Jun 06 2011

Q&A - Singing in a Rock Band

I recently started performing with a group here in Georgia and although the band is very loud, how do I sing without damaging my voice so that people in the audience can hear me as the lead vocalist? Thank you, sir.


Thanks for writing. The first thing to do is make sure the levels of the instruments are correctly set. They need to be set in relation to the voice. Many bands do sound-checks with the vocals last. Vocals need to be done first so all of the other instruments can be set relative to the voice. This is because the instruments are capable of much more sound because they are electrically amplified. The voice is an acoustic instrument and so its maximum loudness is much more limited. This includes proper monitor levels as well, so you can hear yourself.

Without these basics, you will constantly be forced to over-work your voice because of being over-powered by the instruments. And the voice is the one part of the situation that can’t afford to do that because it will break. And if it breaks you can’t just buy a new one. It is done, at least for a while. And that happens more than we realize.

The second thing you must do is understand how to use your voice and how to strengthen it and keep it healthy. The voice is just like any other aspect of the body. The greater the demands you place on it the greater the risk of injury. Ever notice how many professional athletes get injured, regardless of the sport? It is because the level of competition has risen so much that they are placing huge demands on their bodies. Even with all of the specialized training and work-outs they do they still get injured. Now imagine not even doing the special training and workouts. How long do you think they’d last then?

That is what singers are doing when they start to increase the demands they place on their voice without having the specialized training and understanding of how to realize their objectives without damaging their voice.

So the answer to your question can’t be given in a written statement. Other than, you need to know what you’re doing. And you won’t know what you’re doing without going through the work it takes to develop your understanding of your voice.

This might sound funny because rock singing is maybe the most anti-rules type of singing there is. But it is this very nature of rock singing that makes it the most demanding to do healthy. You can easily just do whatever you want with lots of feeling and somebody will think it’s good. But it very likely will be harmful to your voice.

So like I said, to be able to fulfill your artistic vision while also keeping the voice healthy you are going to need to really know what you’re doing. And that only happens with training. But that is what I do. So if you’re interested in finding out how you can do this just let me know. But what I could write here in a response to your question won’t help much at all. Good luck.

  1. Chris Byrne

    Great advice as usual, Michael. I would like to add the importance of protecting the ears.

  2. Just to add on to the original post, it is indeed true that you can’t expect to become a polished singer just from reading the right information. Even if you find a book with “long-lost Bel Canto” exercises (just a generalized example), they won’t help much unless you know what you’re doing or you have somebody there to guide you. Building your voice is a form of building your instrument (I believe Michael used that comparison elsewhere), and it’s difficult – if not impossible – to stay on the right track and do it correctly without guidance from an excellent technician. But as Michael has also said elsewhere, you have to put the pieces together yourself to get the final result.
    Furthermore, singing is a coordinated action that requires various parts of the body to be conditioned into the proper state so that they may respond desirably when the right stimulus is applied. Knowing how such-and-such a part of the body works is well and good, especially when trying to explain something, but actually developing a singing voice properly is largely about the nervous system and the body being trained correctly, not just possessing the right knowledge. However, if you know the facts about how the voice works, then you may have a better idea of where to look for guidance.
    On a note about singing in a rock band, there are many types of “rock”, and that’s even before you delve into metal and hard rock. What sort of rock is being discussed here? Are we talking “The Eagles” or “Coheed and Cambria”? I think that the less emphasis on making a “beautiful” sound there is in a specific genre, the more risk there is of vocal injury. You’re probably more likely to get hurt if you sing screamo as opposed to something from “Green Day.”
    Just my two cents.

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