Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: June 2008

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Friday, June 27, 2008

June 30 Benefit for Eating Disorders Coalition

If you're in the mood for some Monday night music in Nashville... for a great cause...

I will be playing keyboard for Jenni Schaefer Monday, June 30th for a "Songwriters in the Round benefitting the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee. At this point, Jenni is scheduled to open the show with a song she and I wrote called "Life Without ED" (Eating Disorders).

Jenni Shaefer has been speaking all over the country with insight and information on how to defeat the epidemic eating disorders which are sucking the life out of so many. Major media such as Dr. Phil and top magazines such as Elle and Cosmo have featured articles on her. She and I have a co-written article on how eating disorders affect the voice which has been reprinted and quoted all over the web and at various events.

Details on this "Songwriters in the Round"

Artists: Sarah Buxton, Rivers Rutherford, and Dave Berg
With special guests
Dylan Altman, Matt Warren, Jenni Schaefer and Caroline Mitchell Lusk

Date: Monday, June 30
Venue: 3rd and Lindsley
Time: 6:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Tickets: $10 at the door

We would love to see you there!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Raising and lowering the Larynx - should you?


How high or low the larynx should be in your neck when you sing is steeped in controversy and misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it's also important. Get it too wrong and you have big vocal problems.

Voice teachers don't always agree on what is best. If I understand it correctly, the Speech Level Singing method of Seth Riggs (SLS) teaches that you should always have your larynx at the same level that you speak (#3).  However, vocal coach Lisa Popiel suggests that there are times you would be correct to slightly raise or lower the larynx. She names 5 laryngeal positions... that some rock singing and saucy musical theater uses the more raised position (#2), while classical, cabaret jazz and some R&B singing uses a slightly lowered position (#4). She admonishes that no one should ever use positions #1 (very raised) or #5 (very lowered).

Here's what I think and have experience: As long as you only raise or lower the larynx so that you don't feel your throat or experience strain or fatigue, this is fine. In fact, as a session singer (stunt singer, I call it), I have to do this to blend with all kinds of voices and styles in recording. It's a way to get more tone colors and emotions. Musical theater needs these choices, too.

In fact, it's not just slight raising and lowering that must be allowed. To accomplish higher notes, the larynx needs to be free to tilt in your neck! Tension in and around the larynx can interfere with these movements.

However, and it's a great big however, you must not lower or raise your larynx to the point that you become aware of it. That will get you vocal problems. Most popular genre singing really should be in the middle position, with the larynx comfortably floating and tilting in the throat.

What can you do if you are raising or lowering your voice box (larynx) too much?

Learning to PULL instead of PUSH your voice, as taught in Power, Path & Performance method, is the best way I've found to protect your delicate and precious vocal instrument, and will help you immensely. This pulling instead of pushing sound, among other things, allows the larynx to determine it's best position with no outside interference. Also...

I'm going to tell you about a cool exercise I adapted for my students from yet another great voice teacher, Jeannie Deva:

Lightly place the tips of two fingers on top of your adam's apple. For females, this bump is not so pronounced... feel for it in the middle of the front of your neck. This is where the vocal cords are attached at one end, inside the thyroid cartilage. Now, just let your fingers be "brain flashlights" and simply don't allow any strain there as you sing. It's an amazing trick when your larynx tries to lift for high notes. Keeping the larynx from lifting makes those high notes just float out!

For low notes, try this to keep your larynx from lowering too much: Stand tall and put your hand on your sternum and try to pull your voice from there. Don't bend over or down to get the notes. Be aware of the vibration and definitely keep your chest open.

These are great voice teachers I've named in this post. It can get confusing, I know, when experts differ. All I can be sure of is what I've experienced that WORKS, and this should be your criteria, too. From my experience, I say mostly just keep your larynx happily floating, actually rocking a bit, in the center of your neck. If you sing correctly, even with a SLIGHTLY lower or higher laryngeal position, you should not be aware of your throat at all.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Good news for recording artists... sales slump may be overrated

Here is a guest post from my friend, veteran engineer/producer Ronny Light. It's a counterpoint look at the question of record sales slump so heavily reported by the media these days. You can email Ronny at ronnylight@earthlink.net.

Are record sales up or down? You may be surprised to find unit sales are at an all time high. See attached RIAA Sales Figures. /RIAA%20Sales%20Figures.pdf

So how could sales revenue be down? If you want your favorite artist's new 10 song CD, you will pay up to the suggested list price of $16, more often
$12 to $14. That will buy you the one song you want and 9 others you don't necessarily want. Or you can download the single you want for 99 cents.
The latest 10 song CD can be downloaded for $9.99.

CD sales are down 19% from 2006 to 2007 but digital downloads are up 49%.
The customer has shifted from buying overpriced CDs to buying just the songs they want for a much lower price.

