Not every entertainer’s stage presence is a present. Some need cliff notes on channeling their inner Busta Rhymes. Performance coach Laura Kessler (Usher, N’Sync, Eve) breaks down how artists learn to roc the mic right
Illustration: Salene Casteneda
Muscles don’t lie. You can tell when someone is nervous—it transcends through the entire nervous system. I teach grounding your nervous system through martial arts or yoga. The exercises are designed to engage all the muscles emanating from the core. Frank Ocean is sincere [on stage], but he doesn’t use much of his body at all. He needs to use his legs as a base, like a tripod or pyramid. Sometimes when he holds the mic, his whole shoulder goes up and that changes the tension in the neck area. That could literally make you more nervous. We’re creative athletes. You have to treat it as a physical sport.
The psychological element makes the difference. One singer had been robbed in her home and ever since then, it affected her voice. I try to avoid that cliché of envisioning the crowd in their underwear. I think of a lesson from The Brady Bunch when I hear that. You really wouldn’t worry what people are thinking if you knew how seldom they do. There are so many distractions—cell phones, texting—they don’t have a heck of a lot of time to tear you apart. Perfectionism is a huge factor. I emphasize being in the moment and not so much the destination.
I have them list artists they like and dislike. Then, I assemble a group of YouTube videos and we study the body language and note what we like and don’t like about their performances. If they’ve had acting in their background, I get more theater-ish and have them imagine roles, scenarios and circumstances. Nicki Minaj has good energy, but she can be inconsistent. I would try silent bodywork with her, where she’s moving her body without singing or making any utterance.
Take a comedy class. It’s a fun, silly environment and you get used to acting out as different characters. Comedy helps to break out of your shell. Drama to use your emotions more; sports or dance for the physical. I can teach technical things, but experience breeds confidence and knowing technique puts it all together faster.