Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: February 2009

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!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Singing In Color vs Black & White

I have heard many technically amazing singers who wonder why they don't have record deals or much of a devoted following. Very often, it's because they are singing in black & white instead of color. It makes me sad to hear a technically great vocalist who leaves me numb, and I fear has wasted a lot of energy, time and money. What do I mean?

Black and white singing:
  • This is caused by the lack of an authentically communicative face and body language. The eyes are usually rather numb, body language closed off.
  • This singer sings everything with the same tone of voice. It can be beautiful, strong, technically flawless but without subtlety of tone, it's just sound with no meaning. This voice may have dynamic changes but they are predictable, not nuanced and fresh. Listening to it you get the feeling that the singer is not present with anything other than the technical aspects of their voice. The connection from the singer and the song to the audience is weak or altogether missing.
  • This type of singing is common in amateur singers who don't have much live experience with an audience. They don't yet know how to truly connect with people listening to them, thinking their job is to amaze the audience, judges, industry with their vocal ability to hit high notes, long notes, strong notes. And/or they have stage fright issues, fearing any contact they could make with the audience.
  • Friends and family may attend concerts and buy CDs, the singer may have a small following but the emotional response will not be much. If they continue a black & white approach, the singer usually moves on to other things in life- not to a sustained music career.
Color singing:
  • This is singing with varying degrees of vocal tone and inflection, as is authentic and appropriate for the meaning of the lyric.
  • This singer communicates with eyes, face, hands, body language. They are holistically committed t0 delivering message. Dynamics are sometimes surprising, full of power but also infinitely controlled. There are subtle nuances everywhere, but no "over-acting". The listener gets the feeling the singer is singing directly to them.
  • This is the sound of the true artist. The goal of such sounds are to cause someone to understand a message, in such a way that they respond with emotion.
  • People will... 1. pay money for... 2. develop a loyalty to and ... 3. tell others about the experience of being moved in this way. Sometimes this devoted audience is a small niche market, sometimes a mega-market, but there is emotional satisfaction for artist and audience, and if wisely planned and monitored, a financially sustainable career.
Can singing in color be learned? You bet it can! Just like actors can be trained to go deeper into character, artistic singing can be be studied and learned until it is second nature. Some people get it easier than others, but then the question becomes, "how bad do you want it?" Real singing is not for the squeamish. You must commit, heart and soul ... to color!

So have you heard a black & white or color singer somewhere lately? How did that performance hit you?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vocal Training: Reasons Not To Do It

There are many reasons people choose not to take vocal lessons. In the spirit of good-faith debate, I'd like to offer my rebuttals for some of these reasons I've encountered.
It costs too much and I'd rather use the money to hire another musician/mixer/soundman/get hair extensions.
I would suggest the prime definition of 'The Music Business' as the selling of sound - more accurately: the selling of messages delivered by sound.

We put time, money and effort into care of our musical instruments, computer software, mixing engineers, cranky musicians, managers, attorneys and bus drivers. But the care and feeding of the voice is many times the last on the list.

So... we stay all night up overdubbing studio musicians, rehearsing for our show or hanging out with people after our gig, and at the last minute a nagging thought occurs to us that we should really get some sleep since we've scheduled lead vocals for 10am the next morning...

Then we'll get up too late to eat breakfast so we eat vending machine food and drink cokes for the energy we lack.

When we put together our musical project budget we do not factor in pre-production vocal lessons or a vocal producer, and we book as little studio time as possible to record our vocals (hey, most songs are less than 5 minutes long anyway, how long could it take?!)

We look great but the only vocal contest we could win would be something like the spot on Can You Duet where they needed something truly horrible for viewers to gasp at.

Clearly we need to examine our financial priorities. If you have a vocal career, your voice is your MAIN ASSET.
It would take too much time to make a real difference.
The truth is, with a great coach, ONE HOUR-LONG LESSON can change your life.

If you can't take the time to come in for lessons because of traveling distance, work or family situations, you can train by vocal training materials available such as my Power, Path & Performance CDs. Even if you never take a lesson, by studying the right materials you can radically improve your vocal abilities. You can also take lessons by phone.
It will change my natural style.
From Willie to Andrea, Colby to Carrie, Sting to Stevie, Bonnie to Allison, vocal training should only enhance natural sound and enable your best performance within your chosen style. With the right training...

