All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: January 2011

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!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Music Makers in the Changing Music Business

There is a lot of fear these days in the halls of music business companies that once looked as permanent as the Sphinxes of Egypt. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is subject to change. So what does that mean for the music makers (artists, session singers, musicians, arrangers, producers, songwriters, studios and studio engineers, etc.)?

I was just having this discussion with master session bass player Mike Chapman this week. Here are some things that came out of that chat as well as discussions I've had with others trying to make sense of this wild-wild-west of an industry right now.
  • Music will continue to be made. Where, how and with whom will change, but people's listening ears will always want and need music.  
  • Free and pirated music is here and will stay problematic. However, music that an artist or label gives away always has a promotional purpose. According to a promotional plan, free music is used to create other income streams such as ticket sales and merchandise as well as to introduce the artist to larger fanbases who end up actually buying music.Therefore, music makers will still be hired and music will still get made.
  • Session work from big publishing houses has fallen off. Musicians can no longer depend on most of their work coming from major publishers which have become vulnerable to inefficient business models.
  • Major writers may find themselves with more indie cuts and less major windfall radio singles that play for years. New alliances and networking is vital; some of the old contacts are going out of business.
  • Many music makers will need to have side businesses, day jobs or other multiple income streams. This does not mean, however, that they have to give up on music. They just have to consider fresh horses and re-think lifestyles and strategies.
  • The cautious, safe (boring) music making of recent years needs to become braver, more creative, authentically passionate and experimental. Indie music and niche markets are becoming the new 'major'.
I see the future of our business as bright for several reasons; a big one is that I believe we are moving from a market model of competition, bottlenecks and scarcity of top-40 radio play slots to an industry based on community, sharing of resources and an explosion of distribution possibilities. One of the best things that has happened to music is a growing national organization called "Indie Connect", founded by Vinny Ribas. Local musician social websites like "Nashville Music Pros", founded by Bret Teegarden, are great places to stay abreast of changes and share resources.

What we must do is stay willing to learn, embrace instead of moan about change and make the most creative music of our lives. Not a bad thing to look forward to, imho.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

When your music backup is... not

 Producer/Engineer Ronny Light doing the other creative thing he loves

From Judy: 
I don't know about you, folks, but my voice and my music (not to mention press photos, videos, schedule, so much more) are located in files on my computer that I don't want to lose. (Understatement!) So face it; all of us singers and speakers need to know how to back up our computer files safely. Go into any store or website with computer, music or office gear and you can generally find all too many options for backing up. How do we choose?

Safe backup is the focus of my guest blogger's post today. Ronny Light is known to many of us as the angel tech guru from heaven when we need him. Many thanks to
him for allowing me to share with you his warning and advice about backing up.

From Ronny Light:

Thou shalt know thy backup...

   …but not trust it.

I’ve run into a lot of backup issues in the last year and heard backup problems from people you would think would be on top of a backup strategy. Here are a few stories.

Leo Laporte has the top tech podcast in the world and has been answering questions about computer issues, including backup plans, for decades.  Leo had a RAID 1 backup (Redundant Array of Independent Discs) that copied data to different drives.  If one drive failed, the data could be recovered from a duplicate drive.  When a drive did fail, Leo, of all people, discovered his RAID 1 backup system hadn’t been working for months.

A friend in Nashville had a RAID 1 backup system.  He discovered, before a disaster happened, fortunately, that his RAID 1 system hadn’t worked in months.

A friend used the highly respected Retrospect software to backup.  At some point, they found the software hadn’t backed up in months.
A friend bought two new HP computers with external HP hard drives that were advertised to backup “all the files on the computer”.  Not so.  The software that came with the external HP backup failed to back up a number files, including .exe files.  The software didn’t backup entire hard drives or folders, just file types, and .exe files and others were not included in the backup.  I don’t know about you but, if a backup system is supposed to backup all the files, I expect it to backup all the files    

What’s equally bad is how the backup program handled its job.  When you backup, you have a source drive (the drive with the original data) and a target drive (the drive the data is being backed up to).  With this backup software, if you remove a file, by accident or on purpose, from the target drive, you’d think the next run of the software would see the file was missing from the target drive and replace it.  It doesn’t.    

