Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: October 2010

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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Artistic Definition

Many, if not most, of us would like to make money in the music business. There is a very important factor that must be determined: Your artistic definition. In other words, who are you, and why would I want to listen to the music you make?

Here are some things that go into your artistic definition:
  • Uniqueness 
How do you become unique? By becoming in touch with, and being able to express, your authenticity. You are the only one who has your physical instrument (larynx, resonation surfaces, physical stamina, etc) AND who has your life history and emotional experiences. And here's an important fact: There is no competition with uniqueness. Talent shows won't tell you the truth- they can't. Imagine a competition show for an orange, an orangutan and a bedpost. Each has its place, its audience and its detractors. How do you judge such a contest?
  • Sound
Your sound has to do with things like your choices or instrumentation, mics, studios and mixes and your vocal technique habits and quirky embellishments. You can change your sound... and that change should have to do with things like accessing your full resonance, making sure vocal lics are appropriate and choosing a sound that communicates most authentically your message.
  • Message
What have you got to say to the world? How do you give your original slant to those thoughts? What do you want the over-arching take-away to be from your audience to your show?

These 8 examples are only a very quick list I put together- I'm sure you can think of many more. All artists have multiple messages... but there is almost always a central theme running through the successful artist's songlist:
  1. Fun: uptempo (pop Lady Gaga, country Billy Currington
  2. Fall in love: (pop/Usher, classic pop Frank Sinatra
  3. Freak out and party (pop Pink, country Big and Rich)
  4. let's get real/ hiphop (pop Eminem, Christian contemporary Plumb
  5. Social message (rock Bruce Springsteen, Bono U2,Christian artist Natalie Grant
  6. Angst of love (alt pop Kings Of Leon, alt pop Sara Bareilles
  7. Young love and angst (country Taylor Swift, Rihanna )
  8. Good love (pop Mat Kearney, R&B Barry White )
  • Style
Your style has to do with your sound, message, way of articulating AND your phrasing. It generally dictates the genre of music the industry puts you in, though the lines are more blurred now than ever. For instance, the great new Sugarland record "Stuck Like Glue" includes a very clever 'rap' by Jennifer Nettles. Your style also would include your 'look'....the type of stage clothes you wear, and other identifying factors (think Bono's sunglasses, Keith Urban's ordinary shirts open at top, Lady Gaga's costumes). An

Are you willing to do the work? It takes time, experimentation and luck to find a financially viable artistic definition in the music business. 

Time & experimentation:
Jim Croce could not get the attention of his producer and friend Tommy West until finally one year he began to bring in songs like "Time In A Bottle", "Bad Bad Leroy Brown", etc. Tommy West recognized the hit potential of the new material, agreed to take Croce into the studio... the rest is history. It had just taken time for Croce to find his artistic definition.

Keith Urban could not get the audience attention until the audience tastes caught up with him. I did background vocals on his first Bluebird Cafe show; we only got polite applause but nothing like the massive response he gets now. And he is playing guitar and singing a lot like he started out. This took luck and persistance- and belief that the market would find him someday.

While you can't control what people like, it's important also to know what you can control:
  • Your reactions
  • Your finances
  • Your mental health
  • Your choices to practice, experiment and get better.
Here's what  doesn't work in developing your artistic definition:
  • Following the trends.
  • Operating from a fear standpoint. Afraid too be too out of the box or too traditional. Safe, middle-of-the-road music is usually... boring.
  • Listening to too many people, or not enough, when determining who you are as an artist.
  • Giving up too soon. Disheartened, Alan Jackson was about to board a plane at the Nashville airport back to where he came from. I forget who stopped him; I think it was Glen Campbell. But he decided to give it another try, and finally his very clear artistic definition payed off. Ani Difranco decided to do it her way completely... and started Righteous Babe Record label to get not only her music out but also to sign and give exposure to other music mavericks.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Case Studies: Applying Power, Path & Performance Vocal Training

The value of any vocal training is in the gain of vocal ability and the resolution of vocal problems as a result of the lessons. I thought I’d give a few case studies of the three-pronged synergy of Power, Path and Performance vocal training. There are many unique variations of each case, of course, because every singer brings unique challenges to training. But here are three common examples I see:

Case 1: Bad Breath
I had a middle aged speaker and singer come in with a very tight voice. As I watched him in my initial assessment, I saw the same thing whether he was singing or speaking... a frozen, guarded posture. This was creating a chronic rib-tightening condition causing him to have trouble getting enough breath to use his voice, and vocal strain when he did. When I corrected his stance, his breath came easy and he noticed a distinct lessening of vocal strain. Correcting his breath had the synergistic effect of correcting the other two cornerstones of Power, Path & Performance...
  • Path through Open throat: His throat opened and the muscles along the throat channel relaxed so they could move and adjust properly as he sang and spoke.
  • Performance : He had a much more pleasant resonance to his voice, and the lack of strain helped him connect to the object of his conversation.
Case 2: Tight Throat

There are myriads of reasons for a vocalist to habitually send the voice down a tight throat path. A newly signed artist was sent to my by his management because he was experiencing vocal strain and quick fatigue when he performed. The sound of his voice told me his throat was tight. I was able to correct his voice path, sending his voice through an open throat instead of a tight one, by changing his posture and facial expression, which instantly de-stressed his voice. The synergistic effect corrected the other two PPP cornerstones as follows:
  • Breath: His changed posture gave him much more breath control, keeping vocally straining pressure off his cords even while his richer open-throat resonance gave him plenty of volume and passion.
  • Performance: Not worrying about his throat enabled him to fully commit to his song.
Cast 3: Numb Performance

