Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: July 2012

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, July 29, 2012

In-Ear Monitors: Don't Use Just One!


 My new Sensaphonic 3-D Active Ambient in-ears

Live performers need some kind of stage monitors that will help them perform accurately and be confident enough to deliver performance magic. The mix of sounds in the monitors, the envelope, ambiance and volume of the sound heard in monitors can make or break a performance... especially a vocal performance.

In my career, I have most often used stage wedge monitors, but recently got a set of in-ear monitors to use myself and to be able to advise my students. I finally made the plunge because these particular in-ears have the capability of adding ambient sound so I'm not feeling cut off from the stage/crowd sounds. My Sensaphonics product is called 3-D Active Ambient in-ear monitors.

I had yet to use them (I'm such a creature of the on-stage wedge), waiting on a question I wanted answered. We've all seen artists on stage, even on the major music award shows, with one in-ear monitor dangling on their neck. I received conflicting advice about the safety of this practice, from other singers and from different doctors. However... the jury is now in:

Never use just one!

I met doctor of Audiology Michael Santucci at his Sensaphonics booth at NAMM recently. I asked him point blank about this and he said in no uncertain terms that it creates a serious risk to hearing to use just one in-ear. He explained why, but rather than try and call that up for you verbatim, here is Santucci and Mike Dias of IEM manufacturer Ultimate Ears, explaining it in Mix Magazine:
One danger from too much isolation comes when musicians decide to “fix” the problem by wearing an earpiece in only one ear. “When players take one out, their brain loses its ability to do binaural summation, where two ears together add up to a 6dB increase in your perception of loudness,” Santucci explains. “If you're hearing 90 dB in both ears, your brain thinks it's hearing 96 dB. If you take one ear away, then that one ear has to go from 90 to 96 to sound like 96. And now the other ear is open and getting bashed by the band, the P.A. and the crowd. So this loud sound coming into the open ear causes you to turn the other ear up even more. In terms of ear safety, using one earpiece is a dangerous practice — it could actually be worse than using none at all.”
“There's a common misconception that an artist can use just one earpiece and still use stage monitors, but this results in the worst of both worlds,” says Dias, who offers a simple experiment to demonstrate this. “Have someone stand onstage with a beltpack using one ear and turn it up to a comfortable performing level. Now shut the beltpack off and run the stage monitor to a comfortable level. When you turn the monitors and the single earpiece on, the artist inevitably thinks the in-ear sounds weak and cranks it up to compensate. But when you turn the wedges off, the artist will notice that the earpiece is too loud. In the case of one-ear listening, you don't get the benefit of hearing protection and you don't get the accuracy benefit of the in-ears.”
(Read the full article here)

I don't know about you, but I value my ears too much not to heed this advice from this authority. If you find yourself in the habit of dropping one of your in-ears on stage, it might be worth an upgrade to ambient sound in-ears.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

When Voices Aren't Heard

Voices need to be heard. When they aren't, not only is the individual somehow compromised, the world is, also.

I woke this morning to the horrible breaking news of another mass shooting of innocent, random victims, this time in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Because one of my precious sisters lives in Colorado, it particularly hit me personally. Watching the news unfold, I began to wonder if they will find that, as usual, the shooter is doing this to be 'heard'.

Not being heard does not, thank God, usually end up in this kind of psychopathic, inhuman, murderous behavior. However, harm does come however subtly the form. For instance:

The voice:
  • The unheard voice feels invalid, less than, not important, insecure.
  • The unheard voice is therefore characteristically small, thin, unsupported, weak. After a while, it becomes an unexpressed voice with a spirit that is easily marginalized and abused. Eating disorders and partner abuse are but two of the many common issues that victimize unexpressed voices.
  • Or the unheard voice lashes out with the opposite... boisterous, yell-y, with inappropriately loud, harsh, punishing tone. The voice easily becomes physically strained. Get two unheard voices together and you have a co-dependent situation from hell.
  • The unheard or unexpressed voice can become chronically depressed, angry, vengeful. It can develop other mild to severe psychological conditions, insanity, hate and attraction to outright evil.
The world:
  • The world around that voice misses the unique and important messages that voice is too unsure to deliver. Because every voice really IS important, the missed messages of even one voice causes problems or withholds solutions.
  • The world misses out on the beauty of the voice unheard. How many stunning singer/songbirds have decided not to sing or write because no one is (or is perceived to be) listening?
  • The world can be at the receiving end of the voice that acts out of its perception that the world is deaf to it. This can be as mild as having to listen to the unpleasant sound of the harsh voice, or as severe as the violent situation in Colorado.
What can we as a community do? Two things come to mind:
  1. We need to know we can't control another person's perception. Survivors guilt is counterproductive and unwarrented. If someone has a false perception of not being heard, all the listening ears in the world can sometimes not convince them otherwise. This kind of voice truly need to be heard and worked with by an intuitive and gifted psychological therapist... both for the person's sake and for the world's.
  2. We need to remember to use our ears as well as our voices.. in fact giving equal time!
We need to develop a culture of listening to each other. All I hear on the news and in the music business is voices trying to get their sound/viewpoint/music career heard. We need to actively listen... that's when we allow for the possibility of what we hear to change us, give us new information with which to form judgements, give us another side of truth. Information from another voice doesn't mean that we WILL change our minds, in fact it may confirm what we believe, but if we are not even willing to listen, our guarded hearts and minds become hard, unbending, and yes...unloving.

