have participated in and judged many talent competitions for musicians.
I believe that competitions are a great way to "measure"
yourself against the musicianship of others. Some of them are
also wonderful avenues for obtaining exposure in the music industry.
Many of today's top artists got their break by performing in a
long ago, a couple of friends contacted me for advice on how to
prepare for a talent competition to appear on a popular television
show. The following is the advice I gave them.
Think about it. There's a gazillion people that are all opting
for the same position. So do something that sets you apart from
those other gazillions. Do a unique song (I think I once heard
Simon Cowell say "If I have to hear I Believe I Can
Fly one more time....") Wear something unique. Do something
unique during your performance that gets you noticed. Try to
keep it legal, though!
Your visual presentation is every bit as important (if not more
so) than your musical presentation. DO NOT stand in one spot
on the stage. Work the stage. Work the audience. DO NOT close
your eyes. Make eye contact with the people. Closed eyes are
a psychological sign of insecurity. DO NOT hold the mike with
2 hands. That is also a sign of insecurity. And use the other
hand for expression while you sing... a lot. Use your whole
body to make a presentation to the audience. Dance. Move your
head. Use your hands. Also, remember as you're working the stage
to keep your mike from blocking the audience's view of you.
When you are walking toward your right side of the stage (the
audience's left), hold the mike with your right hand so that
the mike and your hand won't block their view of your face.
And rehearse your stage presence... a lot!
What Style You Are -
I've asked artists, "So, what style of music do you do?"
And they'll say, "Oh, a little of everything. We do a little
old school, a little new school. Some rock, some country, some
bluegrass, some hip-hop, some Gregorian Chant." That won't
work. Decide what style you are going to present yourself as
and WORK IT! If you are going to do rock, then wear rock clothes,
dance like a rocker, bang your head like a rocker, and learn
how to scream aggresively at your audience. If you are going
to do hip-hop, then shop FUBU and Adidas, speak ebonics, dance
hip-hop, etc. But whatever style you decide to do, make sure
you're being yourself - 'cuz if you don't you'll be an on-stage
hypocrite - and they'll see right through it. Be YOU, and work
YOU. Also, be specific with what style you are. "Contemporary"
is way too vague. "Rock" is even too vague. There
are specific styles of rock. There are specific styles of Pop.
Be specific with what style you decide best represents yourself.
All the best singers on American Idol can flat out sing the
roof off! Sing from your ankles! Knock the judges off their
seats! Have so much energy that it seems like you don't know
what to do with it all. And make it look like there's even more
where that came from! Never let them think you've given them
all there is to give.
- Be Flawless
If there are any flaws whatsoever in any of your performances,
your demos, etc. the industry has no reason to pursue you any
further. Because they know that there are people out there who
can and will do it flawlessly every time. Rehearse your song(s)
so that you can sing them backwards in your sleep - which also
means that by the time you get to perform them, you will probably
be sick of them. Rehearse your stage presence so that you know
where you will stand, what you will do, how you will dance,
etc. during every moment of the song. Do it flawlessly, do it
boldly, like everything you are doing on stage is EXACTLY what
you meant to do...and they can take it or leave it. Nervousness
and anxiety are not even a consideration.
Leave Any Stone Unturned -
In other words, don't leave the performance saying to yourself,
"If I would have done ________, my performance would have
been better." Give the absolute best that you can possibly
give. Consider every option - everything you can do to make
an awesome performance, both musically and visually. And if
you still don't make it, you will know that it was simply because
somebody else's absolute best was better than your absolute
best. There's no shame in that. But there is shame in losing
because you know you could have done better, or done more -
Other People -
Hebrews 6 tells us to imitate those who through faith &
patience inherit the promises. Another way of looking at that
is, "Imitate those who have accomplished what you are trying
to accomplish." Watch videos of other people, and find
out what they are doing that works. But also keep in mind, that
you need to be unique. The world doesn't need another Britney
Simpson-Aguilera. The world already has a Backstreet Sync. There's
not a whole lot of room in the industry for multiple acts that
all do the same thing. This is especially true in the
Christian music industry, because the industry is so small compared
to the mainstream secular industry.
To Advice -
The people in the industry know what they are talking about.
That's why they are in the industry. If they tell you that you
need to work on your pitch, they are right. If they tell you
not to do a certain move on stage, even though you worked on
it for 3 weeks in the mirror until you got it just right, they
are right. If they tell you that the song you chose doesn't
match your style, they are right. If they tell you that you
need to lose 30 pounds, they are right.
I can't tell you how many talent competitions that I have both
participated in and judged, where people got very defensive
and irritated at the judges for their comments and advice. But
their comments and advice are the reason you are there. So listen
to them. There's a reason why they're sitting at that table.
They've earned it. Have enough maturity and confidence to accept
constructive advice... and yes, criticism. Then, learn from
the experience and go on - either to a better performance, or
to a recognition that perhaps a career in music is not your
that the competition in the music industry is extremely
fierce - even vicious - and yes, unfair at times. Keep in mind
that most of the people who work behind the scenes in Nashville,
came to Nashville to become a star. There is absolutely no
shame in recognizing your inabilities. In fact, it makes it that
much easier to find your true calling. The only true shame is
in not giving your best.