Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Thoughts For Voices in the COVID-19 Crisis

The birds are back - we will be soon!
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Canceled gigs, tours, presentations and recording sessions... counting toilet paper rolls, chicken breasts and cans of tuna, not to mention getting an illness that has heavy coughing and compromised breathing as main symptoms. Around the globe, everyone in the world is facing physical, emotional and financial stress from this pandemic, including those who depend on their voices and voice work. The worst part of it is the feeling of helplessness that leads to hopelessness. 

BUT if we take a closer, deeper look around, and brainstorm possibilities, there are things we can do to help ourselves and others not only get safely through this global pandemic but come out better for the battle. I'm going to share some thoughts and hopefully turn a light or two on for you in whatever your unique situation is.

OK, FIRST THE BAD NEWS

We need to understand and acknowledge the reality to successfully do something about it. The truth is that we are universally experiencing a dangerous pandemic... a new world-wide flu that is wreaking havoc with physical health and economic systems and can no longer be ignored. The pathogen is called the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The disease it causes is called COVID19. 

There are valid reasons why public events are canceling, cities, states, and whole countries are locking down, schools are closing and lessons (including mine) are going online only. The recommended practice of 'social distancing' and the resulting gig economy cancellations are devastating to scores of businesses including the entertainment and public speaking industries. It's also true that most people can get this virus, get over it without medical intervention and come out just fine. So...

WHY IS THIS FLU SUCH A CRISIS?

  • It's super contagious.
This particular virus is extremely contagious because it's so new the human race has not developed any immunity to it. Young, healthy people, including children, may carry the virus with no symptoms at all. You could be carrying it with no symptoms, unknowingly passing it around to others, including people most likely to get the sickest. But even young people are sometimes being hospitalized with it. This isn't the time to rebel and join friends for spring break, possibly coming in contact with and transporting this back to your families.
  • Those who do get diagnosed with COVID-19 disease will be asked to quarantine themselves. 
Talk about cabin fever! You can't even grocery shop; you have to rely on people bringing food to your doorstep.
  • The biggest reason: It can overwhelm our health care system
A March 20th article from NPR estimates that 20% of COVID-19 patients end up in the hospital, 10 times that of the common flu. Though difficult to figure out right now because most cases are mild and go unreported, many experts estimate the death rate from this virus could also be 10 times that of the common flu, with a higher mortality rate for those over 60 and those with underlying health issues. As this virus spreads like wildfire there will be increasing numbers of people requiring hospitalization, stretching doctors, health care staff, beds and ventilators way past capacity. When health care workers are exposed (and they are lacking enough protective gear right now), they will need to self-quarantine, further exacerbating the shortage of medical help. 

Now for some good news:

THIS CRISIS WILL END!

As in the poem classical vocalist Katherine Jenkins shared on Instagram that was written by her sister Laura, '...soon just like other crisis before, this will all be a distant memory'. However, it may last as much as a year or more, so we need to accept our new reality of pandemic plus job losses and figure out what each of us must do until we see this in the rearview. 

I have been earnestly and prayerfully searching for what I can offer at a time like this. Three suggestions have come to mind:

1. STAY ALIVE AND BECOME STRONGER

Don't just barely make it out alive... use this challenge to become even healthier! 
  • Shelter in place when the local authorities call for it. This could keep numbers of hospitalizations at a manageable level, saving a bed or a ventilator for a time of your or someone else's desperate need.
  • If you DO get sick with this flu...
    • try to minimize hard coughing as much as possible. Try to 'pull' your coughs to lessen the stress on your vocal cords
    • if you need to be intubated on a ventilator, tell your anesthesiologist or doctor that you are a professional singer (or speaker) and to please use extra care inserting the tube.
    • I have some vocal recovery information at this blogpost, including some exercises to help you get your voice back from any illness.
  • Raise the bar on all your health practices including physical exercise; research some new ones (online yoga, dance, deep breathing, healthy cooking classes), stop smoking, adopt better eating habits (paleo anyone?), drink more water, walk outside (even if just on the balcony), get more quality sleep. I'm trying a phone app for binaural beat therapy to get to sleep because my brain is on overdrive right now!
  • Adopt protective habits:
    • Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Stop touching your face. Stay 6 feet away from sick people. Avoid crowds and don't fly unless you absolutely have to.
    • Bring alcohol wipes to any studio or gig you do.
    • When you can get back in the public, interacting with others (including fans), use the forearm bump instead of a handshake, or better yet, just wave and smile. 
  • Guard your mind. Watch your time surfing the internet... lots of bad news and false stories abound. No, there are no dolphins in the canals of Venice, but there ARE wild animals venturing more boldly into city streets. Look for helpful, positive stories to balance what you need to know to deal with the real situation.
  • Take time to be still. Pray, meditate, breathe and be in the present. 
  • Ask for help when you need it. Give help when you can... it's the fastest way out of your own fearful mindset!
2. CREATE AND TRAIN

