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.