My friend’s second HP computer, one I didn’t look at, was later found not to be backing up at all.   

A friend used Microsoft’s free SyncToy to backup his computer.  I tested the software and found it had the same problem as the HP software- remove or damage a file on the target drive and the next run of the software wouldn’t replace the file.  It already backed it up once; isn’t that enough?
One friend trusted Carbonite as their only backup; another friend just started using it as an off-site backup.  Those people need to listen to the attached MP3 of a call to Leo Laporte’s The Tech Guy.  How embarrassing for Leo that Carbonite is one of his sponsors and he repeatedly tells listeners it is practically failsafe.  It isn’t.  By the way, I do believe in off-site backups but not as the only backup.  Carbonite was the only backup for the person who called The Tech Guy.  

What do all of the backup systems above have in common?  They are all quick, automatic and require no action or monitoring from the user or an IT.  Most people trust the systems and never check to see if they’re really doing their job.  And they have all failed for friends and high profile tech people in the last year.  The worst time to find your backup system wasn’t working is after a crash.   

I tested about a dozen different backup systems and use ViceVersa Pro.  It’s a $60 program that can be run on a couple of computers. 

ViceVersa Pro can do several types of backups but I only use one: Mirror Image.  It makes the target drive or folder(s) the same as the source drive.  The backup software never changes the source drive.  If a file on the target drive gets damaged or is removed, the backup sees the change and replaces the file.   

When you run a ViceVersa Pro Mirror Image backup, the software first scans the source drive and the target drive to see what has changed on each drive.  That scan can take a couple of minutes or more, depending on the size of the hard drive or folder(s).  Files can be compared by file name, date and time of last change, and file size.
The downside, if you’re lazy, is that you have to be an active participant in backing up your data.  You decide when the backup runs.  You have to say yes or no to a few simple steps along the way.  It doesn’t automatically backup, or fail to backup, at 7 pm.    

The upside is, this is not an encryped or incremental backup.  If you have an encryped backup, you don’t really know if all your files are there until you have a crash and try to recover from the backup.  With a Mirror Image backup, you can look at the source hard drive or folder(s) and see the same files in the target hard drive or folder(s).  You can compare the number of files in the source and target and you can compare the size of the source and target drives.

How long does it take to do a ViceVersa Pro backup?  I typically record 1 to 24 tracks of huge audio files for three hours at a time.  When we break for lunch, I backup everything I recorded for the last three hours.  Backups happen before my clients can get ready to leave for lunch and they never know that their three-hour session is already safely backed up.  At the end of every day, I backup again.    

You’ll only lose the data you didn’t backup or the data you thought was backed up but wasn’t.     

 PS... folks, heading Ronny's advice, I use ViseVersaPro and love it... and I run Carbonite, too. I figure it can't hurt to have two completely different methods of backup. What about you? - Judy

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Audition alert: On The Spot

Hi all... here's a contest opportunity of which I've been made aware. Enter at your own psychological risk, but if you think it might serve good purposes somehow, here's the info from On The Spot coordinator Rebecca Dawahare:


I spoke with you on the  phone and I am writing to let you know about a great opportunity for all unsigned artists between the ages of 16 and 30.  I am a co-producer working on behalf of the Jonas Group (Jonas Brothers' Management
Company) and Johnny Wright (legendary manager for artists such as Justin Timberlake, the Jonas Brothers, Britney Spears, N'Sync, and many more) to help promote a global talent search called "On the Spot."  The ultimate goal of this talent search is to find and form the next supergroup.  Even if students had not pictured themselves in the next super group, this is still a golden opportunity to perform for one of the greatest managers in the music industry.

Here are the few, easy steps to audition:

2) Choose one of 10 previously selected songs to sing/play and make a video of yourself performing that song

3) Upload your video to the competition website

4) Promote yourself and get as many votes as you can!