You know those hours you wish you had more of every day? They're here - use them!
  • Create material! Write songs, scripts, books!
  • Create more ability! Study your craft, research, explore, experiment, go deeper, take some online training so that at the end of this crisis, you're better than ever at what you do. 
  • Do something you've never done - learn to play piano, guitar, study music theory, sing harmony (or lead!), public speaking. There are tons of free and paid courses online. Read more books!
  • Work on your artistic definition. What is in your heart to sing or speak? Who do you want for your audience? What are you missing in your body of work?
  • Study music business, marketing and promotion. Gain skills that will help you move your career forward like a rocket when this crisis is over. Create a detailed plan for launching a new project or tour.
  • Large groups of people are asked NOT to gather during this crisis, so this will impact live audience concerts as well as writers' nights and speaking events. Connect with your fans in other ways. Do online shows with virtual tip jars. Try out Patreon or use Buy Me A Coffee for small one time donations
  • Do some internet infrastructure work (website updates, social networking, etc). 
  • Find creative ways to make financial ends meet. 
    • Some mortgage lenders are now pausing payments for as much as 12 months and freezing foreclosures and evictions. We're globally all in the same boat... so don't hesitate to ask for payment grace. 
    • Be willing to look for at least a temporary new type of job. While most businesses are being crushed, the food industry including delivery and local grocery stores, health care, wellness and home fitness industries, online education, remote work
3. BE USEFUL 
  • Check in with family and friends. Social distancing doesn't have to create emotional distancing! 
  • Be useful to your fanbase. How can you make their world a little better? They love what you do. Love them back with something special that is a one-way-street gift to them. A free online concert. A personal message or live video event to support and encourage them for what THEY are going through. 

HOW CAN I HELP YOU?

To protect us all, I will only offer online lessons until this crisis passes. If you can't afford lessons right now, I will be giving plenty of free information out in this blog and podcast so people can still train. Please stay in touch and tell me what you need! One thing I'm considering is a video about centering, opening and breathing to help anyone who is having emotional or respiratory distress. Let me know in the comments if you'd like that... or any other subject you'd like for me to cover.

MY LESSONS: If you can and would like to, there are some silver linings to doing online lessons with me:
  • You can't catch a virus through the internet (except a computer one:)
  • You don't have to deal with traffic to get here. 
  • You can take the lesson on any device anywhere you get internet (smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer) - in the parking lot, a green room, your bathroom, your motel room, your car.
  • You can take a lesson even when you're sick! Or still in your pajamas!
  • If you wonder how online lessons work, read/listen to an article I did on it...  https://blog.
  • judyrodman.com/2017/02/online-vocal-lessons-pros-and-cons.html

FINAL THOUGHTS:

  • NOW IS THE TIME to adopt proactive and protective practices so we can avoid contracting this dangerous flu and spreading it to others. Remember... it doesn't just matter to you, it matters to everyone you come in contact with. 
  • LOOK FORWARD: There WILL be an end to the crisis. It may not be til next year that a vaccine and/or effective antivirus drug gets developed. But audiences will gather again. People will shake hands again. Right now we don't need to panic... we just need to prepare. Prevention is better than cure.
  • STAY CONNECTED! Call & check up on family and friends, text, email, message, chat face to face online. Look for fact-based sources of information to make wises choices as things progress. We are all better together.
Be well... Be kind... Stay positive!💗  Judy