A vocalist coming in for training usually is seeking a better performance. A typical case was a young girl whose producer sent her in because her vocals lacked 'feeling'. I was able to use some acting technique to teach her how to focus her mind on authentically communicating a message. Doing that resulted in these corrections to the other two PPP cornerstones...
  • Breath: Changing her mental state resulted in instant changes in posture and in the tightness and flexibility of her ribcage. This immediately helped give her more breath, and more breath control.
  • Path through Open Throat: The changed posture and increased facial expression opened her throat and gave her a much more pleasing vocal tone and increased her vocal range so her high notes were no longer strained.
These case studies are examples of what Power, Path & Performance vocal training can do. It's a holistic approach to freeing the physical and emotional voice.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Flood Relief "ReTune Nashville" Tomorrow (Saturday)

Alert: Got this email from Dave Pomeroy (president of the Nashville Musician's Union). Sounds like a fabulous show, a unique art viewing and buying opportunity, and a very worthy cause.

Please consider attending this event and perhaps purchasing a piece of history. ReTune Nashville is a concerted effort by dozens of Nashville visual artists who have taken many flood damaged instruments and turned them into pieces of art! Check out their website below for more details. This event on Saturday is months in the making, and will raise money for our Flood Relief Fund, which has provided financial relief for over 70 Nashville residents thus far. Here are the details, and thanks in advancefor supporting this great community effort.
ReTune Nashville To Benefit Flood Relief Fund and MusiCares

Tickets are on sale now for ReTune Nashville's Benefit Concert and Art Auction event Saturday, Oct. 23 at Soundcheck.
Advance admission is $35 and includes:
Music from Jamie O'Neal, Anthony Smith, Jeremy Lister and more
Presentation of over 70 artwork pieces created from flood damaged instruments, with a small selection available for live auction during the event.
Complimentary food and beverages
For more information visit ReTune online at www.retunenashville.org
To purchase tickets go to www.retunenashville.eventbrite.com

Thanks as always, for your support!
Dave Pomeroy
President, Nashville Musicians Association, AFM Local 257

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Balance For Musicians: Stepping Away From Your Art

Me by the morning ocean                               

People whose art is music tend to live lives immersed in that field. It is human nature to be drawn to those people, places and things which are most like oneself and one’s familiar ground. Paradoxically, in my experience this actually limits the fullness of the music-maker’s life.

Here’s my suggestion: make sure your life includes people, places and things which have nothing to do with music. You will take your inner musician/singer with you, but you will balance it with other food.
  • Take vacations, not just music-related road trips (I just did, and my husband makes sure I stick to my non-music plan).
  • Make friends who have no musical ability or aspirations. Better yet… befriend some people who have different political, religious, social demographic backgrounds and viewpoints. Learn to listen to different voices, taste different foods, appreciate whole new worlds of other human beings.
  • Take time for silence. Periodically turn off all media and all gear. Music is best with spaces.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Singers' Lessons from the Ocean: Wait For It... Go For It

I just got back from my yearly vacation and my favorite sport… boogie boarding on the ocean! As usual, I am always doing research for you, dear reader:) Here’s how boogie boarding and singing are related: Timing.

After riding the surf a while, I noticed that if I considered my timing better I could catch the best waves. Sometimes, a good wave was best passed up because the best wave was just behind it. (Lordy, sometimes TOO good, a couple flipped me completely over!) I quickly learned to ‘wait for it’… the beautiful wave that had just crested, full of power but not too uncontrolled, then to completely commit and ‘go for it’. When I caught one big enough and timed the catching just right, I could ride it almost all the way to shore. It was so much fun the only way I could make myself come in was when my legs could barely pick me up from the sand anymore!

Anyway, here’s the vocal application of boogie boarding: Both depend mightily on timing. To paraphrase the Kenny Rogers' song, "ya gotta know when to... Wait For It or Go For It!"

  1. The Song
So you’re recording your project and looking for and/or writing songs right for the project. Listen to your gut, and get feedback from at least one other trustworthy, informed source such as your producer, manager, label or entertainment attorney, as well as non-industry individuals who understand the ears of your typical audience. Is each song you’re considering right lyrically and melodically and groove-wise for your voice, the type of project your doing, your demographics you are creating this project for? And most importantly… is it emotionally compelling, moving, exciting? If you’re writing it, is it truly finished well? If not, wait for it. If so, don’t stall…get any needed permissions and mechanical licenses from all writing/publishing parties and go for it!

  1. The Vocal Recording
Are you completely confident in your vocal ability to sing your chosen songs? Have you learned them so well you don’t need lyrics? Have you done some vocal lessons to iron out any potential problems and explore vocal options to use in the vocal booth? Have you arranged to have your vocals produced by someone you trust can get the best out of you? Are you in good health, physically and mentally strong? If not, wait for it. If so… get that studio and producer booked -- and go for it!

  1. The Showcase Performance
After the project is recorded, mixed and mastered, there comes a time for its debut performance. There is usually a significant performance set up to which music industry professionals are invited, with the hopes that the artist’s career will be somehow furthered. This can be a public show or a private invitation-only show; in either case I would suggest you consider it a showcase performance. Sometimes this event is called a record release party, at which the project is either played from the finished recording or performed live. 

For a showcase performance, it is wise to rehearse more, spend money/time on fliers, table decorations, food and other accouterments and take pains to make sure you are looking and sounding like the artist you want them to experience. This performance should be your personal best. It is also wise to make sure you invite the right people for your business goals, and that those people are actually coming. Too many times artists spend so much money/effort/spirit on a showcase where no industry professionals show up. 

Unless you are rehearsed and know who’s coming, wait for it. If you’re ready and you get multiple confirmations ‘they’ are coming, go for it and don’t look back! You may ride that wave all the way home!

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