In Wednesday night’s American Idol there were two lessons that can help you be successful as a performing musician or artist. When giving Alex Lambert feedback, Kara DioGuardi said, “The only thing standing in the way of you winning is you.” She was specifically targeting Alex’s clear lack of confidence. And while, his performance was getting better each time, it was not going to be enough for him to make it to the finals.
So, let’s talk about this confidence thing. This is a common theme on American Idol, because most of the contestants have little or no performing experience and certainly no performing experience in front of an audience of this magnitude. Most professional artists get to this level after long years of experience and their proficiency in performance is a skill that they build and develop over time. How are you building your performance chops?
Simon Cowell told Alex to just believe in himself. As if it’s that easy to choose to believe in yourself. You know what – it is. Because what you believe is your choice. This is something I teach in my Transform Your Beliefs – The Key to Success class, that’s available for download from the Artist’s EDGE Membership. You can change what you believe. However, when working alone (and not with a coach), it can be very challenging to change what you believe. But the easiest way to change what you believe is to change what you’re focusing on. If all you’re focusing on is the thought, “Don’t let me fail.” Or, “I’m not good enough for this.” Then that’s what you’ll believe.
Want to believe in yourself? Change what you’re focusing on: “I have a good voice.” “My fans are voting for me and rooting for me.” And then find evidence of that belief and focus on that.
And really, that’s all Simon was suggesting when he offered the stunning image of Randy in a bikini – having that image in your mind will make it harder to worry about anything, much less your performance. It’s an old speaker’s trick, imagining your audience in their underwear. And it works! Though I’ve always preferred to imagine my audience having transformational experiences, personally.
Lesson One: Choose to believe in yourself and focus on the right stuff!
The second lesson I saw was in the nature of skill development of a different sort – vocal skill. Now it is true, both on American Idol and in the vast world of the Music Business, that a great performer can, to some degree, overcome a lack of vocal ability – I mean look at Bruce Springsteen. And in today’s Music Industry, the use of Auto-Tune in live and recorded performances has become almost an industry standard, particularly in the commercial or pop music world. However, as Taylor Swift discovered, it doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems of a professional lacking in trained vocal skills.
On the other side of that fence, as we saw with Katie Stevens in the previous night’s performance, an incredible vocal skill absolutely does not make up for the lack of performance skills. But one thing that vocal training can make up for – nerves. One of the first things to go when dealing with nerves is breath. And without breath, being able to maintain pitch, particularly over a sustained note, becomes nearly impossible.
But if you’ve trained your body, your diaphragm, your vocal chords, to breath and maintain your pitch, then when you are challenged by nerves or emotions, your muscle memory will enable you to maintain your pitch through your emotions.
So many artists today don’t want to get vocal training. Because they have some idea about wanting to maintain a raw sound or they’re afraid that they’ll have to change their vocal style. But that can’t be further from the truth. What vocal training allows you to do is to be masterful in your sound. To have tremendous control over the tone and emotional content of your vocals. And even more importantly, training will help you to maintain your vocal health and keep you from losing your voice as well as keep you from developing vocal nodes and other chronic conditions that will stop you from singing at all.
Lesson Two: Develop Your Craft!
How are you training yourself as an artist? Whatever your craft is, you are never done developing it. Always be working on your craft. Many young musicians think that if they train too much, they’ll somehow lose their raw freshness. Guess what – the best way to lose is to not train! The better you are, the more power and choice you have. You can always choose to be raw – but it will be very hard to maintain if poor skills destroy your vocal chords. Masters are developed, not born. And you’ll be able to go much further on training and skill than on talent.
How are you developing your skills?