September 15, 2020 – Los Angeles: Some singers seem to fall into it automatically, while others, like kids in a candy store, seem to have too many items from which to choose, and so are left in a perpetual state of indecision. Is there some way of selecting, of narrowing down the playing field and of being sure? Is it true that you have to do only one kind of music? To fully develop yourself as a singer, concentration on vocal technique is not enough. Communicating to your audience in a style that is natural for you is just as necessary.
Style is an important topic to fully explore. No matter what the musical genre, it is essential for you to be able to express and communicate your own individuality through your voice and performance. Your musical and performance choices will ultimately depend on your understanding of what you want to create as a performer. As with most everything, there are a lot of people who have a lot of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” on this subject. In this three-part series, we will examine the choices and the development of personal style as a singer. It’s my aim to supply you with food for thought, guidelines, and techniques to help make this process easier and faster.
Imitator versus Innovator
There is a fine line that separates studying other singer’s licks and becoming a clone, versus synthesizing those sounds for your own use and interpretation. It’s fine to study what other singers do in order to enhance your sound vocabulary, but that’s different than trying to be like them. Singing the blues sounding like an opera singer doesn’t work in my book. But singing the blues and consciously or unconsciously trying to sound like Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Bonnie Raitt or Robert Plant, is like jailing yourself behind someone else who already had their chance. Well, now it’s your turn! Being aware of the sounds that are currently selling in a certain musical genre is one thing. Trying to mold your own expression just to do what’s “in” is, to me, the antithesis of being an artist, especially in Rock n’ Roll, the music best known for its nonconformist spirit. The point is, artists create new ideas and herald the future. The more we try to imitate and fit within the ‘status quo’ the more we undermine our own being and dreams.
As a singer, you are creating something. But if you are imitating, you are actually re-creating. You will always be compared to the original. The person who first created it was the one who did it best, so you would always be second-best. Not satisfying. While in a recording studio, I heard someone tell the singer to sing the line and pretend she was Whitney Houston. This is like telling someone to be someone else because who you are is inadequate. If a person is having difficulty with the performance or execution of a song, they should be helped to work through any technical difficulties first, and then to get in touch with their own interpretation of the song.
Recently, I had the experience of working with a songwriter who never really considered himself a good singer. For fear his voice wasn’t good enough, he subconsciously tried to sound like certain singers he admired. His word pronunciation sounded pretentious (because it wasn’t him) and though his material was fabulous, his delivery muted the beauty and impact of every song. I spent time with him working on how he would say each line if he was just conversing with someone, or talking to himself. While doing so, I urged him to notice how he was naturally pronouncing the words.
Though sung articulation can be an exaggeration of spoken pronunciation, getting in touch with your natural pronunciation can be centering. It will also help you find “your voice” or a particular song and can be used as a remedy when having difficulty finding yourself within a song. As we continued to work in this manner, talking then singing each song, he began to recognize each artist he was attempting to mimic, and that he was trying to hide behind their identities. These realizations further freed him up and he found he could begin to deliver the songs from himself to his audience. The difference in audience response and the increased number of gigs he was asked to headline was the obvious payoff. But the other payoff was a rise of his self esteem, a sense of comfort, honesty and integrity as a performing artist.
Being Yourself Is Your Style!
Mick Jagger once sang “it’s the singer, not the song.” Knowing yourself, your strengths and your artistic goals, has a great deal to do with your style. No matter how much technique you have, or how large your repertoire is, neither can substitute for good, direct contact with your audience. The intention to establish communication with your audience is key to your success as a singer and performer. How you express yourself is unique because you are you, no one else. Here are a few techniques you can use to practice.
1) Choose a song that you know from memory. Speak the lyrics as though you were really talking to someone. Avoid sing songy or rhythmic chanting and really try to “tell a story” as if you were talking to a friend right at this moment. You can also employ a method used by actors and actresses: “If these were my words, why would one phrase follow the next?” Develop your own meaning or story line for the lyrics so that they make sense to you. Approaching the lyrics this way will also help you with memorization, and is essential for achieving your own interpretation of the song.
2) Now choose an object in your environment. Using the lyrics you just talked through, sing the song as though you were talking directly to this object. If your attention wavers from the object onto the pitch (thinking up or down), or any of the mechanics of vocal technique, repeat that part until you can sing the entire song with your attention directed straight to the object. Take note of any realizations and successes you have while doing this. In the next newsletter, we’ll look further into the elements of style.
Jeannie Deva is renown as a top vocal specialist. She is the founder of the Deva Method®, a Non-Classical Approach for Singers, and author of The Contemporary Vocalist, a home study course with book and CDs. She is flown to recording studios around the world as a vocal producer and recording session vocal coach. JeannieDeva’s Private Voice Studio is located in Los Angeles and her school of voice: Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios is in Boston, MA. For a free copy of some of her most recommended vocal warm-ups, information on services, to order her vocal products visit: http://www.jeanniedeva.com/ or in the USA call: 1-800-920-8220
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