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Is Your Music Visible? My Chat With Denise Wakeman


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Have you been wanting to extend your internet fanbase? Listen to the podcast audio link of the interview I did with my own internet mentor, Denise Wakeman. Here are some of the topics we covered:
  • Introduction to Denise
  • Understanding fans as customers
  • The importance of getting found by your audience
  • Taking action to reboot unsuccessful online efforts.
  • The importance of publishing consistent content
  • Creating the know, like & trust factor as music makers
  • Types of content you can create and share on social media
  • Visibility strategy for artists on media shows and large events
  • How to create online relationships with fans
  • Why an artist should create a blog
  • Blogging with multimedia content
  • The importance of creating your own online real estate, capturing emails
  • Traveling tips – the importance of being kind
  • Music experience Denise had in her global travels
  • What is changing for internet marketing
  • The importance of experimenting with online apps
  • Identifying your ideal fans
  • Tips for discerning your music career path
  • Deeply connecting by sharing your story
  • What Denise saw Elton John and Bernie Taupin do that made her love them

About Denise:

Denise Wakeman has been working online since 1996. She has become a highly respected expert on blogging and online marketing. She teaches, trains and consults with a holistic approach to building businesses with targeted audiences on the web.

As an early adopter and active experimenter, Denise jumps on just about every social network that comes online. She helps her clients navigate through the myriad platforms that are begging for attention, with recommendations suited for each individual client’s personalities and business.

A trip to Peru in 2013 sparked a new business venture for Denise. “I’ve always loved traveling,” she says, “but I’d always kept my personal adventures separate from my business life. I realized that it was all part and parcel of the same thing. I needed to bring that adventurous spirit into my work, too.” So, she started creating travel experiences for others and “Adventures In Visibility” was born. It has infused her internet mentoring business (and her clients) with fresh fire.

Denise doesn’t just teach… she’s done it. She has created a powerful, visible presence by using the tools and teaching others to do the same. In the music business, becoming visible means being FINDABLE by those who would love our music. I began this All Things Vocal blog in 2006 with Denise’s training. If you enjoy it, we both have her to thank!

**********

For more help getting your music visible... Find Denise at

Get her special post and download checklist for building your internet platform:
www.DeniseWakeman.com/platform

If you want the best vocal training so you have the best performances to take to market, try Power, Path and Performance vocal training, available at www.JudyRodman.com in vocal lessons and in courses.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Introducing BALLOON Phonation Exercises



In this post, I'm going to introduce you to a brand new type of vocal exercises I've developed using a balloon, an alternate to the straw phonation exercises created by voice scientist Dr. Ingo Titze. Watch the embedded video demonstration I just published, featuring my friend Mark Thress.

How Balloon Exercises Were Developed

Vocal coach Mark Thress, with whom I exchange classical and contemporary vocal lessons, introduced me to straw phonation using a cocktail (small diameter) straw. I found these quite useful in encouraging more breath efficiency, as long as I pulled back as I blew forward. Neither one of us prefer using a bigger straw.

After working with the small straw for a few weeks, I started wondering what effect using a balloon instead of the straw would be. So I bought a package of assorted small balloons and started experimenting on my own, then with Mark, then with students. I found that most of us preferred and benefitted from the balloon instead of the straw!

Balloon vs Straw Comparisons:

  • I believe they are both SOVT exercises. 
SOVT, short for semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, include the lip bubble, tongue trill, raspberry,  blowing through a hole in the bottom of a cup, and the straw.  According to the excellent, detailed article on straw phonation at VoiceScienceWorks,
"SOVT exercises lengthen the vocal tract and narrow the opening, creating increased acoustic back pressure that helps the vocal folds vibrate more easily."
The straw has a hole at the end. The balloon, with no end hole, requires the vocalist to let a bit of air leak around the lips. This, to me, qualifies it as a new (SOVT) exercise protocol.
  • The balloon is stretchy, the straw is stiff.
The malleable balloon skin responds to vocal sound with more nuanced feedback than the straw. The vocalist must blow with more nuanced control to sound the balloon properly, requiring a finer degree of breath efficiency to open the balloon but not 'blow it into next week!"
  • The balloon requires that less breath pressure be used than the straw. 
This develops the finer degree of breath control.
  • 'Pulling' up and back while using the balloon also opens and relaxes the throat. 
I experience the same thing with the straw, but find it easier to open the throat tract in more nuanced ways with the balloon.
  • Most prefer the small size of both straw and balloon.
The best results I've found myself and with my students is with the smallest (2") water balloon, but sometimes I have students alternate from the small one to a little larger one and back... just to challenge the ever-changing degree of required breath balance.
  • Both the straw and balloon can be used with any scale or song melody.
After you get the hang of using the balloon in scales, try voicing a melody with it.

  • Both the straw and balloon are useful for both the singing and speaking voice. Speakers can just exercise by sirens or slurs throughout all registers of the voice.

Gratitude for the Straw

I want to take a moment and state how grateful I am for the genius of Dr. Titze in developing his straw phonation exercises. They have been instrumental in many a singer and speaker's vocal healing, and this in no way diminishes my utmost respect for them. I humbly offer this alternative exercise protocol to the voice community with full understanding that without the straw, the balloon would never have come to mind!

I need your input!

I also owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mark Thress for joining me in experimenting with and presenting balloon phonation exercises. We both would love your feedback... 
  • Will you try the balloon? If so,
  • What was your experience with balloon exercises?
  • What questions do you have about doing them?
  • What suggestions would you make?
Please feel free to share with others... this is my gift to the voice community. I hope you find it of value!

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

How Imagination Creates the Speaking and Singing Voice


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Remember making up stories, finger-painting abstract art, playing with your imaginary friends? If you don’t, ask a family member who knew you well as a child. I bet they can remind you. Human beings all develop, to some degree, the ability to imagine. Creative imagination fuels intention and expectation. Did you know your voice largely runs on this? Let’s talk about some ways your imagination directs your voice. It starts with your focused intention.

Premeditate a conversation

A bit like a well-executed crime, a conversation goes better when you brainstorm before you act. Even if it’s an almost unconscious split-second flash in a casual conversation, thinking before you speak helps you…
  • Fully enter the scene
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel dissed when listening to someone who talks or sings while distracted. When you aren’t fully present, your voice will communicate that fact. Or will not communicate at all. Make use of your senses to read the room, and chose your one-heart focus. Who are you talking to? What do you want that heart to understand?
  • Fully claim the reaction you want
Unlike most other moral situations, the Machiavelli principle… the ends justify the means… works here. If you were successful at making your listener respond a certain way, what would their reaction to your voice be? What would that look like in their body/facial language? That is your end goal… now do what it takes to get that reaction! 

Choose your sound

Guided by your premeditated intention, you can imagine how you want your voice to sound. Note: don’t worry, in practicality, these intention choices can be quite short… split-second. It's just important to know they should take place!
  • Choose the type of sentence you want to use (question, exclamation, statement).
  • Intend the length of your line. This tells your automatic nervous system how much breath to take and use. (Good vocal training makes this a lot more efficient!)
  • Choose the tone color, volume, inflection and clarity of articulation you’ll use to deliver your words. (Again, with good training the pool of possibilities to choose from will be a lot bigger)
  • Intend the pitch you want to use. For speakers, this means the area of your vocal range you center your voice in, and the shape of the curves of your speaking melody line. For singers, of course, it will mean the exact pitch of your intended notes. If you fully intend to hit those notes, you’ll actually aim and be much more likely to hit them!

Imagine you are someone else

OK, sometimes we actually want to match someone else's voice. A terrific way to do this is to mime while deeply listening. That way your imagination starts directing your vocal apparatus, breath, rhythm and articulation to match what you're hearing... BEFORE you even try it! You learn the intricacies of the other voice much quicker by imagining before sounding your voice. 

