Role of the Lead Vocalist

lead singer

Lead Vocalist, Frontman (person) or Lead Singer are the terms used to describe a vocalist who sings the songs melody in front of musicians who accompany the singer playing the rhythm and backing music regardless of the type or size of the band. He or She is the MAIN singer of the band although there may be other singers who provide backing and harmony vocals. On occassion there are two or more Lead Vocalists who share the set between them, examples include ‘ABBA’ & ‘Fleetwood Mac’.

The Lead or Melody line refers to the songs main theme music and/or words, sounds, vocalisations that were written by a songwriter or composer to evoke or describe the image or story of the song.

Usually (but not always!) the lead vocalist is the main focus of the audiences attention. This is due partly to the fact that the front person is interpreting the lyrics which make up the story of the song, partly due to the singers charisma and partly due to the competence of the performer.

There are as many types and style of lead singer as there are styles and genres of music. All with their own particular appeal and personality. The skills required vary considerably depending on the type and style of music to be performed, i.e., an opera singer performing a lead role in front of a full orchestra requires great technical ability, excellent vocal talent, projection and stamina. Whereas a lead singer in a restaurant trio requires less projection and a more varied repertoire of ‘background style’ music.

So what does it take to become a lead singer?

Complete beginners should first consider their vocal qualities and the style of music to which it is suited, although this may change considerably with training and age. For instance a soft singing voice with no projecting ability will find it difficult if not impossible to be heard above a heavy rock band or full orchestra without amplification, whereas a strong operatic voice would overpower an acoustic duo unless the singer had considerable training and control.

Once the singer has identified the Style and Genre of music most suited to their voice and ability then some thought should be put into the songs to be performed, age of the singer and the types of venue that are suitable for the music. When reviewing these aspects of singing a complete re-think may be required, especially if your a 15 year old rock lover with a quiet voice!!

Finding the right style of music and musicians who are around the same age and competence is often the way a singer in training starts their career. A band is a TEAM who collaborate, learn and work together of which the singer is a part. He or she needs to be able to get on with the other musicians and be prepared to sing material that they may not particlarly enjoy. The type of songs chosen have to be within the singers range and ability. Unless the singer is experienced, the songs to be performed should be chosen with the aid of a singing or music teacher to ensure that the voice is not overstretched or damaged through abuse.

When performing with other people the singer is required to sing in time and in tune with the music whilst expressing the lyrics to the song. Starting and stopping at the appropriate points in the song and learning to improvise when mistakes are made are essential talents that a singer must have if they wish to sing with a band or pursue a professional career.

Personality is another aspect that the singer is expected to express. This can be done in three ways, either through the emotive quality of the voice, via energy and movement or a combination of both. A singer does not need to be a great dancer to get attention from their audience, although all singers should be able to move expressively. This doesn’t mean you need to jump around the stage, a smooth hand gesture, sad smile or pointed ‘look’ at appropriate points in the song can be enough to capture the audience. Some people have an indefinable quality called Charisma which can draw the audience to watch and listen to them even when the songs performed or vocal style is not their particular cup of tea.

Communicating with the other musicians in the band is also an art that is usually learnt during the rehearsal process. The ability to slow down, speed up or stop the music by indicating to your fellow musicians can be achieved by signals that can be integrated into your performance so that the audience are unaware of your directions. The exception to this are singers who perform with Orchestras who take their directions from a Conductor.

Every singer has their own signals that their fellow band members watch out for, but there are a few standard signals that most professional musicians can identify.

Raised hand or digit circling quickly – speed up tempo (or repeat passage)
Raised hand or digit circling slowly – slow down tempo
Gentle hand gestures downwards – less volume
Raised arm – indicates ‘watch for ending’
Same arm dropped down sharply – STOP
Arm circling – repeat the previous passage.

An experienced band who share a rapport should know each others strengths and weaknesses. The singer can indicate their preferences with a nod or a look whilst the songs performed should flow effortlessly. If mistakes are made the professional band may often improvise making the mistake appear intentional or cover it with humour.

A frontman (or woman) is also expected to communicate with the audience during the course of the performance. Introducing the band, the songs and building a rapport with the people watching is all part of being a lead singer. You should always try to be true to yourself when talking to the audience. Some singers are happy ‘winging it’ and chatting away without any idea of what they are going to say beforehand, whilst others write and memorise (or take on stage) a script that remains the same for each performance and provides them with continuity in every show (even professional singers do this). If you don’t have much confidence or experience in performing in front of an audience, write some notes and practice these during each rehearsal or in front of friends and family.

‘Image’ also needs to be considered. When working with other musicians as a unit, what you wear and how you present yourselves should reflect the style of music you play. For instance, a rock band wearing tuxedo’s are unlikely to be taken seriously unless the effect is meant for ‘novelty value’ or the band is mainly performing covers at corporate functions. Whatever you wear should not restrict your breathing, movement or vocal apparatus.

Reliability and Consistency of performance is required from every singer, letting your audience or employer down will give you a bad reputation which will quickly spread and prevent you from finding quality employment.

