(Post via Mike Murphy) Fronting a band is no easy task and Mike examines the issue of how to be a great lead singer. Anyone that thinks to be a great lead singer is easy does not understand the skill. Sure, anyone can stand up in front of a band and pose as a lead singer and vocalize in some manner, but that is not what makes them great. Mastering the skill takes developing charisma, timing, having a solid understanding of the material being presented, delivery of the material, and a voice that fits the genre. We have all seen lead singers we have loved and hated. It’s a rough business.
How many of us have looked at and listened to a band and evaluated the singer to a higher standard? I think we all have; it is instinctive. Why? I think many people, especially non-musician types, do not recognize being a lead vocalist as a real instrument; like drums, guitars or keyboards. Being the lead vocalist is perhaps the hardest instrument to master! A band can have all great musicians, but if the singer sucks, the overall opinion of the band suffers.
Sure there have been lots of bands who have made it in the music industry without the luxury of a serious and strong lead vocalist. Some last only a short time and have lineup changes. Other bands, adapt the music around the singer's voice and make it work. I won’t cite specific examples because my opinion may differ from someone else’s as to what is good and what is bad. However, I can think of great punk bands and rock bands that made the music work around the abilities of the singer.
When I evaluate a lead singer’s talents, I first decide how his or her look fits with the band. Let me give you an example. If you are watching a heavy metal band and the singer is dressed like he is in a surf music band, in Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip flops, I might wonder what is going on. I would be distracted by that personal presentation because it does not fit the genre. I don’t care how good the singer is, he or she is a fish out of water. A singer has to look the part depending on the music being played.
I want to know if the lead vocalist can really sing and/or is singing on key. Granted, different genres have different ways of “singing” the lyrics. I get that, but the important part is how he or she will manage that vocal ability throughout the show. Is he or she going to lose power with their voice or lose it entirely? Singing death metal and pop music are two completely different styles and presenting the vocals are very different. Some would argue that yelling vocals and screaming are not singing. It is expression and singing is just that; expression. Some singing is just more melodic than other styles.
I grade hard on what the lead vocalist is doing with themselves while performing or while the band is playing and they are anticipating the next line. Is the posture good and appropriate for the tune being performed? Certainly, you would not want to see a vocalist presenting an aggressive posture while doing a soft ballad! Turning your back on the crowd is a big no-no in my book. Back away and go get your sip of water, tambourine or whatever you need to do. How much does the singer interact and look at the crowd; not just the people upfront, but the sides, the middle, and the back of the venue? Using the entire venue is critical.
Being a lead singer is definitely not easy. It is very much a skill. Mastering that skill takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Many will fail a bunch of times before he or she finds the right fit and can consistently perform the craft. In many ways becoming a professional lead singer is a survival of the fittest activity. The music industry, especially for a lead vocalist is a rough business. The strong will survive unless he or she has self sabotaging behaviors. That’s a topic for another blog. Happy singing!
About the author
Mike G. has been writing songs for 35 years. He studied voice at United States International University in San Diego California and has a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.
I'm a music business professional with an innate interest for music and subcultures! Nothing brings me more joy than to hear about people's newest music obsession, I can tell you I am currently digging a lot of OK Go.