|Some of us are just lucky. The lucky have excellent PA equipment that can be EQed so that their voice actually sounds good both through the house and monitor speakers. The lucky ones have expensive ear monitors or a live sound engineer who cares enough to effectively handle the monitor mix. They can actually hear themselves when they sing despite guitar volume. But even the lucky have an occasional bad time. At those times, they join in the brotherhood (or sisterhood) of singers who struggle to hear themselves for lack of a good monitor mix.
What is it that a singer has to do to hear themselves these days? There ought to be a union called "Singers Who Can't Hear Themselves, Local 23." Some think we're just vain. That must be the only reason why we complain when the volume of the band is deafening and somewhere lost amidst the sound waves. . . could that be my voice?
You know, it's not vanity, but necessity that drives us in our fight to be heard. It is peculiar to our vocal instrument that hearing it is necessary to playing it. Of course it is easier and more enjoyable for any musician to perform when they can hear themselves well. However, a guitarist who knows the next chord, can just look at the frets and place his fingers accordingly. As long as the guitar is in tune, he can still play the song despite not hearing himself.
But a singer has a definite handicap in this contest. The voice instantaneously responds to thought. You have to think the next not before you sing it. Melody notes are relative to each other. So not hearing the note you are singing makes it extremely difficult to intone the next one. So what are we to do in those maddening circumstances when there is no voice coming out of the monitor?
Singing by Brail
Easier said than done, it's true. But you can develop perception and a sensitivity of the inner sensations of your voice. This takes lots of practice, self-awareness and really imagining the sounds you want to sing. You've got to hear them more in your mind than out of your mouth. Totally involve yourself in the creation. Once you are familiar with the inner sensations associated with the sounds of your voice, you will be able to sing even when you can=t hear yourself clearly. You'll be singing by feeling not by hearing.
Another aspect of it is over-singing because you're anxious about not being heard. It's helpful to trust that the audience can hear you. (OK, so there are those times when your fans tell you afterwards that your voice was not loud enough.) But when you're up there, you've got to believe they can hear you. If you are anxious about being heard, it will come across to the audience in the sound of your voice.
I could tell you that you should develop good relationships with every person who engineers your gigs. I could tell you to develop a system of agreed upon hand signals with the sound engineer. I could tell you to put together an on-stage pre-mix for your monitors, which then gets routed to the main board. I could tell you to stick a finger in your ear and listen to yourself from inside your head, however this "fashion-statement," from the audience's perspective, is a bit distracting. And if your band members have their speaker cabinets on stage, maybe you could arrange to have only your voice coming through your monitor. All of these things would undoubtedly help. But the fact of the matter is, unless you've got your own personalized ear monitor and a good support team with top of the line equipment, there will be more times than you and I care to list or remember when the on-stage mix is ah . . ., terrible. And you have to practice to be ready to deal with it and not get thrown off or tense your throat or shout yourself hoarse trying to get enough volume.
I've spent years researching and analyzing the voice and it's related areas, and have developed exercises that will truly develop the natural inner muscle movements that create your sound. As you practice them you develop the needed strength and stamina to last in a band and sing night after night without losing your voice. They also do something else. They help you develop a level of trust and certainty in your voice. One that you can rely on even in the trying times when you need to "sing by brail."
Jeannie Deva teaches in LA and has works with singers from around the world. She is the Founder of The Deva Method ™, A Non-Classical Approach for Singers ™ and of The Jeannie Deva Voice Studios in Boston, Cape Cod and Worcester, Massachusetts. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed vocal home-study course: "The Contemporary Vocalist" and "The Deva Method Vocal Warm-Ups" CD. Her studios service an international clientele and are staffed with certified Deva Method voice trainers, now celebrating their 25th anniversary. Clients include: Members of the J. Geils Band, Fame and Jesus Christ Superstar, Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin and many more.
Back to articles index