On-Camera Techniques for Singers

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re you ready for your close-up? Are you also ready to be your own director, producer, sound engineer, set designer, editor, wardrobe stylist, hair and makeup artist, and camera operator? Craft services are optional, but with all the time and energy it takes to create a self-tape audition or video performance at home, you will definitely need a snack. 

The life of a performing singer has dramatically changed in the past seven months: theaters are closed, concert halls are empty, and many auditions and performances are being held virtually. Unfortunately, no one knows how long this “new normal” will last. So in the meantime, singers need to adjust their craft and quickly learn camera-ready skills in order to deliver a professional performance from their home studio. 

The creation of a high level, on-line recorded or live performance requires many competencies which go well beyond the scope of this article. Singers who perform virtually, however, must master at a minimum three essential skills that typically are not required for an in-person performance.  

First, singers must have the correct basic equipment: a good camera, a reliable internet connection, and a proper light source and background setting.  Ideally, purchasing a higher end camera for recording works best. However, a phone, laptop, or tablet can also be used as long as the camera is stabilized and focused at eye level. Of course, the right lighting and background setting are key to making a singer look their best and can really transform the overall quality of a home recording. If your studio lacks natural light, ring lights are preferable and many affordable options can be found on-line. Good lighting does not need to be costly. In addition to lighting, the background behind the singer can make or break the quality of the visual. Using a backdrop screen works well, however, any neutral, non-cluttered background can also be used. 

Next, singers need to adjust their wardrobe, hair, and make-up for the camera.  Clothes that appear glamourous on a stage will often look more like a costume on screen. Dressing for the camera must be more toned down than for the stage. Generally, choose an outfit in a bold, solid color with no patterns. This toned-down approach also applies to hairstyles and make-up. The rule of thumb on screen is “less is more.”  

Finally, singers need to adapt their acting skills for the camera. This requires a different approach than acting for the stage, where a singer’s voice and movement must reach the back row of the theater. As the well-known casting director Erica Arvold says, “the camera reads your thoughts.”  

“When you sing on-camera, you have to be even more specific with your connection to the text and character development,” observes Thea Tullman Moore, the Executive Director of the Baltimore Musicales, an arts organization based in Baltimore, Maryland that is dedicated to preserving the art of the song recital. Throughout the pandemic, Ms. Moore has hired many singers for virtual performances of musical theater and art song. She states that “Virtual performances have provided a huge opportunity for artists as we are now able to reach a much larger audience, including those who have been unable to attend live performances in the past. On screen, a performer’s eyes connect them to the audience. We see every thought and feeling more clearly than we do in a concert hall. This on-camera work requires more subtlety and nuance.”  As with clothing, hair, and make-up, performing on camera requires a more subdued approach in terms of dramatic choices.  

In these unprecedented times, seize your opportunity to create and express your talent in a new medium. Give yourself grace as you learn a new set of techniques for successful on-camera performances, and embrace wearing many hats as you run your home studio with confidence.

Annie Gill

Soprano Annie Gill is a professional singer, actress, and voice over artist who continues to gain recognition as a distinctive and versatile performer. She is a sought after presenter and educator for voice and piano and is currently offering the course “On-Camera Techniques for Musicians.” For more information about Ms. Gill and links to her social media pages, or to register for her course, please visit Ms. Gill’s artist website at www.AnnieGill.com.