All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: April 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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Does anybody have recommendations for headset mics?

Quick tech question from my client Jenni Schaefer...

Does anybody have recommendations for specific headset mics like, or ones to avoid?

Click "comment" to respond. - and thanks!


Monday, April 28, 2008

What would I do as producer of your project?

I got a new request recently to explain what I do in my role as producer or vocal producer.

If you are a new artist and are contemplating recording a project, the following may help you know what to expect, or what questions to ask of the producer you are working with or considering.

As producer of your project:

  • I would hold a face-to-face planning consultation with you
  • I would explain the options you have and costs of different kinds of recorded projects (full tracks demo, limited pressing, master OR a smaller project like piano or guitar and vocal, etc.) Once we decided together what kind of project to do and how many songs...
  • I would help you find and choose songs that fit you.
  • I then suggest taking some voice lessons to get your voice ready and to work on the songs and keys.
  • If we are doing full band, I would have a "pre-production" meeting with you, and sometimes with the band leader, going over musician choices and production ideas.
  • I would book the band, the recording studio and engineer according to your budget and write the charts.
  • Then I would produce the tracking session. You would do "scratch tracks", singing them as the musicians play, but not trying for final vocals.
  • At this point, I recommend taking the rough tracks home and working with them for a while (a couple weeks to a couple months), and if possible, work on them at several more voice lessons. When you and I feel you are confident with them...
  • I would book the vocal sessions with the studio and any needed background vocals.
  • Then I would produce your lead vocals and background vocals.
  • Then I would have it mixed, you and I would listen to the mix, do any tweaks and ok the final mix.

My production fee would be negotiated according to the type project. Of course, it it's just piano or guitar vocal or pre-existing track, I would charge much less because the time required would also be much less. Vocal lessons would be an extra fee you would need to include in your budget. You would also need to pay separately for any graphics and duplication you want.

As vocal producer of your project:

  • I would usually work with your over-all project producer and engineer to get your best vocals. Most often I give a short vocal consultation (lesson) before we begin.
  • Sometimes, according to the producer and engineer's wishes, I help "comp" the vocal tracks on the spot.

My vocal production fee is $80 an hour. Typical length of time is one to two hours per song.

I hope this helps you plan your project, whether or not I work on it. I always love working with other producers - on the team as vocal coach, vocal producer or consultant. There are many creative solutions that can help you get the best project for your budget. If you have any questions, please click the comment link and I'll be happy to reply.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ways to mend a pesky vocal break - part 3

OK, this will be Part 3 in this series of posts on vocal breaks. If you haven't read them yet, check out Part 1 and Part 2. I'm going to wrap this subject up by letting you in on one of the core secrets of my teaching method.

Before I developed the concepts of the Power, Path & Performance, I had the worst and most un-mendable (or so I thought) vocal break I've ever heard in anyone. My brilliant Nashville vocal coach Gerald Arthur helped me get my voice back after it was damaged by an endotracheal tube (I spent some time hooked to a ventilator many years ago). I still had that pesky break, though with Gerald's help I learned to mask it well and continue on with my vocal career as a session singer, and then a recording artist. Thank you, Gerald, from my heart and soul!

Not too long after I began teaching voice I was given a book by a student who asked me to explain it to him. The author was vocal coach Jeffrey Allen of California. In his book Mr. Allen suggested holding a mental picture of a question-mark shaped path that the voice should take. That imagery opened up a whole world for me.

I began experimenting with what that path meant to me and how I could use it with my students. Long story short... this is what mends vocal breaks every day in my office:

Use your power- your compressed breath power located in your pelvic floor- to lift you into the balcony above and behind you. NOT STRAIGHT UP. You have to lift a little to the back, bending your upper spine to do so. DO NOT LIFT YOUR CHIN. This action should cause you to raise your eyebrows and look like you're about to say "I don't THINK so" very sarcastically.

Then... use the word (articulated with meaning) to PULL sound from the balcony to your audience. DO NOT MOVE YOUR HEAD FORWARD. Notice, you don't pull with your head, your neck or your jaw... you just pronounce the word and direct it to the listener.

Here is a video where I help a singer blend registers and erase her break:

In summary...Your voice should come from the pelvic floor, lift to the balcony above and behind you, then travel to the audience. This path is complicated, often frustrating when first trying to learn it, but it works. If you've been pushing your voice through your break, this will feel like learning to walk all over again. But every one of my students will tell you - it's well worth the effort. Why?
  • It causes gives you access to great breath support and control.
  • It enables vibration from your larynx to resonate in the open spaces of the nose, sinuses, pharynx, mouth, and possibly even trachea -resulting in rich tone colors and expanded range.
  • It causes the vocal cords to freely change length and width, and allows the larynx to tilt freely according to the pitch.
  • It makes your voice feel GREAT! You will have NO vocal strain.
  • erases the break. Every time, in everybody, if done correctly.
To this day, if I don't pull my voice in this path, I will find myself back with my old break. But I know how to erase the pesky thing! And I can do it any time I want! Yeah!!

