How To Be A Lead Singer

A great lead singer has good diction, listens to the band carefully, interprets the song accurately and knows how to interact with both the band members and the audience. We will cover this and more! 

The lead singer is perhaps the most important member of the band because the lead singer uses language and language is the bit that the audience can share. Bob Dylan said that half the music is the words (words to that effect). That’s why the lead singer stands in front of the band. This gives the lead singer a kind of de facto leadership role: We’ve all heard of the diva lead singer who insists that things be done his or her way. Don’t be that person. But do understand that a sensitive and respectful lead singer is key to pulling a song and a band together.

Ironically this is best achieved by having almost no opinion about what anybody else is doing in the band but rather by mastering the song itself. This will look like knowing the cues, singing absolutely on pitch and interpreting the song accurately. Do this well and the band will follow in train, probably.

Step 1

Know the genre(s)* that you want to sing: rock and roll, jazz, soul, blues, country and western, classic rock, heavy metal, folk, pop – the list goes on. You might find that you like and can perform in more than one genre, though definitely have a strong niche pick.

*genre: a style or category of art, music, or literature.

Step 2.

Really work at listening. Active listening is a technique whereby you not only listen but are seen to be listening, meaning that the person you are listening to can actually see that you are listening. This has the effect of bringing the best performance out of your bandmate; keeping quiet, paying attention and actively listening.

Don’t make a show of listening; that can be unnerving. Just genuinely pay respectful close attention.

Step 3.

Know your cues: Learn the song properly and know exactly when to come in and when to finish. Do not improvise when working up a new song. Why? This is a component of de facto leadership: If you render a song as cleanly and faithfully as you can then the rest of the band has a reliable benchmark in you to learn the song in an ensemble. This is the anti-diva approach to singing in a band.

Step 4.

Know the language of music so that you can communicate with your band members.

For example, Johnny Cash’s rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky is lower than Frankie Laine’s rendition. Cash was in the key of B flat, Laine in the key of E. Then there’s the Blues Brothers rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky who start off in A (A minor specifically) and ended on C. Having a basic idea of key signatures really helps band members communicate with each other to get the pitch and the notes that work best for all of you.

See my article on key signatures.

Step 5.

Know your songs. I don’t just mean memorize your lyrics so that you know them by heart (though that’s a must), I mean to interpret the lyrics accurately. We go into more detail about song interpretation here.

Step 6.

Make sure you enunciate clearly. You want people to understand what you’re saying otherwise they just won’t share the song with you, in fact, you will piss the audience off! Know how to shape your vowels and work with your breath. We cover that in detail here.

*enunciate: say or pronounce clearly

Step 7.

Workshop! We live in this glorious day and age of the internet, karaoke and live music plug and play nights. Use the internet to look up songs and artists you like. This will allow you to explore styles and genres you may like to sing.

Karaoke is a great gift to singers because:

  • Karaoke is usually free
  • It comes with perfect uncomplaining instrumental accompaniment.
  • It provides tough crowds that you will only engage if you’re good, really good. I explain the value of karaoke here.
  • It allows you to work with amplified music and microphones, also for free.
  • It provides lyric prompts while you learn the song.

Performing in live music venues in front of a crowd is surely the final goal. Sharing music with other musicians and an audience can be sublime. You never know who and what will come your way in a live music venue.

My experience is that of all musicians good vocalists are the rarest.

Many people learn to sing, sort of, to support their first passion which is usually playing the guitar but committed vocalists are rarer than you might think.

Step 8.

Find musicians who meet your requirements. We go into much more detail here.

The basic four-piece band comprises a lead vocalist, a lead guitarist, a bassist and a drummer. Each one is as important as the next. The drummer provides the tempo (meaning the speed of the song), the bassist, the rhythm (meaning placing the right notes), the lead guitarist the melody and the singer… well, the lyrics. There are bands that have another guitarist along with the lead guitarist, aptly named the rhythm guitarist who plays off the lead guitarist and singer.

Bands expand their sound with myriad instruments. There are two considerations for you, the vocalist.

Firstly, what do you like to sing and secondly, who is available to play?

Step 9.

MAKE FRIENDS! I know, this sounds obvious but it’s true. The musicians you work best with are the ones you befriend. Treat them the way that you want to be treated, with respect and acknowledgment. Remember that you will run the risk of diminishing your posture if you present with a perpetual glass of beer in your hands during this process. You need to demonstrate that music rules in your life and that you don’t need Dutch courage to socialize or perform.

Make sure that you see the same thing in the people with whom you socialize. You and the people you befriend in a musical way should be the ones who sit on one beer maybe two all evening. The saloon owner will hate you until you turn up as a band, bring in the crowd then play long and sober all night!

Related Questions

What if there are no music venues near me locally? That would suck. If this is the case there are some great places on the internet where you can play music with other musicians online. Jam Kazam and Jammr are good places to start.

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