Here are some very valid reasons for mimicking another voice:
  • You want to learn a new style. 
  • You want to learn a new language.
  • You want to do a 'sound-alike'... sounding just like another lead singer for fun at a Karaoke event, or for commercial purposes when the jingle client wants a specific kind of voice.
  • You want to sing tight harmony with another lead singer as their background singer for stage or studio. This may entail really changing your vocal tone and inflections to match another's perfectly.
  • You want to mimic your vocal coach to learn a new technique. (A good coach will be very careful to help you find your own voice for your own reasons in the technique being learned.)
  • You want to mimic your dialect coach to change your accent.

Bottom line:

Human vocal sounds… speaking and singing… are amazingly intricate in variety. Like all creatures’ voices, the human voice exists for a reason. Even when we talk to ourselves, we’re telling ourselves something. If you’ve been feeling invisible, and you want to express your voice and its messages more successfully, try being more present in the moment, more intentional with your messages and more creative using your imagination!

Want to watch video versions of All Things Vocal posts? 

Check out my vocal training playlist on Youtube!

Here's this one...


What about you? How do you use your imagination for your voice? 

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Three Keys To Unlock Your Most Powerful Voice

Want some of this?? Read/listen on...

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Would you like to have a stronger speaking or singing voice? OK, first we need to talk about what that means. If you think in terms of what the voice is designed to do, you’ll see its sole purpose is to deliver messages. The ultimate goal of delivering a message is to get a specific response to that message. The stronger the desired response you get to your voice, the more valuable your voice is. Being vocally stronger takes more than being louder. Otherwise, we could just shout all the time and get what we want!

Power Fouls:

  • You push air hard to raise your voice's volume level. The problem is, overblowing your vocal cords drives them apart and dehydrates them... leading to inefficient vibration and vulnerability to injury. You will be loud but also shrill, thin and harsh. With the strain from the effort, your voice feels as bad as it sounds. You can be headed for vocal damage if you push like this for long. AND stage or studio mics and sound systems don't like this pushed sound, either. To accommodate it without clipping or distortion, your sound person or engineer will turn your signal down, and you will sound weaker than if you backed off! When you sing with less volume, your mic can open up for your voice. Your resulting mic'd sound ends up with more bandwidth and richer resonance - and more apparent power!

and/or...

  • You try to increase the power of your 'cool factor' by slurring your articulation, and creating a vocal lick for every possible phrase. When speaking, you stop your breath before the ends of your lines, ending with vocal fry that fatigues your voice while obscuring the words. You don't realize how valuable lyrics and space are to the power of your voice. Yeah, you're feeling it, but your audience isn't quite sure what to feel because they can't understand the words! You lose fully 1/3 of your musical/visual/lyrical performance impact. And it's one of the most common mistakes I see when watching songwriter rounds in Nashville, and something I talk to all my artist students about.

speaking of which...

  • You can trash your speaking voice by overblowing your instrument, too, and limit your impact power by forced, gluey or muddy articulation
Let me suggest a much more effective strategy: learn the following 3 core keys to max your vocal power:

1. Breath Compression

  Your vocal cords love to be buzzed, they just hate to be blown! So to vibrate them more energetically for a louder sound, you need to allow them to adduct or close together confidently with a balance of breath control and support. This is what I refer to as breath compression centered in the pelvic floor. It enables good vocal cord compression, which is ideal for efficiently creating volume. You take in a low breath, then you support its upward movement by tensing in the pelvic floor (or legs/heels which are butt extensions for the voice). Tensing that low instead of up in the mid-torso (diaphragm area) will allow the bottom of your ribcage to expand, enabling breath control. You end up with what I call 'pull power', delivering confident but controlled volume. You can rev it up by increasing this compression, spinning the air faster, being careful not to hold your breath nor allow it to blow through your cords without control. I know this is complicated. Your posture can affect it (hint, hint, keep your head over your tailbone, not your toes) and I teach certain vocal exercises that create the habit of this balanced breath engine.

Exercise:

Put your hand in the middle of your torso, in your solar plexus region. Try singing or saying something while powering your voice from right there. Next, put your hand on one of your back pockets, or press the back of your hip. Try singing or saying the exact thing while powering your voice from there. What did you notice about tension in your body and your throat? What did you notice about your breath and your sound?