Thanks to Jeffrey Allen for graciously allowing me to use his imagery in my method. You can find his book "Secrets Of Singing" at . And of course, you can find my PPP cds at .


Friday, April 18, 2008

Loosening a tight jaw: two specific tips

I wanted to add this information today for Nav's benefit - Two specific tips for loosening the jaw:

1. Let the jaw open like a monkey wrench, not like pliers. Put your knuckle between your molars on one side and try to sing like that until the jaw loosens.

2. Let the jaw move SLOWLY and SLIGHTLY to the side while singing "ee" and "oo" vowels to loosen the lockdown.


Ways to mend a pesky vocal break - part 2

This is a continuation of my post series on the subject of vocal breaks. I had a great question emailed (thanks, Nav!) to me today about the jaw's function in singing. Oddly enough, incorrect jaw actions are among the things that will cause and/or exacerbate a vocal break.
Vocal register breaks, as indicated in my previous post, are caused and made worse by whatever interferes with allowing changes in length, tension and mass of the vocal cords as the singer moves through different pitches. Top 5 causes I see...
  1. Locking the jaw
  2. Tightening the base of the tongue (which goes along with locking the jaw)
  3. Freezing the spinal position
  4. Tensing shoulders
  5. Numb facial expression or eye movement
  6. Choosing to sing or talk too high or too low, causing chronic tension and strain.
Why do we do these vocally dysfunctional things? Top 4 reasons I see:
  1. To try to keep the voice FROM breaking (unaware that guarding and over-controlling to try and eliminate the problem inadvertently makes it worse)
  2. To try and hit notes that are difficult (again, a bit of a catch-22)
  3. Because of some erroneous vocal training that says to keep the jaw or any of the other body parts I just mentioned perfectly still, (Run, don't walk, from this kind of teaching)
  4. Bad habit - talking too low (constantly "hitting gravel"), trying to sing in keys that are too high or low for the current capabilities of the voice, not realizing the locking up this is causing.
What can we do to change our habits?
  1. First become aware of what you are actually doing. Watch yourself perform a song in front of a mirror. Do you see any of those actions I just listed?
  2. Record yourself talking. Do you hear tension, monotone, gravel, lack of breath? Try talking with much more animation and "life" and record it again until your body, spine, face, tongue, jaw are loose and flexible.
  3. Do corrective wall and mirror work. In front of a mirror, stand with your back against the wall... back of the head and heel against the wall. Now slowly try to loosen those areas I named on purpose - while you are watching. Notice the effects.
  4. Out of the pressure of public performance, privately practice doing things a different way. At first it may get worse before it gets better - like it would be if we were learning to walk with a different stride. Relax, relax, relax and trust the process.
  5. If you have my vocal training course, just listen over and over to the first two Cd's to let the insights sink in.
Comments are always welcome as you try my suggestions. Next post "Ways to Mend a Pesky Vocal Break - part 3", I'll give amazingly effective tips to open the throat channel at the break point. We'll talk the correct vocal "Path", and I'll give you a video of me working with a student on her break!


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ways to mend a pesky vocal break - part 1

Pesky, dreaded, dratted vocal breaks. At one point, I had one of the worst. Here is the problem as defined by Wikipedea,

...The frequency of vibration of the vocal folds is determined by their length,
tension, and mass. As pitch rises, the
vocal folds are lengthened, tension increases, and their thickness decreases. In other words, all three of these factors are in a state of flux in the transition from the lowest to the highest tones.
If a singer holds any of these factors constant and interferes with their progressive state of change, his
laryngeal function tends to become static and
eventually breaks occur, with obvious changes of tone quality.
break are often identified as register boundaries or as transition areas between
registers. The distinct change or break between registers is called a
passaggio or a ponticello.

Vocal pedagogists teach that with study a singer can move effortlessly from one register to the other with ease and consistent tone. [Judy says, absolutely!] Registers can even overlap while singing. Teachers who like to use this theory of "blending registers" usually help students through the "passage" from one register to another by hiding their "lift" (where the voice changes). However, many pedagogists disagree with this distinction of boundaries blaming such breaks on vocal problems which have been created by a static laryngeal adjustment that does not permit the necessary changes to take place...
Symantics aside, however you define vocal registers, boundaries and breaks, the important thing is how to blend your voice to get rid of the cracks. Added bonus... eliminating vocal breaks also adds to the tone quality of the voice through out the whole range, helps to relax the voice into a fuller range and adds to vocal control.

