Practice. Sing the songs in keys that suit your voice well.
Record and videotape your gigs and rehearsals as much as possible. Watch and listen, to learn and improve.
Rest well before your show. Drink plenty of water, and bring some with you to drink during the show. Eat well before the gig, and try not to have a full stomach just before you go on. Be mindful of what you eat. Some foods produce phlegm and inconvenient burps.
Warm up your voice before the performance.
While practicing and warming up, imagine the show going wonderfully. Imagine your enjoyment and the warm response from the appreciative audience. This attitude has been proven to contribute to success.
The louder it is onstage, the more likely you will want a hyper-cardioid or super-cardioid mic. The sound from monitors, PA speakers, guitar, bass and keyboard amps, drummers, and the audience, are all picked up by your mic, and you want to minimize that. Hyper-cardioid and super-cardioid mics are designed to have a very narrow focused area in which they pick up sound. This helps to keep your vocals clear and reduces the risk of feedback.
Most of the top quality vocal mics are condenser mics. The drawbacks are they can be less rugged for live performance use, and they require a battery. Some dynamic and ribbon mics are also great for vocals.
Holding the ball of the mic will cause feedback and distortion. Unless you like that sort of thing, hold the stem of the mic, about halfway or further down.
When the PA system is on, always keep your mic from facing the front of a speaker. Pointing it at the speaker can cause a painfully loud feedback loop.
Notice how your mic sounds when you breath into it, and when you make percussive consonants, such as Ps and Ts. Learn what angle and distance to use to prevent popping or windy sounds.
In a loud band situation, you may need to keep the mic almost touching your mouth while you are singing, in order to be heard well. When you are belting out a strong, loud note, hold your mouth further away from the mic.
Between the vocal lines, you can move your head away from the mic so the audience can see your lips. Itís nice for them to be able to see your whole face, and enjoy your emoting.
If you have a sound engineer handling sound for the band, they need to know what to expect and what is important in the mix. So it is a good idea to give the sound person a song list that indicates who is coming in where, and to give them guidelines about who will need more volume and who will need less. Arrange that they will watch you for signals if anything needs to be adjusted.
Make sure the monitor placement and onstage volume levels allow you to hear yourself well.
Also make sure the levels for the audience represent you appropriately in the mix.
If you have loud musicians (drummer, percussionists, guitar and bass amps, etc.), make sure there is enough distance between you and them to prevent them drowning out what you need to hear, and position those amps so they are not pointing at you.
If there is a problem with feedback, all volumes should be adjusted so the blend with the vocals is as close to what you would choose for a professional CD mix as possible.
I am usually singing while playing a steel pan (steel drum), which also has to be miked. And my band sometimes has drum-set, conga, djembe and timbale as well as guitar, keyboard, bass, sax, trumpet, trombone and flute players who may all sing. This makes it extra challenging to keep the vocals and miked instruments clear and avoid feedback.
Itís easier to get good sound for a small band, or a band in which there are not many microphones used in close proximity.
You, as a lead vocalist, should have your own monitor, with your own preferred mix in it. Each musician should ideally have their own monitor and mix. If that isnít an option, at least you, the vocalist, should have yours. Plain and simple, you have to hear well in order to sing well.
Some highly professional, respected and famous vocalists have several monitors especially for themselves.
While doing your sound check, make sure your monitor mix allows you to hear yourself and all the instrumental and vocal parts you want to cue from very well. And make sure it is positioned optimally in relation to you. It usually works best to have one right in front of you. But if you play an acoustic instrument that also needs to be miked, this can make a difference. I often play steel pan when I sing, and the instrument blocks me from hearing anything right in front of me. So my monitor has to be over to the side, and pointing to me at an angle.
I often donít use reverb on vocals in the monitors, to help with reducing feedback risks. This also allows me to hear myself more precisely. The audience can enjoy all the pretty reverb and other effects. I can hear them later on recordings of the show.
Ask your musicians to drop down in volume and play less busy lines when you are singing, to allow your vocal nuances to be audible. When they take solos, they can raise their volume. But even their solos should not be louder than the lead vocals of the song. This kind of sensitivity and tastefulness results in sound quality that sets a top professional band above amateurs.
Give time for each musician to express themselves, and to be featured and appreciated for their artistry. Give credit to each musician. Announce and applaud them when they take a solo. Say their names again with pride and applause at the end of the show.
There should also be someone in the band who proudly announces you, and allows you to accept applause and take a bow.
Have a great gig!
Photo of Sabira Woolley and Jasmine Feliz by Danny Infinite. Used by permission.
Here are two books that can help a vocalist bring out the very best in her/his singing -
Singing for the Stars: A Complete Program for Training Your Voice (Book & 2 CD's)
Set Your Voice Free: How To Get The Singing Or Speaking Voice You Want
If you would like to listen to or purchase music by Sabira Woolley, here is her Music Shop.