Most experienced singers who are competent in their field of music can become a lead singer although wages will depend on their ability, professionalism and versatility. A good band can work practically anywhere from local pubs, clubs, festivals and theatres, whilst sight reading singers could find a neat sideline deputising for other singers and working as a backing vocalist or session singers for major artists and producers.

If the singer is also a lyricist or songwriter then collaborating with friends or advertising for like minded people to join them in performing their particular style of music, is how the band is formed. The singer can also be the driving force of the band, organising the rehearsals, choosing the songs to be played and getting the gigs, although its far better if all members of the band make an equal effort.

Lead singers in bands performing original material can expect little or no initial pay unless they can build and retain a following, produce their own album or get signed by a record company. An excellent example of a long running unsigned UK band who pack out every venue are ‘The Hampsters’ who perform a mixture of both covers and original rock/blues material both live and on their self-produced albums.

The length of time a band is expected to play varies depending on wether they are performing covers or original material and if they are the main act or acting as a support act for the headliner. 15-40 mins is about average for original bands and support acts, headline acts can expect to play for approximately 30 – 90 minutes, whilst covers bands are often the only entertainment booked for the evening. 2 or 3 x 45 minute sets are usually sufficient although a few ‘extra’ songs should always be prepared in case of ‘encores’ – if you do run out of material – redo a song that was performed in the first half of the show!

The differences between a Lead Singer and a Solo Artist are actually quite small and mainly a matter of career choice. There are many instances of singers who started out as the frontperson in a band yet went on to become a solo artist, for example, Sting (X Police), George Michael (X Wham), Alison Moyet (X Yazoo). Read more about Solo Artists.

Finding Work as a Lead Vocalist

If you’re still at school or college ask your teacher if you can put up a notice in the music room to advertise for band members or want to join a band.

Use the telephone directory to find rehearsal studios and music shops in your area and ask the owner if they have a music noticeboard where you can place an ad or read ads placed by musicians looking for a singer.

Contact Entertainment Agents or Promoters who may know of a band currently looking for a lead singer.

Create a publicity pack! Include 3 of your best songs on the demo showing your vocal range.

Buy music industry trade papers, newspapers and publications that run classified ads for singers wanted. You can even place an advert describing your abilities and offering your services or use an online site.

Contact Recording Studios, Backing Track Suppliers to see if they hire freelance singers or employ ‘in house’.

Use the internet – many music websites offer a free classified ads section for singers, bands, musicians, music industry personnel. Take advantage of this by owning a website that highlights your talents and include the link in your advert.

Keep several Business Cards with you at all times. Don’t miss an opportunity, if a band, musician or producer approaches you at an open mic night, jam night, showcase etc., ask for their business card and give them yours!!

Ask professional singing friends, musicians, voice teacher, performance coach for an introduction or recommendation to an agent or management company. Also ask if they will allow you to do a few numbers as a support act at some of their gigs, you may not get paid but you will get seen by the venue, and/or agent who may offer you bookings.

Enter Talent Competitions and offer your singing services for Charity Shows to get experience, gain exposure and meet other musicians and artists.

Opportunities are only limited to the competence and determination of the singer who can find work with bands in pubs, clubs, cabaret, nightclubs, radio, television or by deputising for other singers and as a session singer.

Singing Books in association with &

This is just a small selection of books and audio books available. Visit our Books For Singers to see the full list which includes exercises, music theory, vocalises, sheet music, audition repertoire, and tuition books for singers of all standards and styles.

Fast Track Lead Singer Method
by Blake Neely
Sheet Music & CD
Publisher: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation

Produced by the writer of Piano for Dummies, Fast Track Keyboard Songbook, Guitar 1: Electric or Acoustic and others. This book and accompanying cd aims to teach the singer how to read music, microphone tips, warm up exercises, ear training, syncopation and attitude! Contains 80 songs and examples. The fast way to learn how to sing. Learn all about music theory, the voice, scales, rhythms and more. Includes Amazing Grace, Frankie And Johnny, Buffalo Gals and many more.
Read More at SheetMusicPlus

FastTrack Lead Singer Songbook 1 – Level 1
by Blake Neely
Book & CD
For Male or Female Voice. Fasttrack Music Instruction. Produced by the writer of Piano for Dummies, Fast Track Keyboard Songbook, Guitar 1: Electric or Acoustic and others. This book and accompanying cd aims to teach the singer how to read music, microphone tips, warm up exercises, ear training, syncopation and attitude! Contains 80 songs and examples. The fast way to learn how to sing. Learn all about music theory, the voice, scales, rhythms and more. If you want to start singing the hits – solo or in a band – this songbook is for you!

Contents / Song list

This excellent supplement to Lead Singer Lesson Book 1 features 8 complete songs, and a bonus CD so you can hear the music and sing along. Includes: Blue Suede Shoes, Dreams, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Let It Be, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, Piece of My Heart, Surfin’ U.S.A., Wonderful Tonight.
Read More at SheetMusicPlus (USA)