I have been able both to get rid of my own vocal break and to help every student I've worked with eliminate theirs with the teachings of Power, Path & Performance personal lessons and cd course. That's how I know it works.

Now check out the next 2 posts in this series:
     2. Ways to mend a pesky vocal break - part 2
     3. Ways to mend a pesky vocal break - part 3


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pop Quiz... Got vocal issues?

It's time for me to do an inventory on my focus in this blog. It takes time to write each post and time for you to read it. To keep it worth our time, I'd like to increase its usefulness to you. And I'd like to ask you to take a few moments of your time to help me get you the information you need and want.

If you could ask your most urgent, puzzling, frustrating or curious question about anything relating to the voice (fitting for a subject to explore on "All Things Vocal") what would it be? Got multiple vocal issues or questions? List as many as you can.

To begin your thinking process, look at these random vocal issues and let me know which one(s) you'd like to see me add to "our" grand list (if you want, tell me what you're NOT interested in as well):
  1. You have uncontrolled, excessive or missing vibrato issues.
  2. You consistently sing either sharp or flat.
  3. You want to know how to make money with your voice.
  4. You need info about your speaking voice.
  5. Your voice is tired and strained.
  6. Your voice is thin, weak, lifeless, nasal or edgy.
  7. You want to increase your range.
  8. You have some strange, mysterious problem that occurs when you speak or sing.
  9. You don't know what style you should sing.
  10. You have a frustrating vocal break.
  11. You feel numb or fake in performance.
  12. You can't get the magic in your studio vocals that you get in live performance.
  13. You want to know how to correctly sing and play an instrument simultaneously.
  14. You want to know how to choose great vocal training.
  15. You want to protect yourself from getting ripped off in the music business.
  16. You want to learn and keep up with how the music business news.
  17. You'd like to learn how use breath more efficiently when speaking or singing.
  18. You want to learn to read music or the Nashville number system.
  19. You want to know how to fire up your creativity.
  20. You want to know what "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training can do for you.
  21. You are interested in ideas to keep the voice healthy.
  22. You want to know how to co-write.
OK... your turn... just click the comment link at the bottom of this post and list numbers of issues of interest to you. Then add your own. And thank you for joining the conversation!

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Jingle singing

I got a recent comment on this blog asking me to talk about jingle singing. Thanks very much for the comment and here goes...

What's the difference between jingle singing and session singing? Jingle singers are a sub-field of session singers, which is just an abbreviated term for "recording session singers". Session singers includes background singers for recordings, demo singing for songwriters, duet, solo and group singing for all kinds of media projects, and for which a singer is paid a set fee or residual schedule.

The niche of jingle singer has been drying up for many years. In times gone by, every product on the market had its own jingle... usually with a memorable melody AND lyric (which meant it had to be sung). Now there are few signature jingles you see on TV, and those that are on TV are often just instrumental. Nevertheless, jingles are still sung, and a whole lot of money is still made from them in residual income. There are local, regional and national jingles. $12,000 and more from a single 13 week run of a national spot is not uncommon.

On the subject of payments... Joining the singer's union SAG-AFTRA assures that you get these fees. Though at first it makes sense to get experience doing non-union work, but I non-union ('off the card') commercial work offers much less pay, and gives no protection that the payments will be made.

What are the requirements of a jingle singer?
  1. First requirement of a jingle singer is that they be able to sing the jingle. Sometimes recording artists are chosen to sing a particular jingle that fits their voice, but true career jingle singers are "stunt singers". They never know what vocal chore they will have to accomplish before they get to the studio, so they have to be vocally ready for just about anything that could be asked of them.
  2. The second requirement of a jingle singer is that they have a great professional attitude. There is no one who is good enough to be a personality problem or a diva and have a session singing career. This attitude needs to include habits like showing up prepared to sing... on time, every time. Banter should be pleasant and friendly but should also be limited and respectful of the fact that the client is paying for studio time! The attitude also should include respect for the fellow session singer. Word gets around! Also, the singer has to be willing to change (sometimes every other take) the way they are singing. The client is always right, even when they are wrong (or have control problems, or just don't know what they want).
A list of things a jingle singer needs to be prepared to do:
  • read music - but sometimes to wing it (head chart)
  • sing any part assigned to them
  • sound a lot like a particular hit artist that would cost the advertisers too much to hire
  • sound authentic within a particular musical genre (i.e. be able to sound country, pop, r&b, jazz, or alternative)
  • blend with other singers like butter
  • have the extreme vocal control to be completely together in sync with other singers (follow the group leader's decisions about phrasing, tone color, cut-offs, glottal starts for vowels)
  • clearly articulate the lyrics (the advertising message)
  • have total control of pitch... able to lift or drop a pitch if necessary by a degree of a step.
If you think this takes training... drum roll.... YOU'RE RIGHT! Seek out a professional vocal coach who trains session singers and also do as much singing with other session singers as you possibly can. If you can get in to watch session singers work, do so with every opportunity. This is a specialty skill, and the best session singers perfect their craft carefully for years.

