Throughout 2017 and the first part of 2018, I’ve had the privilege of performing with K. Sloan and The Melodics. The music has been fun, vivacious, thoughtful and off the beaten path of the usual stuff that’s out there en masse. It had been a long time since I’d taken part in a band on an active basis as it relates to background vocals. The experience has been enlightening. I’ve observed a lot of singers over the last many months, and while I knew there were a ton of different styles and approaches, it never occurred to me about something seemingly basic about singing: getting your starting note when singing a song.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I’m not downing or calling out ANY singers specifically, because the lot of those I’ve seen are tremendously talented and have a wide repertoire. This is truly an observation and a shocking one because I didn’t even think this was a thing. Apparently not all singers could just start singing a song unprompted in the correct key? I swear I had no idea. Problem is, it’s always been easy for me to find my starting note on any song - I don’t require a prompt. It NEVER occurred to me. So watching singers start off a song in the wrong note and then struggle to figure out where they should go is particularly painful.
Why is this?
A lot of times, singers are going by what they know of the song internally, but are doing so without the context of the band playing behind them. It’s like acting independently in the music recreation process, almost expecting that the band will catch up. That disconnect happens a lot actually. It’s entirely possible they just don’t hear the note in their head. Once they get a prompt, they’re fine - more than fine as can be evidenced by many performers.
It’s just really jarring, especially for the rest of the band that’s trying to figure out what the heck the lead singer is trying to do. At least try and play it off somehow.
In my opinion, if you know this about yourself, you should have a chat with the band leader and let them know you need a note prompt - do it with a glance over at them or something when transitioning songs - so that you don’t throw off the groove.
If you DON’T know this about yourself, it might be worth investigating. Just try and bring up the starting note of songs you sing often. Try songs that you know but don’t sing often. Can you do it? If not, then employ the above suggestion.
Bottom line: don’t hang the entire presentation of the band (yourself included) out to dry because you as the lead singer can’t figure it out. That's never a good look.