Throughout your career as a singer you will always be on the lookout for the right song or for material that is best suited for specific occasions, events, or auditions. In order to keep things fresh, challenging and exciting you’ll want to mix things up now and then.
Also, as your voice strengthens and develops, and you become a more seasoned performer, your tastes may change or broaden as well. But there will always be a comfort zone where you feel most natural and most effective in using your range, phrasing and in indulging your musical tastes.
One of the exciting things about popular music is that so many songs can be adapted stylistically to fit your taste, interests, and vocal abilities. The listening audience has become more eclectic in terms of the variety of genres they listen to and appreciate.
Build Your Repertoire
Still it is important to establish a repertoire of songs that have become second nature for you during your training. You want that repertoire that offers variety in terms of tempo and emotional feel. Think of concerts you’ve attended where there’s a mix of up tempo, even frenetic songs that are countered with low-key, gentle, ballads. You want to have a mixed bag of treats and tricks to keep your audience thoroughly entertained.
Many bands and musical performers will have their material revolve around a central theme. It might be a general theme such as falling in love. A variation on that theme might be a little broader like, falling in and out of love or heartache and healing. You might choose a theme from a particular era such as the 1980’s or a particular genre such as 1960’s surf music. You might then take a theme and punch it up with an urban feel, rootsy style, or space rock.
The advantage of having a theme is that it serves to anchor the performance and tie it all together. You might choose material that centers around a specific cause such as animal rescue or homelessness or world peace. Just bear in mind that you want the songs you choose to showcase your vocal strengths and be true to the colors of your personality as a performer.
Think about your audience and what they might want to hear. This applies whether you’re doing a coffee house show, a wedding, a corporate event, or an audition. The research you do on your audience will give you some insight on what is expected. What’s expected will help with what’s selected.
Offer A Unique Spin
Allow yourself to experiment with standards or well-known songs. Don’t be afraid to put your own unique spin on what’s expected. For example, The Beatles song, Yesterday, is considered to be the most recorded pop song in history. In fact the Guinness Book of World Records claims that there have been more than 1600 different cover versions of the song. The list of artists who’ve done their take on the song spans a wide array of genres and includes folk artists Joan Baez, The Seekers, and Bob Dylan as well as En Vogue, Boys II Men, Frank Sinatra, PlÃ¡cido Domingo, Ray Charles, and Elvis Presley.
Summertime, The George Gershwin-DuBose Heyward classic from the 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess, has been recorded by artists as diverse as Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday, The Zombies, The Doors, American Idol’s Fantasia Barrino, Doc Watson, Eva Cassidy, and Charlotte Church.
Wherever you perform you want the music to be a comfortable fit for you and your audience. Make sure your voice and style are a good match and that the style is a good choice for your audience or venue.
It’s also a good idea to stage a “command performance” for friends via a backyard barbecue, garage band gig, tailgate bash, or block party to try out material and get feedback in building your repertoire. Never under estimate the value of a test audience in gauging any potential pitfalls or weaknesses. Pull out all the stops and take some risks in these performances. It’s better to falter or fumble in front of friends who’ll forgive than to stumble in front of strangers that might not be as forgiving or generous with their support and understanding.
Make a list of artists you enjoy and songs you like and check out performances on youtube. In fact, look for different versions of the same song so you get an idea of ways you can put your own spin on a well-known song.