The sound of your voice is more resonant, highs and lows not weak, strained or hollow, musically multidimensional and dynamic rather than sterile, numb, with everything sung in one color (even if it's a powerful color) eliciting no emotion. This, I believe is a reason American Idol winners seldom go on to any lasting, artistic success.

Your voice also records way better without having to be unduly compressed.

As to your Style: licks and embellishments are more fluid, precise and easy (and actually possible!), ceiling and floor: highs are not strained, lows are not hollow. You voice doesn't crack unless you're yodeling on purpose.

You should not be able to hear 'vocal training' in a performance... only an emotionally connecting delivery of the material. When a voice is straining, the audience experiences the strain. When you are thin, weak, harsh, tight, hooty, your 'natural voice' has unnatural and unnecessary limitations.
If people find out, they will think I have vocal problems.
To protect their investment, I know it's been the policy of some major labels to have new artists get their cords scoped at medical facilities specializing in voice, such as the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic in Nashville, before they will sign them. They consider vocal study evidence of the seriousness of the artist towards their craft.

I get clients from referrals of industry insiders all the time. The 'anti' has been 'upped' as to the general vocal quality required for true commercial success. Vocal training is now the norm instead of the exception for professional working voices. My students are proud of their dedication and have talked about their vocal training in public on many occasions. It's not something to hide under a rock any more.
My producer/friend doesn't think I need a vocal coach.
Most people have no idea how much better a voice can be with training. Vocal ability can be increased dramatically, vocal 'issues' like pitch, tone, control, range, volume, etc. can be dealt with successfully. Hearing the resulting final vocals can truly convert the cynical.

There is also the matter of protecting your most important musical asset from harm!

Have you ever heard of a singer losing his or her career because they lost their voice? One of my student's producers once told him at a frustrating vocal session that he didn't think the artist's voice would ever come back. Now there's a real boost to the confidence! This producer should have sent the artist directly to the best vocal coach he could find. Another young girl's handlers told her mother that her husky young voice was just 'natural for her'! I sent her to Vanderbilt Voice Clinic where she was put on voice rest for a month and told not to sing for a year.

It doesn't take long for the beginnings of damage to occur. This is sobering: you can get the first signs of nodes from just 20 minutes of screaming. The sooner vocal damage is discovered and dealt with, the more likely it can be healed with corrective vocal training instead of surgery or extended, career-interrupting voice rest.

Surprising to almost everyone, with correct vocal training, a voice NEVER has to become strained, baring laryngitis caused by a respiratory infection.

Many times an artist who has done a lot of live performance needs help getting the magic of their live vocals into their studio vocals. It's easy to hit the talk-back button in the control room and tell a singer "give it more passion on this pass", "you're out of tune", "your voice is sounding thin and weak", "I don't believe you yet", etc. The poor singer can be left emotionally, physically and vocally exhausted and experience a loss of confidence. An in-studio vocal coach, also called a vocal producer or consultant, can help even a modestly talented singer get amazingly effective vocals in the studio... and can help a great vocalist maximize studio vocals for commercial hit potential.

If you truly can't afford a vocal producer or consultant, or if your producer's ego would be crushed, at least grab a lesson or two before you go into the studio.
I'm just a songwriter... or I've already screwed my voice up to badly... or I'm too old to learn new tricks.
When your vocal ability increases, you write better songs. The melodies are more interesting, you can focus on better lyrics because it feels good to sing.

As to veteran singers learning something new... I'd already been singing professionally for about 13 years. I got sick and lost 1 & 1/2 octaves. Re-training my voice with Italian Art Songs and then pro coach Gerald Arthur, I got it all back and then some, and then I went on to have a hit career as a recording artist.
I don't want to sing. I'm a speaker/actor/teacher/preacher/teleseminar host, not a singer.
You're using the same voice people sing with!

If you experience vocal fatigue after speaking you need to know that a little vocal training could really help. I've worked with public speakers, preachers, acting coaches and teachers who talk all day... now they never feel strain.
I'm as good vocally as I want or need to be in my life, and I'm not experiencing any strain that bothers me.
I have none. This is the only legitimate reason I can think of!

