real generosity to others..
Perfectionist don't feel how unreasonable their demands are upon themselves or others.
We are driven by the vision in our head but we cant live easily in the real world.

Next Post: How to release the strangle hold that perfectionism has on your life and your work.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NOTES FROM THE PLAYGROUND: Stage Fright (part one)

After almost 3 decades of coaching singers of all kinds I still find stage fright to be the single most challenging problem we face as performers.

The physical manifestations of stage fright, shortness of breath, shakiness in the limbs, uncontrollable pitch and a kind of sudden brain drain,(which can include an inability to remember lyrics), can steal our confidence and fill us full of dread about upcoming gigs and their becoming a potential disaster.

While instrumentalists use a separate instrument from themselves to make music, we singers use our actual bodies to create the sound so if the physical manifestations of fear and anxiety associated with stage fright are present then we can't control our bodies and all confidence that we can do a good job flies out the window. Horrible indeed.

But singers need to sing and music is meant to be shared and in my experience as both a coach and a performer even debilitating stage fright can be possible over time. In fact I started my career with a pretty acute case of stage fright,(born of a lack of belief in my abilities), and have ended up a relaxed and confident performer.

When I am coaching the Singers Playground Performance Workshops it's easy to spot the manifestations and work towards solutions that will lesson them. The key is to solving stage fright is to identify what the anxiety and fear is about. Usually it's simply an artist worrying about doing a good job. In most cases Stage Fright is a result of our perfectionist selves seeking to do the very best we can.
Artists seek to shape and mold, exercising a kind of control over our craft in order to create the desired results. This in itself is not a bad thing.

The challenge for us singers is that performing live is the least controllable of all singing situations. The jam at a party, the band rehearsal, even the recording studio are all situations where we can adjust details as we go to create the optimum support for our ears and our voices.
But performing live we have almost no control over the circumstances, usually jumping into a quick soundcheck exhausted from promoting the engagement, unfamiliar with the venue, working with a sound man that doesn't know our sound, using monitors that make us sound different from what we are used to, singing with a band that may be unrehearsed etc.
We end up feeling rushed and unsure, hyper aware of our perceived mistakes and unable to gage what the audience is actually experiencing.
No wonder we feel out of control and unable to do anything near our best in live performance!
I have found the single most important way to counteract perfectionism
and the ensuing anxiety is to use a vocal and physical warm up that is calming at a core level and allows us to get comfortable with the idea of just "doing our best" and letting go of trying to achieve the "perfect" performance.

For my clients this always starts and ends with the breath. The breath is the first place that stage fright shows itself with shallow breathing or a frozen diaphragm which leaves us unable to create the sound we know how to create.
Taking the time to breath through a warm up will help remind us to breath during the show and plant the idea that we will do the best we can under the circumstances, while acknowledging that the circumstances are indeed beyond our control.
The best rescue for a song going wrong is a big deep breath. Your brain has a chance to function, your pitch will start to correct and suddenly you will be able to hold notes again. Yahoo!!