What songs are good for cabaret?

Thankyou to Thomas for this question about what type of songs to sing for cabaret type work…

Hi Kenny

First of all,thanks for sending me the fourtops track..

I need some advice from you..I am a baritone and I want to get from barwork top cabaret work.

I have bought many medleys from you and now my manager tells me that some of the songs would be better used for pub work and since he is trying to get me in cabarets with holiday parks he would like to see me perform songs that are better associated with cabaret.

Can you suggest me some very good cabaret songs which can prove my voice and is a good song on it’s own?

If they are from the 60’s and 70’s it’s better..

And if you have the backing tracks to them please tell me so that I can buy from you….

The more you might have,the better..

Thanks in advance

Thomas

Hi Thomas

Your manager is quite correct when he says that there is a difference between songs you would sing at a pub gig and songs you would sing as a cabaret artiste.

However, there will be some songs which can suit both types of work…

One of the main things to remember is that it’s not just the songs that are important when you perform cabaret. How well you can sing each song is much more important than “how good a cabaret song” it might be.

For example, a friend of mine is a cabaret singer and ends his set with the Pavarotti song Nessun Dorma. It really shows off his voice, it has the “wow” factor which leaves audiences exasperated and screaming for more –  a real showstopper and a great way to end a show…

BUT…

If I were to sing cabaret, I would NOT sing Nessun Dorma. I have a good voice but my vocal range and vocal style are not nearly good enough to sing an operatic type song like that and make a good job of it.

So, it’s every bit important that you sing songs that you are particularly good at, not just songs which are “good cabaret songs.”

Regarding the actual songs you should sing, if your manager has already mentioned this to you, then it seems he already has an idea which songs he feels are suited to pub work and what songs he thinks you should sing for cabaret.

As he is the one who is also going to be promoting you for this cabaret work, you should probably ask him his advice on which actual songs he would like you to sing.

Give him a list of songs you curently sing and ask him to pick the ones he thinks will be suitable.

Although I can’t pick your songs for you (because I wouldn’t be able to do that without hearing you sing each one), certainly I can give you a general idea of the TYPE of songs you should consider for cabaret…

Generally, the main difference between a cabaret singers songs and a pub singers songs are that the cabaret artistes songs are usually more “showy”. 

By that I mean more glamorous, more flamboyant, more extrovert, in other words really showing off your talent.

Cabaret “spots” tend to be more intense because you are on stage for a shorter period of time so your stage show should have a shock and awe effect.

A pub singer cannot possibly sing every song at “full blast” for the 3 hours his pub gig lasts – that would be too much for his voice to take.

So the pub singer will mix a few “big” songs in among lots of singalong songs, easy-going songs, and songs that the audience will dance along to (i.e. songs which are easier to sing).

The cabaret singer on the other hand has only a short space of time on stage to “capture” his audience and mesmerise them with his talents, so every song counts when you are a cabaret singer. Choose one wrong song in your cabaret set and your audience will lose interest in you and that’s fatal for a cabaret act.

Don’t think though that because a cabaret act sings for less time at his gig than a pub singer that the work is easier. Believe me, totally captivating an audience, even for a short period of time isn’t easy.

Also, a cabaret acts voice will be singing at its absolute peak for the full duration of his time on stage, so a 45 minute cabaret spot can take just as much out of your voice as a 3 hour pub gig.

Other things to consider when “doing cabaret” are your dress, choreography and the scripting (talk) in between songs.

In essence, you need to create a full mini stage show with you as the sole star of that show.

Your dress sense should be immaculate at all times and suit the cabaret image you are trying to portray. Wearing a nice pair of dress trousers and a good quality shirt may be fine for pub gigs but a cabaret singer should be really push out the boat and be dressed incredibly well. With the exception of dinner-suited types of cabaret acts where a dinner suit is considered a normal part of the uniform, a cabaret act should always wear clothes which you simply wouldn’t normally see in a High Street shop.

You should really stand out from the crowd.

If you search on Google you’ll find a few good clothes shops which specialize in stagewear.

Some choreography should be included in your cabaret act too. You don’t have to be Fred Astair or Madonna on stage, but at least you should use the space you have on the stage area to move around it a fair bit and have a few little moves that co-incide with the music.

Staying animated on stage also helps keep your audiences interest as they watch you move around.

Talking to your audience a bit and introducing each song is important. A pub act can get away with singing one song after another and maybe throwing in a bit of banter with the crowd here and there but a cabaret acts engaging with his audience should be a bit more structured.

Have a script in your head, even if you only stick to it loosely, and when introducing some of your songs tell some very short stories about how you came to find that song, what the song means to you, or what the song is about etc.

Try to make the song intersting to the audience even before you’ve begun singing it.

You get the idea.

Some cabaret acts will throw in a few jokes too. Personally I don’t, because I’m pretty bad at telling jokes on stage(!) Oh yes, I can have my friends in stitches telling them my funny jokes when we’re all out socially together, but on stage joke telling is a totally different talent.

Just because you’ve got a great sense of humour and all your friends find your jokes hilarious doesn’t mean that those same jokes will “work” well on an audience…so beware!

My final piece of advice when doing cabaret is to relax and enjoy what you’re doing.

This isn’t just for your benefit – it will help your act immensely. Audiences can tell when a performer is nervous or not relaxed or not enjoying himself despite your attempts to hide it. Audiences just pick up on these things.

So get dressed up to the nines, pick your biggest and best songs, move about a bit on stage, introduce each song with a few well scripted pieces of converstaion and engage with your audience. 

If you do it right, your audience will connect with you and warm to you…and you’ll have a successful cabaret act.

Just one last thing.

If your cabaret work really takes off and moves you in to the bigger league, you will find yourself in venues with a 8 or 10 piece band or an even a bigger orchestra.

Cabaret acts who do this sort of work MUST have their music written out ready to give to the band. And by that I don’t mean a list of songs written on the back of a piece of paper with the keys!

You will need to have a piano part, a drum part, a bass part, a brass part, a string part, a guitar part etc for EVERY song you sing. 

If ever you need these sort of specially written parts, just let me know. I have a colleague who specializes in writing out full band parts that I can put you in contact with….

Kenny