Questions to myself (you can use them if you wish):
When is the last time I actively listened to:
  • a political viewpoint different from my own
  • a medical or alternative medical thought which derails what I've come to believe
  • another vocal coach teaching something I don't
  • a spiritual path I don't take
  • a foreigner of any kind
  • a different genre of music than my usual preference
  • a new book (these are 'voices', too)
  • a new or old singer different from myself
May God, as well as human community, comfort the victims of the Colorado tragedy. Something's got to change in this adversarial, deaf, guarded society. As voices, let us all remember... we also have ears.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Demo Lead Vocals: Can They Be Released?



I was asked this great question by a relatively new session singer who is starting to get some demo work:
If I sing a demo and get paid up front and then it ends up getting used (with my vocal on it) for commercial purposes, do I have any right to any more more money? I'm being asked to sign a contract that is essentially for a demo, but in the contract it says they can use the master for anything they want. I'm just concerned that this song will end up being the biggest selling single of all time with my vocal on it and I'll only $100 out of the deal. - Kinda New At This Game
Ouch... That would indeed suck. My two cents:

Union affiliation:
Here’s the thing- if you are a member of SAG/AFTRA, the contract both parties would sign specifies the allowed uses of your recorded vocal performance. The minimum payment scale is established - and is more for doing leads than just backgrounds.  You put on the contract whether you sang a solo, duo, small or larger group, and the applicable fee applies. If a recording is played long enough (it takes a lot) you may even be eligible for royalty payment as a session singer.

Non-union work:
If you are not in the union there is no set fee or protection for session work... you just have to make your own deals. What's fair? For a demo lead vocal, $100 is a fair fee… but not if they will put that record out for release and sale. That’s not a demo, it's a master, and it would not be fair. If you want to go ahead and sing it anyway for your reasons - maybe for studio experience or the money that they are offering - that’s your business choice.

If you sign a contract that says your recorded vocal performance can be used for any purpose, or if you haven't had them sign a contract stating you DON'T give permission to release it, then they have the right to release it if they want to, with no further payment to you.

Consider your career goals:

Are you going for a session singing career? Do as many sessions as you can- leads and background vocals. Network as a session singer, get a demo reel done and get it in the hands of songwriters, publishers, producers and other session singers who might book you.

Are you going for a recording artist career?  The quality of both the song and the recording need to be good so that it’s not a career negative for you if it does aired publicly. I've known about some nightmare scenerios such as when a recording artist sang what she thought was a demo lead on a dumb, low quality song/recording. It was released to radio and soundly trounced by a major music reviewer. Ouch!

Bottom line:

It's good to make an informed choice about the leads we sing for others. Hopefully this can help you make a wise one.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Branding Your Voice: Artistic Definition

What makes YOU stand out from the crowd?

If you want to have a commercial music career with your voice, there is a step you don't need to skip: Branding your voice. I like to call this your "Artistic Definition".

What goes into branding or defining yourself as an artist? Here is an excerpt from "Singing In The Studio", copied from the ebook of that multimedia course:
•    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 what I believe: 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 choices of instrumentation, microphone, studios and mixes, 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 licks are appropriate and choosing a sound that communicates your message most authentically.

•    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 overall take away to be from your audience about your show?

•    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. Your style also would include your 'look', the type of stage clothes you wear, and other
identifying factors (think Bono's sunglasses, Tim McGraw’s signature black hat, and Lady Gaga's costumes).
Branding your voice draws your ideal audience ... who would LOVE what you do ... to you. If you want to be a music artist, take your time and get this right. My suggestion is try not to put on the internet anything that does not fit your artistic definition. If you have anything online that your vocal branding has outgrown, take it down so you don't confuse the audience or the industry.

A real world example: The branding of the duo with which I now perform and record, John and Judy Rodman includes the following...
  • Uniqueness: Original songs I've written, many co-written with my husband &drummer John.
  • Sound: Our unique sound will come from truly gifted musicians and singers, all pro veterans of studio and stage, and will sometimes include two keyboards, organ, flute as well as guitars, drums and bass. I am lead singer, two background voices sing with me for a full vocal group sound. 
  • Message: Our songs will come from veteran soul wisdom, stories and situations. We will especially market to mid and older demographic which remembers older artists like Doobie Brothers, Eagles, Carol King, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt from the past and appreciates artists like Adele today.
  • Style: John and I will perform with full band of top level musicianship. We will be extraordinarily connected to our audiences, encouraging the power of community. As lead singer, I have developed a particular vocal style from decades of singing and songwriting. With songs spanning r&b, pop rock, ballad and country, we believe we best fit within the vast Americana genre. And important for us... we don't need to be financially successful with our album; just artistically This will let us choose when and where we want to perform, instead of having to tour extensively. We will pursue media placement.
For more on how to develop your artistic definition, as well as a ton of other unique, insider information vital to recording artists, do your career a favor and get  'Singing In The Studio' multimedia guide.

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