2. Open Throat Channel

If you strum an electric guitar that’s not plugged into an amp, you can strum as hard as you want but you’re not going to make much sound. If you plug it in and play it, you’re amplifying the vibrations in the strings and the guitar body for much more sound. The quality of the sound can be tweaked by EQ changes in the amplifier. Another example to ponder here: No matter how loud you speak or sing, it won’t be as loud as if you are in a big chamber such as a hall with good acoustics. The surfaces and cavities of the larger space take your little voice and magnify it. Well, that’s what happens when you increase the space in your throat channel. The surfaces and cavities of that bigger space take the vibrations coming off your larynx to whole new levels of volume and more importantly… texture. All those places in your vocal cave add their own characteristics to your sound. For richest resonance and tonal variety, it's important to open your throat three-dimensionally.

Exercise:

Tighten your throat by squinting your eyes and locking your jaw. Sing or say something. If you can’t think of anything, try Happy Birthday. OK now, open your throat channel by raising your eyebrows, dropping your jaw and moving your head slightly back. Sing or say the exact same thing. What differences did you notice about the feeling in your throat and in your sound?

3. Laser-Focused Intentionality

Here’s where we get the cart positioned appropriately behind the horse. Going back to our prime directive for even having a vocal apparatus in our necks: the voice is for delivering messages! When we do that successfully, we get the response we want from the heart we’re talking to.

Exercise:

Ask these three questions:
  1. Who am I trying to communicate to? 
  2. What am I trying to communicate? 
  3. What would the response I want look like in my listener? 
When we have those answers in mind, our automatic nervous system can focus in on a simple, powerful directive… to get that response. This determines choices of tone, inflection, dynamics, styling, embellishments, clarity of articulation, etc…. in other words, this tells the voice how to sound! The higher level of vocal technique we develop just gives the voice more options to choose from! In short, technical vocal ability should be used in the service of delivering a message successfully. That's power! If not, we’re just playing survival of the vocal cords.

Putting It All Together

If you consider all three of our vocal power enhancers, you come up with my method of teaching.
Power, Path and Performance vocal training teaches you to center your breath engine in the pelvic floor, move your voice along the path through an open throat, and direct your communication to the appropriate one heart. This three-cornerstone synergy of training creates vocal power that truly matters, and you can power your voice to the max with no vocal strain - quite a bonus!

If you’d like help with increasing your singing or speaking vocal power, train with me in person, online or in a vocal training course on disc.  For more information, contact me through my secure website https://judyrodman.com/contact.htm. I'd love to work with you!

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Be Smart About Streaming Your Music

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If you want to promote your music and your voice in today's marketplace, you really need to understand streaming. This guest post, written by Carlos Silva, is a revealing look at music streaming services. The links he includes give a deep dive into in-depth reviews and infographics you can check out if you're serious about getting your music found.  -Judy
In an era where everything we do can be broadcasted for the whole world to see or hear, it’s obvious that musicians want to capitalize. We no longer need to make cassettes or burn CDs in our garages and hustle to give them away strategically or attempt to sell them at the clubs. Now, we just need to share a link or, hell, even yell our band name from a rooftop so everybody can search us on their phones. Putting our music up on platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify or Apple Music has made the path to fame far more accessible. The catch, though, is that streams don’t always amount to riches.

What you want the most is to be heard, but you need to eat too. This is why you have to understand how these platforms work. While selling 100 CDs at $10 a piece would get you $1,000 of gross income, and then playing at your local venue could get you a couple of hundred more, it’s not that easy with streaming services. Even when each person that would “buy” your CD listens to the whole thing three times, those 300 streams will not earn $1,000. Not even close. These platforms work on royalties, so each stream is worth, on average, a certain amount. You need to be aware of that number when you put your music up. Spotify, for example, averages $0.0044 per play. YouTube, on the other hand, averages $0.0007. Even then, it’s not that simple. Each company has a different way of dividing these royalties.

