I often chuckle to myself when vocal students tell me that they don’t want to sing a particular song because they can’t ‘connect’ to the lyrics. At the same time, I also see many of my vocal students rip through the lyrics of the songs they are singing without having any knowledge of what they are singing about.
How important ARE lyrics when performing a song?
Do I really have to know what the songwriter is writing about?
Do I have to have gone through similar experiences to really ‘connect’ with the song?
These are questions that come through my Portland vocal studio on a regular basis. My answer is YES, the lyrics are important and you better have a clear understanding of what the song is about! You don’t want to sing a song with sad lyrics with a big goofy smile on your face while tap dancing, nor do you want to sing a song with goofy lyrics and and upbeat message and tempo sitting pensively on a stool with a sad face!
So yes, KNOW what you are singing about! I strongly believe that a vocalists physicality informs their vocal performance and vice versa. But, having said that, I strongly believe that you do not have to actually summon up the exact feeling that each song is trying to convey, nor must have you actually experienced it. It’s called ACTING!
In my professional career as a vocalist, I have had to sing many, many songs that I could not relate to, and many that I flat out just didn’t like! But I was paid to sing them with feeling, so I made sure that the audience always believed me. I have not ‘connected’ with the lyrics of many of the songs I have had to sing over the years. I have not LOVED the lyrics to every song I have had to sing. I simply didn’t have that luxury when I was paid to sing 30-40 songs a night!
I have also performed in musicals, playing parts that were completely different from myself as a person. Again, that’s called ACTING or FAKING IT! If you’re lucky enough to sing a song that you wrote, or lucky enough to sing a song with amazing lyrics that you can connect to, you are in a great position to make the listener believe you. If not-fake it, and keep practicing it until you start believing it yourself!