Outside the Box with Your Performance


Shake things up and find a new way to own your vocals – says Joey Elkins

Have you ever found yourself trapped –with your vocal work?

You are going though the motions, but all of your movement feels slowed down, performances are flat; you are not connecting to your music and you are lethargic, tired and “down”.

Maybe you’ve performed this particular song so many times that it’s just not fresh anymore— it’s become a case of “just going through the motions”.

We all get there – but how long we stay there is entirely our own choice; here are some tools that lead vocalists everywhere back into the open air.

Turn The Feel Inside Out.

Keep in mind that a lack of connection with your songs might have something to do with the instrumental accompaniment to your music; it too may be trapped in the box. Try changing the feel of your song. If it’s an up-tempo song, try it as a ballad. If it’s a ballad, speed it up. Or, keep the tempo the same but get your band to put a different groove behind it (if it’s a straight 4/4 ballad feel, try asking for a 12/8 groove). This, in turn, will force you to sing it differently and demand a new approach not only from you but from your band as well.

There are so many vocalists who have been effective at this – in all genres. But here’s an interesting one I recently found where someone’s covered the classic Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, changing the both the style (from grunge to a soul/R ‘n’B flavour) and the feel (from 4/4 to a 6/8). Have a listen to what’s possible…

Change the Arrangement and Form of the song.

Start singing from a different part of the song. A common trick is to start from the bridge or the chorus and then begin the first verse onwards after that. The bridge is usually where the emotional climax and point of the song lies, so this can give you a dynamic start and allow you to pull it right back for the first verse. Starting from the chorus can work quite well as a variation too. You could even experiment with not having your whole band playing from the word go, but instead performing the first verse with only your guitarist or your keyboardist.

You might even notice that some songs were originally written with the chorus coming first. You could even try this idea in reverse in these cases and start the song at the verse! Here’s an example where the composer has actually utilised this tool as part of the official form of his song…

View Yourself as an Actor

If the emotion is failing to come through your performance of the song, I bet it has a lot to do with getting inside those words! Take a minute, close your eyes and walk through the lyrics. This time, don’t think of it as a song but as a story. If you can’t personally relate to the lyric, imagine you’re an actor and consider what it would be like to be going through the situation yourself. It’s also a great idea to get your band to do the same. Live and breathe that lyric. Own it. Make it yours. When you’re all thinking about what that song is trying to say, have a go at singing and playing it again – I bet the outcome will be very different.

Watch John Farnham performing live on this clip:-

– you just can’t help but believe that he’s living these lyrics right before your eyes and ears.
And for a heavier style, feel yourself get completely pulled into the emotion of the lyric with this extremely well known song by the band 30 Seconds From Mars…

Renew Your Identity

Sometimes the reason we’re stuck has to do with the incessant and negative self-talk we can sometimes assault ourselves with as vocalists. Take a step back. Remember the first day you fell in love with singing and making music? I bet, it was a similar experience for you as it was for me… There was no

ego, no good or bad, no politics. Just, the most innocent feeling of joy and happiness you’d ever had, and you couldn’t wait to do it again the first chance you got – right? Take yourself back to that moment and start singing from that place again. Make it about loving the feeling of making sound again with a free spirit. Someone once said to me on negative thinking… “If your thoughts are hurting you or causing you harm, you’re doing it wrong.” We need to remind ourselves as vocalists to disengage our inner voice when it’s not helping us and get back to it being about the love of music…

Next Week : Outside the Box with Songwriting.

London based vocalist, Joey Elkins, is gaining attention as a jazz, funk, soul and contemporary singer. As a child in Adelaide, Australia, she delighted her jazz musician parents and friends with her high register, a range close to six octaves and a commanding style. Joey’s first jazz recording attracted the interest of some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians and before leaving for London, Joey was already a respected and regular performer in some of Australia’s top jazz venues. Being a natural improviser and composer enables Joey to own a variety of styles. Joey is currently recording and composing original music which will be released as a CD within the coming year. Joey’s Music and Website

Useful Links

The Look of Silence

The Singer Who Dares to Listen

Joey’s Music


  • Thanks for the article, Joey!

    I really like the part about viewing yourself as an actor – both my guitarist and I think that our vocalist has a great voice, but it’s too optimistic so he sings all the songs with the same character! He even sings the heartfelt ballads with as much power and confidence as the happy upbeat ones. Thinking as an actor might help him stand from the right point of view.

    Cheers,