The major US outlet for CDs, Wal-Mart, recently told labels CD prices are too high, and if they didn't reduce the price, Wal-Mart would reduce their inventory or stop selling CDs altogether. At a time when all the mom and pop record stores are out of business, that is devastating news.

This is no surprise to people who have paid attention. When CDs were introduced they were priced higher than LPs because, the labels told us, there were startup costs involved in building CD manufacturing plants. Like the "temporary" Federal Income Tax, CD prices have never gone down after the CD plant startup costs were recovered.

Something the labels don't tell you is that they make a much higher profit on downloaded songs than they do on physical sales. Think about the cost of manufacturing a CD, shipping across the country, and dealing with returns.
Compare that to having a CD available for download where there are no manufacturing costs, no shipping costs, and no returns.

And here are this week's bad news sales reports for Country music that only includes the top 25 albums.

7 MILLION SALES
Carrie Underwood - Some Hearts
Eagles - Long Road Out Of Eden

5 MILLION SALES
Garth Brooks - The Ultimate Hits

3 MILLION SALES
Taylor Swift - Taylor Swift

2 MILLION SALES
Rascal Flatts - Still Feels Good
Sugarland - Enjoy The Ride
Carrie Underwood - Carnival Ride

500,000 SALES (GOLD)
Rodney Atkins - If You're Going Through Hell Reba McEntire - Reba Duets Miranda Lambert - Crazy Ex Girlfriend Trace Adkins - American Man: Greatest Hits Vol. II Robert Plant/Alison Krauss - Raising Sand Brad Paisley - 5th Gear George Strait - Troubadour Kenny Chesney - Who I Am: Poets & Pirates

That means 15 of the top 25 Country albums have gone gold or better. That's 60% of the top 25 Country albums that have gone gold or better. These are tough times indeed for the record business and Country music.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Karaoke singing lands a career

Some of you responded to my survey Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal: Pop Quiz... Got vocal issues? with "how can I make money with my voice? Well, Karaoke singing can win you some prize money, and sometimes... can lead to bigger things.

I got an email from my old friend, veteran music reporter Steve Zimmerman. What he told me makes me want to say... don't underestimate karaoke singing! In Steve's words:

I am going to be interviewing Tommy DeCarlo the new lead singer for the rock band Boston. He was discovered singing Boston songs in a Karaoke bar. How cool is that and it just proves that if you have talent, you can be found anywhere. He is in his 40s and has never sung with a band before he did a benefit woth the band a few months back. Great story for your students.

You never know where you get "discovered". I suggest we just do excellent work, wherever we are and whatever the circumstances. I sing just as well for demos as I do for masters, and teach my novices with as much enthusiasm as my recording artists. I think this helps us all develop reputations of integrity, and in the end, we are also much more satisfied with our lives.

So.... sing your hearts out and have some fun and make somebody feel something; you never know who might be listening!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Head voice... how it affects contemporary singing

Earlier in my career, before I knew what I know now, I used to do a little trick to find out if I was going to be in good voice for the day. As soon as I woke up, before I even opened my eyes, I would make a few little sounds climbing up into my head voice... light little short "oo" stabs. If I could take this sound up pretty high, I knew I would be in good shape. If I couldn't take this sound high, I knew I was going to have a more limited voice for the day. Argh!! That indicator could be depressing if I had a national jingle, a major venue performance, or just a background session with other great singers with whom I had to hold my own.

Even then, somehow I knew how important my head voice was to the rest of my voice. Now I know why, and what to do about it. Let me explain:

The vocal cords are, as I've written about before, controlled by two sets of muscles... one set works the chest voice, one set works the head voice. When strength of these sets of muscles is unbalanced, the "hand-off" between chest and head voice is shaky and unpredictable. The chest voice tends to become "throat voice" (very, very bad) in the upper chest register instead of blended voice (very, very good), which you can't feel in your throat unless you put your hand on it and feel the wonderful , strain-free vibration.

Guess which muscle set is usually weakest with contemporary singers? Right... the chest register set. So... that tells us what to do about the problem: Strengthen the head register set!!

How?

By warming up and exercising the head voice. I have used vocal exercises, classical songs such as Italian Art Songs, and strange sounds such as the "siren" and head voice "woop" -ing (kind of like the Three Stooges). As you do this there are things you need to be careful of:

  • NEVER, NEVER sing your head voice so high that you feel vocal strain. Find out how to take your voice up with no throat tightening (such as the pulling method I teach in "Power, Path & Performance" ).
  • Take your voice up GRADUALLY and CAREFULLY... a scale at a time that you raise a half step at a time.
  • Know that you can do ANY vocal exercise wrong... including mine. Like martial arts, golf, dance, etc... form is everything!
  • Do not sing in a breathy head voice... this is like the sahara desert to your dehydrating vocal cords. Sing in clear, focused, bell-like tones.
  • Do not go higher than your throat channel can stay open!
On the other hand... If you have been classically trained and want to sing contemporary material, you may experience the opposite problem... you may have trouble getting into chest voice in your middle range. You take your head voice down too low and it makes contemporary voice sound weak and inauthentic.

