Worship Notes

"Tips for Successful
Competition Performing"

I 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 talent competition.

Not 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.

  • Stick Out -
    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!
  • Stage Presence -
    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!
  • Decide 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.
  • BLOW! -
    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.
  • Don't 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 - but didn't.
  • Watch 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.
  • Listen 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 calling.

Remember 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.