When artists like Justin Timberlake and Lizzo prepare for high-stakes gigs or stadium tours, they turn to vocal coach RAab Stevenson. Read on to learn how RAab keeps the voices of top artists in shape on the road.
He may coach some of the biggest names in music, but Robert ‘RAab’ Stevenson insists that no one gets an easy ride with him.
Not Dave Matthews, Brandi Carlile, Rihanna, Lizzo, Kelly Rowland, Charlie Puth, Justin Timberlake or the many other established artists who have called on RAab for vocal instruction.
“I treat everyone the same,” he says. “Nobody gets a break; I’m not there to be their friend. They didn’t hire me for that.”
So why do they hire RAab? In an interview with the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, RAab explains that the role he fulfils is similar to the one a sports coach plays for an athlete.
“Look at any professional sport – the coach or the trainers are not far from the athletes,” he says. “In tennis, the coaches are in the stands. In basketball, the coaches and trainers sit right behind the players on the bench, watching every move. If the person rolls their ankle, they immediately have a plan on how to fix it and bring them back out. Or they’ll call them out of the game because it’s too risky.”
Looking at the big picture
As well as focusing on the voice, RAab monitors the performance environment and the artist’s physical health.
“On the road, I’m like the weatherman,” he says. “I’m looking at what the climate is going to be like. Are we going to have challenges with altitude? If we’re in a spot with humidity, how much water is the singer drinking? Did they stay up late and party last night? Do I need to go down and drag them from the bar and tell them to go to bed?”
Voice care routine
So what actually happens hours before a star steps out on stage in front of thousands of fans? “Before soundcheck, I’m going to do a warm-up and start balancing out the middle to chest voice right away,” RAab says.
“And then I’m going to start going from chest to head voice towards the end of that workout. I may not even do a full 30 minutes; it might be 18 minutes or 25 minutes. And I’m always timing myself to see how fast I can get the voice balance right. I don’t want to stretch it too hard.
“Then there’ll be another warm-up for 10 to 15 minutes, about 45 minutes to an hour before they walk out on stage. If it’s a female, sometimes it’s an hour and 15 minutes [before] because they’ve got to do makeup. With guys, it’ll be 45 minutes to an hour before, depending on how much stuff they need to get done before they go out on stage.
“And then there’s a cool down at the end [of the performance]. And that’s going to happen every single time while I’m on the road.”
RAab says he wouldn’t be the vocal coach he is today if it wasn’t for the late, great Robin Wiley (best known for her work with NSync and Justin Timberlake).
He met Wiley through Timberlake (RAab sang BVs for JT) and was blown away by her knowledge and skill.
“She taught me things about the voice that I never in my life knew existed,” he says. “There’s a lot of nuggets that she dropped that I still use today when I’m teaching.”
Listen to the full interview with RAab Stevenson here. He explains more about:
- How he got his big break in the music industry.
- The commitment he expects from students.
- How singers develop bad vocal habits.