What to do? Strengthen the muscle set that works your chest voice! Again.. be careful how you do this.
  • NEVER, NEVER sing your chest voice so high that you feel vocal strain. Again... learn how to pull your voice up, like I teach with Power, Path & Performance vocal training.
  • Do not lean forward while trying to get your chest voice higher! This will close your chest and cause too much breath pressure to be applied to your poor vocal cords.
  • Try for a buzzing feeling instead of a "hooty" sound.
  • Try for a "talking" tone rather than a "sing-y" tone. If your speaking is thin or hooty, you must train your speaking voice, too.
  • Learn to adjust your head, body and breath pressure so you can allow the "buzz" to travel up and down instead of trying to sing everything the same way... which WILL cause strain, and a terrible vocal break.
  • Try to make the top of your chest voice sound almost just like the bottom of your head voice.
In short, the "brass ring" technique you should seek is to make your chest voice and head voice blend strainlessly together, allowing your automatic nervous system to instruct the larynx to tilt slightly back and forth as you go through your range. This effectively creates the "middle voice" which is constantly adjusting and changing to allow the powerful yet strain-free contemporary singing that can blow your mind, and your audience's heart... without blowing your voice!

Comments always welcome... remember, if you're reading this through your email, you'll have to actually click the headline and go online to find the comment link. Happy singing!

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Co-writing: How you figure percentages

One of the most important things I learned about co-writing was when NOT to say anything! Silence is so important to the process of allowing thoughts to form. However, too many times a novice songwriter thinks they need to be sure and throw in everything that goes through their minds so they will "do their part".

The way I, as well as most other professional songwriters, split songs with co-writers is not based on the number of words we divide to get at a percentage. The truth is, I've written songs with people who only added one line, or had the basic story which we wrote a song about, or had a partial title or first phrase of the song, or just helped with the bridge I was stuck on. I've also co-written when I myself only contributed one line!

Who's to say what makes a good song into a great song? Sometimes a very little part of the song is actually the most important part. So I just divide the song equally among co-writers.

However, this is just the writer portion we're talking about. Publishing CAN and DOES get split unequally, for lots of reasons. Sometimes the veteran writer will take the time and professional risk to write with a novice writer if the veteran gets the publishing, or a share of the co-writer's publishing. Sometimes it has to do with who is paying for the demo. Sometimes it has to do with who has a major publishing company and how much share they need to really pitch the song. Sometimes you share your publishing with an artist, label, producer, manager, etc for political reasons... to get the song cut by a major artist. There are many different acceptable business deals with publishing.

But writer's percentage is a sacred cow for professional writers. This percentage is paid by ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, according to each writer's affiliation, when the song gets released and played on public media.

If co-writing with someone leaves you feeling too unsatisfied as to each person's contribution, the answer is to go ahead and split the co-write equally, then decline to write with that person again.

But be careful... sometimes a person can be a worthy co-writer just by their presence in the room, if they tend to make you open up and create. This contribution is priceless.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Charity event for "Melodical Hearts" tonight June 3rd

For those of you interested in the charity I'm playing for today (Tues, June 3rd, 6pm) the website is here:
http://www.myspace.com/melodicalhearts

We're playing from 3pm to 11:30pm... my set is at 6:00.

Venue: Earnest Tubbs Texas Troubadour Theater 2416 Music Valley Drive (near Opryland Hotel)

Tickets: $12 at the door - which will help fund a very worthy charity.

Here's the lineup:
3:00 3:20 Donny Anderson
3:25 3:40 Brenda Mullen
3:45 4:05 Jack McVey
4:10 4:30 Angela Siracusa –
Walter Egan
4:35 4:50 DeeRay Garcia
4:55 5:25 David Church/Terri Lisa
5:30 6:00 Jack Green
6:05 6:25 Judy Rodman
6:30 6:50 Brian Glenn
6:55 7:15 Carolyn Martin
7:20 7:25 Terri Lisa Church
7:30 8:30 David Church-Tribute to Hank Williams
8:35 8:55 Carlton Moody
9:00 9:25 Tracey K Houston/Rollie Stevens
9:30 9: 50 The Roys
9:55 10:15 Emma Mae
10:20 10:35 Jeniffer Windom
10:40 11: 00 Cody McCarver
11:05 11:20 Van Preston
11:25 Zach Hacker - Nashville Star

Hope you can come out and join the party!

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