Now, other than payment, you need to take into account which platforms will actually deliver on getting your content out there. Using Spotify can be very beneficial because of its community-style approach. You can easily share what you’re listening to on social media, and when using a desktop, you can see what other people listen to. This makes Spotify a very fertile place for the up and coming. Also, almost everybody uses Spotify. If you choose Tidal—which pays a much higher $0.0125 per play, but has a much smaller customer base—you might encounter some obstacles when sharing your content.

Nevertheless, services like Tidal have upsides. Users that pay for a service like that have very specific tastes and tend to be more demanding when it comes to sound quality. That’s another factor you have to take into account when finding a home for your songs: the audience. Consider your music, who listens to it and who would like to listen to it. Is your music more for parties? Should it be of quick access? Do you prefer to build a solid fan base that will follow you and pay to see you live? All these things can affect where you make shop. SoundCloud, for example, has developed a particular reputation for being a testing ground for new talent, and people looking for independent music lurk its interface often. Would this benefit your particular style? The most important thing is to always ask yourself these questions.

As a musician, these streaming services look and sound amazing, and to a certain extent, they truly are. You don’t need a studio or a company to produce your work in order to get it out there next to the big names. You can do it yourself, design your own covers and everything. Then, share the heck out of it and if your music is good, it’ll catch. There has been nothing like it, but that’s precisely why you need to do your research and be aware of all the ups and downs that these represent for you as an artist.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

How Great Voices Make Strategic Use Of Space

  How boring would space be without the defining stars, marks and holes? Same goes for the voice!

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Continuous, uninterrupted, un-marked sound is just... noise. The holes... what's not there... and the separating marks can define and give meaning to what is there. Oh yes... great singing and speaking make great use of space!

In his classic book 'The Prophet', Kahlil Gibran writes "Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you". Wisdom tends to cross categories; this wise relationship advice has several parallel applications to music. Let's explore them starting with...

SEPARATING RUN-ON SENTENCES

Run-on sentences soon lose meaning. For instance, the Star-Spangled Banner notoriously begins with a run-on sentence:

Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o'er the ramparts we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? 
OK so it's a run-on question, not a statement, but you get the idea. To give meaning to these lyrics, we need to separate the lines.

Three ways we can separate run-ons are with commas, consonants, and breaths.

Commas:

Think of commas as 'insinuated spaces'. These are places where you accent or 're-pull' the start of a word to separate run-on sentences into thought-chunks, or phrases. For best results, I recommend that you pull the word open instead of push it out to articulate this accent. If written out, you would see commas at these points. Such spots don't always correspond to where you need to take a breath... you might have plenty of breath to continue without a pause. But unless you somehow accent the spot to insinuate the beginning of a new phrase, all the lyrics just blend together into a numbing jumble of nonsense.

Example:

I'm Not Getting Married Today. Note how the different singers in the video make use of vocal commas (or not). Even within this insane word count, the comma effect gives meaning to the delivery as the thoughts are freshly delivered.

Consonants:

Several of my students are familiar with my correction 'give me your 's's and 't's! How important are they?

Consonants turn vowels into words. 
Yep. Without articulating consonants clearly enough, words become just... sounds. For both singers AND speakers, you literally lose the power of your message if it depends on the listener understanding the words.

Exercise:

Try singing any song - you can even sing 'happy birthday' - by under-articulating the consonants, and then by forming consonants crisply like you're singing to the deaf. Which is the more compelling performance? Which sounds like a real message, which just an internal thought?

Breaths:

Another strategy to separate a run-on sentence is to, of course, take a breath!  But don't just take breaths when you feel you're running out, with no attention to thought completion. Separate your phrases strategically... with the purpose of delivering a message that impacts the heart being spoken to.

Example:


In this hilarious performance by Kristin Chenoweth on the Ellen show, see how she separates sentence fragments with strategic breaths. Because I advocate a sense of powering your voice from your pelvic floor, I consider this song a wisdom tune!

SEPARATE FROM YOUR INSTRUMENT

If you play an instrument, it can be difficult to master both playing and singing simultaneously. To either learn a new song or do an old one better, try separate practice!