What are YOUR reasons?

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Laryngitis scare: How to get your voice back - UPDATED

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
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There's a condition in every singer's life when the scare sets in... it's called "Laryngitis". You feel it coming on... the dreaded bug that causes your vocal cords to swell...you lose your voice... then you get "well" but when you try to sing it's like you can't get it back! AAAAHHHH!!!! What can you do???

Here is my experience with successfully getting the voice back from laryngitis:

First... some things to do while your larynx is red and inflamed:
  • Voice rest (partial or complete)is very wise. When you must speak, don't whisper, which will cause more dehydration of your vocal cords. Instead, use clear bell-like tones. Better yet, write what you want to say on a pad. Silence is golden. 
  • Use a humidifier. If you use a warm one, you can put it right up to your face. If you use a cold air one, you must be careful NOT to aim it at your face or sleep with the door closed (think about how leaving a window open with cold night air would leave you sounding).
  • Drink copious amounts of water and watery drinks such as hot herbal teas like sage, ginger & lemon tea, the Master Tonic, lemon-honey-ceyenne pepper-in-water, dilute pineapple juice.
  • For a bad cough, try homemade honey & onion cough syrup. The last time I came down with viral laryngitis with terrible dry hacking cough, my mother reminded me of this from my childhood. It worked better to quell the coughing fits than anything else I tried! Caution: don't make it with honey for very young children. Use sugar instead.
Then, after the active infection causing the swelling is gone, and it doesn't hurt to talk:
  • Slowly and carefully do some vocal exercises to pump the interstitial fluid out of the tissues. [NOTE: Look at the bottom of this post for a free download of vocal recovery exercises I've added to this updated post. You are most welcome:)] 
  • Some of the exercises you'll find helpful: Lip trills, bubbles, siren sounds, easy scales... start in the middle of your range and work outward. Slowly expand, but DO NOT stretch your range where it hurts! As the swelling goes down, the voice comes back, and more vigorous vocalizing and stretching can be used to build back the strength and flexibility of the instrument. Be careful to avoid over-lifting the larynx for high notes.
  • When healing after a bad case of laryngitis, it's common to become "guarded" when using the recently wounded voice. Tension invariably and counterproductively builds as a singer tries to protect the cords. This is why it might be a good idea for you to see a trusted vocal coach in person, because you probably don't even realize the tension you could be holding in neck, shoulders, jaw, etc. Of course, if the laryngitis is not from a virus but from mis-use of your voice, a vocal coach is definitely the right way to go.
  • When you first begin vocalizing after healing, you might find yourself with a feeling of light hoarseness I call "the helium effect". In my experience, AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT APPLYING TOO MUCH PRESSURE AT YOUR THROAT, this effect goes away after about 3 or 4 days. It's important that this effect not be because you are applying incorrect breath pressure or having your throat channel tight or constricted. NOTE: this "helium effect" is not a feeling of throat strain. It's just that you temporarily lose a bit of your low end.
  • To help you balance breath support and breath control, and to help you open your throat, I recommend "wall work". Stand with your back to the wall, head and heel against the wall. Keeping your chin flexibly level and putting your hands up about chest level so they aren't ribcage anchors, sing an easy song. Squeeze your butt for power so as to cause your chest to expand.
Very important: If your laryngitis does not go away after a reasonable period of time and of proper vocal exercises, see a doctor. Chronic laryngitis can be a sign of cancer or of vocal polyps, nodes, etc. Not something to mess with.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Quick heads up... Indie Connect, JessAlicia showcase

Just a quick reminder for anyone wanting to attend either on of the two events I'm in today:

The "Indie Connect" networking meeting is at 11:30am - 1:00pm, at Corky's BBQ in Brentwood, Tn.

Then the 30 minute JessAlicia showcase will be at 6:00pm, 12th & Porter, Nashville. Public is invited. I'll be playing mandolin and keys. Check out the two girls who are "JessAlicia" here: http://profile.myspace.com/jessaalicia . I have to say, they are incredible. My son Peter (the photojournalist major) will be snapping shots at the gig. Great fun will be had by all.

See ya maybe!