You must also have a "jingle reel". It's a bit like "which came first, the chicken or the egg", but you must have your voice recorded on 6 to 8 jingles recorded and have the snippets professionally edited together. Try to include as many different styles as you are comfortable singing. You can ask around or do a Google search for studios or engineers who do this; I don't want to recommend a particular company. I will tell you it needs to sound great and stand out from the crowd of jingle reels.

Then you have to do the researching and networking required to get the cd listened to. Search out jingle companies in your area; also find singers who do this work. Problem: many times jingle companies have in-house singers (who are sometimes the producers themselves) and really only need soloists. That's OK, submit the reel with some of your solos.

The jingle singing field has always been lucrative. That's why people go to the trouble to train for it. If you are truly good at hearing parts, at reading music, and at blending your voice, try to do some recording with a group and see if you think this kind of singing could be a fit for you. If you are a jingle or session singer, watch over your instrument. Stunt singing is a demanding business. If you:

  • experience strain or vocal fatigue
  • want to expand your vocal abilities
  • want to get some protective vocal warm-ups

  • ... I can help you. My 'Power, Path and Performance' vocal training method in personal lessons and on disc is most of all a practical, real-world solution to vocal goals, and a jingle singer's voice is more than worth the investment. Contact me today.

    Saturday, April 5, 2008

    Chronic breathiness or hoarseness? Suspect vocal damage!

    I was eating lunch when my one of my new students' mother called. "Hello", I said. "Well, you were right", she said. Sadly, I had guessed I would be right. It wasn't the first time I'd correctly suspected vocal damage.

    She had taken her little actress daughter to the doctor after my suggestion at her last voice lesson to get her vocal cords inspected. Her doctor found lesions on both vocal cords. He told them she should not talk for a week and that it will be a long, long time before she should attempt to sing. She had been scheduled to audition for two productions... one a movie... and it's all on hold for now.

    I knew something was wrong because I had way too much trouble getting this little girl to be able to sing in her head voice. When I did gently coax a head tone out of her, nothing I suggested could help her sing very far up the scale, and those notes were very breathy. She tried her best to follow my directions, but she could not focus her spread tone into a healthy, clear, bell-like sound. The breathiness in both her chest and head voices and her limited range cautioned me to stop the vocal training until she could get checked out. And thank God her mother took the initiative and the discovery of vocal injury was made.

    Anything which keeps your vocal cords from closing properly, such as a bump of tissue caused by injury, swelling, any kind of lesion or other obstruction, will cause problems such as breathiness, hoarseness, fatigue, vocal cracks and other limitations in your speaking and singing voice such as an inability to sing in head voice. Fortunately, these symptoms are a cry for help... which needs to be heeded.

    It is imperative to get a correct diagnosis as to the type of vocal lesion present, because some injuries respond quite well to rest and corrective vocal training, and some require surgery. And sometimes the lesion is malignant. Don't fool around with chronic breathiness or hoarseness. Get to the bottom of the problem. For a "symptom tree", see: . If you suspect a problem, make an appointment with a doctor who can inspect your cords and who knows about singers' voices (get references).

    You can actually click a link and hear examples of some types of vocal damage at: .

    Here's a wake up... you can cause your vocal cords to hemorrhage (bleed) from just ONE episode of traumatic vocal abuse. A jingle singer I worked with in Memphis named Janie Fricke was diagnosed with this many years ago. Good news... with rest, she did fully recover - and she became a highly lauded country singer with a major hit career. I myself had vocal damage from the insertion of an endotracheal tube (I was on a ventilator for a while many years ago). With the help of my vocal teacher Gerald Arthur, I fully recovered and then went on to my own career at MTM records.

    This mother had been told for years that her daughter's breathy sound was natural for her... that there was "nothing wrong - that's just the way her voice sounds". Therefore, her daughter has been re-injuring her vocal cords constantly. Hopefully, this talented and precious little girl's voice will mend with time. When her injury sufficiently heals, she will need vocal training to fully recover.

    Read into this post your own cautionary tale. Sometimes you may wish to make a breathy sound for a momentary "effect", but don't fool around with chronic breathiness that you can't focus into clear tone. If you think you have a problem, get checked out with a good voice teacher and/or a doctor who specializes in voices.

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