Play

Barely sing while you focus your concentration on playing your guitar, keyboard or other instrument. Practice short sections until you memorize them and playing the song becomes automatic for your hands.

Sing

Then focus your concentration on singing only. Don't play at all, or just barely play a chord or so, but do either put your hands on your instrument or put a stick such as a back-scratcher or wooden spoon between your palms to replicate the widening of your ribcage your instrument would normally cause. Now you can focus on experimenting with phrasing, vocal licks, melody variations. And you can perfect the techniques you need to ace the difficult sections in your song. Then seal in your lyric memorization by singing the whole thing.

Do Both

After you feel confident with your playing and singing, then put them together singing and playing simultaneously. Spacing your practice should make the coming together much better- in many ways!

ALLOW SPACE WITH NO FILL


As Beyonce' knows... you don't have to fill every space with a vocal lick! In her classic hit 'Halo', she sings the melody simply for most of the song, and includes her well-executed runs strategically to build the emotion. Spaces separate thoughts, both for singing and speaking. This gives the singer time to breathe and fully set up for the next phrase(s) and gives the listener the opportunity to digest what has just been said or sung. This is one reason more people prefer the singing of Whitney Houston over Maria Carey. Lady Gaga made use of this, too in her highly praised 2016 performance of the Star-Spangled Banner. Some genres of music expect more vocal licks and runs, for sure, but even those pop & r&b songs deliver more emotional response with some space.
The runs may impress, but the spaces express.
Another way to use strategic space is to... WAIT... for the next line. In speech, we call it using a pregnant (with meaning) pause. Try laying back behind the beat just enough, delay the onset of the word (especially useful in jazz singing); you can even leave a word out to make the line feel just right. Empty or elongated space can communicate like nothing else, and then well-placed vocal licks truly embellish the message.

EMBRACE PERIODIC SILENCE

Vocal Rest

There are important times and reasons to stop sounding your voice.

Examples: 

  • to allow an over-used (even with good technique you can't go from 1 to 90 by suddenly singing much longer than you've been) or abused voice to recover. 
NOTE: Doctors don't generally suggest voice rest for as long as they used to. Now, like physical therapy, it's considered best to get the voice working again as soon as possible. Consult with your physician/laryngologist about the best length of time to go on complete voice rest, and about when it's safe to begin vocal exercise again to get your voice back.
  • to gain new fire, energy, and life for your over-performed or over-rehearsed songs.
  • to silently practice vocal technique and become more aware of body/mind/voice connections. I have a whole vocal exercise routine in my 6-disc course in "Power, Path & Performance" that is silent, mental practice.
  • to listen to the beauty, inspiration, and wisdom of other voices and songs (though if you have laryngitis, don't do that. Your larynx moves to what it hears, and sometimes your larynx needs to be still.)

Miming

To learn something vocally new, we need to listen without making a sound. It's a mistake to try and sing along immediately, thinking you are supposed to 'get it' that quickly. A great way to learn style, a new lick, anything out of our comfort zone is to immerse our ears in it. Then while listening deeply, silently move your mouth, face, soft palate, jaw and yes, vocal apparatus to imitate what you're hearing. I call this miming exercises. When you actively imagine making a sound, your ear can focus in much more detail to what it's listening to.

The Silent Inhale

Lastly, breathe in silently! You will take in a much better quality inhale, and you won't dry out your vocal cords like you do with a noisy inhale.

DISCONNECTING COMPLETELY

I'm traveling to Crossville, Tennessee with my husband as I write this. I'm getting away for an extended weekend to allow my senses to come alive and my body/mind/spirit to be refreshed. It is so important to disconnect periodically even from the things we love. Like relationships,  when we reconnect there will be a freshness, a presence, a renewed gratitude for everything we get to do together.

So go ahead: Make commas, take breaths, separate from your instrument, listen and embrace silence, and periodically take a real break! Be inspired by the vocal brilliance of Pentatonix singing 'The Sound Of Silence'...



OK I'm back from vacation now... finishing the podcast editing of this post. Let me know what you think... please consider leaving me a comment here and/or a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to the audio. That is the best way you can support me and this free vocal training I create for you. Thank you 😎 !

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