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Develop Your Own Performance Style

I’ve worked with many singers who are trying to find and develop a unique vocal style.  Artists also need to develop their own unique performance style.

A great vocal coach can help singers develop a unique vocal style.  On the flip side, a bad vocal coach who only understands one style and tries to teach you that one style (whether your voice is suited for it or not), is making a big mistake!  You’ll never find “your voice” that way.

If you’re a guitar player who takes lessons from someone who can only teach one style (and it’s not the style you want), you’re with the wrong teacher. I’m not saying you can’t learn something from them, but you’ll never find your “instrumental voice” that way. You may find out what you don’t like, but it’s not the way to develop your own sound, your own tones, your own expression on the guitar.

The same thing holds true with expressing yourself visually onstage.  Most artists don’t need to learn how to dance, so they don’t need a choreographer.  They don’t need to take a theater class to learn what to do onstage.  But, there are fundamentals that everyone needs to learn to express themselves onstage.

I get asked all the time what the biggest problem is that I run across when working with an artist on their show.  This is one of the major things: most artists are very uncomfortable with themselves, their body, and how to express themselves physically onstage.

And the only way they think they can learn is by doing gigs and trying things.  There’s an up side to that: they can find things that work and that they feel comfortable with (if they’re willing to take risks).

But there’s a down side, too. They often develop many bad habits onstage – nervous habits like tapping the microphone while singing, hitting their leg when they’re uncomfortable and unsure, grooving with the music when they should be singing the lyrics, etc.

I hear it all the time: “The best thing you can do for your show is just get out there and play wherever you can!” THAT’S NOT TRUE!

That’s like saying to someone that if they don’t know chords on their guitar, they should just learn by strumming and putting their hands in different spots to see what works.  I think a chord book would be a better place to start, don’t you?

There are fundamental principles, concepts, and theories that help in any craft.  How deep you want to jump into those theories is up to you.

But the ultimate goal, if you want to be a professional, is to find your own way to express yourself vocally, musically and visually.  You want to be an original, not a copy.

Most people do this vocally and musically, but they never do it visually.  They watch someone “famous” (who may not be doing it correctly anyway!) and try to do a few things they do.

When I learned to play my instrument, I listened to players I liked and copied them.  Then I went from copying to being “influenced” by them.  I started thinking about what I would do instead of what they would do.

I had people help me with stance, timing, instruction in why we did what we did.  They taught me that payoffs come in 3’s, and told me about putting pressure on an audience.  They showed me everything from movement to mic stands…on and on and on.

Then, once I learned the fundamentals, I developed my own style.  I wouldn’t have learned the correct way to lead an audience, never would have developed my own style visually, if I hadn’t had the guidance to do it.

Go out and play and learn some of the skills…but learning the fundamentals FIRST can save you years.  You won’t develop bad habits, and when you go out to play you’ll make a bigger impact sooner!

Tom Jackson

Tom is uniquely talented and skilled at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience; helping artists at every level create a live show that is engaging and memorable, teaching them to exceed their audiences' expectations and to create fans for life. Tom has taught indie and major artists of every genre. He has worked with Taylor Swift, Le Crae, Home Free, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, The Band Perry, Francesca Battistelli, Jars of Clay, & many more. Tom also teaches at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. Got the book (actually…it’s time to reread!) Went to bootcamp, got some videos. This stuff is so powerful. I’m using the principles over and over again. (As a performer, as a director of a men’s choir, as a coach). Just finished a huge show with the choir where I’d used your song flow chart…last song-hey they’re standing up to applaud-it was the PLANNED climax of the program. Have used your basic principles of movement, but need to develop a “language” that is honest and authentic. Short of a coaching session with your crew (on the wish list!) video seems really helpful-OH, is that what that looks like? Don’t ever do THAT again! LOL. Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

  2. It tooks some years to find “a voice” for my voice, but when it did the show started coming into play. I agree, it’s not just about the music, but how it’s presented and that includes how and where you sing on stage!

  3. Hi Tom,
    Saw your Band Makeover in Chicago and we had a quick funny chat after .

    Also bought your book.

    Quick tale:
    When we met I was seven weeks into a long dreamed of solo tour .
    I had left a band that I had started because of one person alcohol issues.
    And because club management was snacking performance style.

    I came back to Honolulu . The aforementioned band mate went in a trip.
    I stepped back in as front man. Having carefully read the section on set structure I crafted
    three sets. I also suggested that one of the players cease standing forward if the band the whole time
    and step forward on the most dramatic solos.
    Hard for her but the effect was palpable.

    The combination was awesome.
    the audience was going wild AND spending money AND rippling.
    The band had the most fun they had had in months .

    There is more, but I just wanted you to know it meant a lot to me.

    Now figuring out how to apply your insights to my solo show

    All the best.
    If you are ever in Honolulu, be glad to extend the Aloha.

    James B ‘McCarthy

  4. Jeffrey Scott says:

    I literally had THIS CONVERSATION with bandmates last night! Ha!

    I don’t want us to just “go out and play” – I want us to be rock-solid. How do I get them onboard?

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