A Perfect Voice Under Pressure

A leading vocal group from NBC’s The Sing-Off share their secrets to the perfectly prepared performance voice.

What do you need to keep in mind when you’re singing under intense pressure?

We decided to ask The Street Corner Symphony since they made the pressurized climb to the 2nd spot in NBC’s 2010 “The Sing Off”.

They’re an intense group, pumping out shows and albums – so we asked two of their members – Mark McLemore and John Martin to take us behind the scenes of vocal preparation.

You’re a day or two away from a performance – what is your ideal vocal
health regimen?

Hydration is the most inconsistent element in my vocal health, so drinking lots of water is at the top of the list (before the day of the show). In addition, I stay away from stuffing my belly with food and sugar, which I find get in the way of a controlled performance. (Mark)

It’s the “day”! You’re ‘on’ in the evening – what is the most effective warm up?
Go low and slow. If you’ve taken good care of your voice up to this point (and you’re singing some every day), you won’t have to do much to be warm. It is good to warm up when you wake up, but let it be after that. Re-warm yourself a little before you go on, and you’ll be good to go without having worn yourself out throughout the day. (John)

How does this warm up differ from one a day you are not performing?
It doesn’t. A good warm-up is a good warm-up, and it’s always smart to re-warm if you’ve not used your voice for a few hours. (John)

The psych. pressure is intense – and it effects your voice. What are effective calming strategies?
Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth; it helps keep you calm. However, realize that you’ve worked for hours before the performance to get ready. If you’ve rehearsed well, all you need do is rely on that instinct. The practice room is the place to worry about small things; the stage is the time to let go off all the details and just sing. (John)

There’s that moment just before the song begins – what do you tell yourself?
“Trust myself.” By the time you’re on stage, you’ve done this a hundred times in rehearsal. It’s second nature if you don’t get in your own way. (John)

How do you stay on top of your tempo when you’re under pressure?
Haha, I go with it. I’m laid back about performances, especially when we have issues like slapback (which WILL make us slow down) or bad monitoring. If the tempo changes, I like to go with it. Groove is more important. if everyone is feeling the groove, it’s the right tempo! (Mark)

How do you keep on top of your tuning? Any tricks that help you stay right on the edge?
Listen! Just listen and listen and listen. And while you’re listening, trust your voice to deliver. The rest, I believe, is just experience. You learn to tune well by singing in tune. (Mark)

Any tips or tricks to keep your voice on target in the middle of a performance?
Rehearse how you want to perform. If you allow yourself to get tense in spots when you’re practicing, you’re guaranteed to be tense when you perform. Take time to go over the ends of songs when your voice is fresh so you’ll know how it’s supposed to feel when everything’s perfect. If you do get tense on the stage, step back, take a breath, get some water, and let the tension out. If you don’t take care of it, it will just get worse over the course of the performance. (John)

You’ve completed the show. What do you do in terms of evaluation?
By the last note, I’ve heard everything I need to from a personal perspective. I’m pretty on-the-ball about where I went wrong and know what I need to do. But I don’t beat myself up. I learned the hard way that it isn’t helpful. (Mark)

Any final tips or tricks of the trade for singers to keep in top vocal fitness?
Learn your voice. Study it. Know what its strengths and quirks are. Drink lots of water (trade secret). Then take a breath and just sing all the time. It all counts as practice. (Mark)

Street Corner Symphony was featured on NBC’s reality TV competition “The Sing-Off “ in 2010 , coming in second among the program’s group of amazing vocalists. They’ve been going strong ever since, with their unique blend of tight-knit harmonies and unbelievable vocal acrobatics. Their new album, Southern Autumn Nostalgia, was created solely with their VOICES and nothing more – no drums, guitar, bass — just six, super-talented voices.