There are only 9 days left to audition so I would love it if you could help spread the word!

Rebecca Dawahare

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Friday, January 14, 2011

What To Eat Before You Sing

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

What you eat before you sing can make all the difference to your performance. It can be confusing to know that many people can eat chips, drink pepsi or coke, even eat ice cream right at the mic and seem to suffer none of the vocal complaints that lay many others low.  Yet voice scientists, doctors and vocal coaches frequently give long lists of things that you should never do if you want your voice to be healthy. Some people become afraid - almost superstitions- that eating anything before singing will sabotage their performance, and then they don't have enough energy to power and control their voice. Let me see if I can offer some balance here... for stage or studio.

First of all, it's helpful to understand the following truths:
  • The voice is part of the human body, and as such is affected by what you take into the body. While some 'get away' with bad fuel for a time, good fuel is ALWAYS better for long term physical and vocal health, and bad fuel is ALWAYS detrimental -- even if you don't notice it till years later. 
  • People are different. They have individual metabolisms and health conditions, and some foods and drinks are nutritious for some, while for others the very same food and drink is poison. Some people take much longer than others to digest food, too... and that affects the time it should be eaten before singing. If you can't digest something or you are allergic to it, it doesn't matter how 'good' the food is- it still turns into poison in your system, cluttering up your body and your throat and stealing energy that could be used for... yes... singing!
 That said, here are some almost universally helpful things you can eat and drink (again if you are not allergic to them or have trouble digesting them).
  • Hydrate. 
There's no way to overstate the need to get h2o into your body. You need to be getting water in well before you sing, and have some on stage, because moisture is lost from active vocal cords from air moving through the vibrating edges. During performance, I find that a little pineapple juice diluted with lots of water helps with vocal dryness better than the sprays, lozenges and gargles some people recommend.
  • Eat a light, compact protein. 
 This can be fish (my fav is salmon), avocado, raw nuts (if they don't stick in your throat), even eggs (if they don't cause excess mucous formation). Experiment on days you don't sing and keep a journal as to what seems to coat your throat too much and what just makes you feel energetic.

A great vegetarian protein meal combines grains and legumes, such as rice, cornbread or whole grain bread and beans or peas.  Hummus contains beans and grains, and is an excellent, quick choice when teamed up with some veggie sticks.

Another very good way to get protein in is a fruit smoothie, best in the morning for those with sluggish digestive systems like mine. I don't digest fruit well later in the day, so I start my day with a blender full of frozen fruit plus a protein supplement like "Rice Protein" or a whey or soy or green pea-based product. I add a little juice and water or ice for good consistency, and various other nutritional supplements. Find out what works for you!
  • Eat  fresh and lightly cooked vegetables. 
That would mean salads, simple sides, crudites (raw veggie sticks) rock. I love to eat a pre-performance meal of sweet potatoes, salad and a side non-starchy green like asparagus, broccoli, green peas or green beans, often adding one of the proteins I mentioned above.
  • Don't eat or drink heavy, drying or poisonous stuff!
This would include saucy, complicated meals that make your stomach say 'What Is That?". KISS (keep it simple, silly). Don't drink a lot of caffeine (how much is too much? sometimes any at all will hurt you... know yourself and how your voice reacts).
Don't drink black tea (it makes your throat feel dry). And it should go without saying, but I'm saying... don't drink alcohol or take drugs thinking they will help relax or energize you. You will lose some degree of vocal control - and then there's those pesky long term life & death consequences!
  • Don't eat too much too close to performance.
This can interfere with your breathing and your energy, which will be diverted to digesting your food. You need fuel...with time to process it into energy. How much time before performance? Experiment in rehearsal to know. Typically it's a good idea to eat a full meal an hour before singing, but in practical situations you can have a small snack just before if you haven't eaten... and the snack doesn't irritate or clutter your throat.

OK, but what if you're in a hurry to get to the gig?

Here's a tip: Make a list of meals based on the above tips that you can easily and quickly make or get at a restaurant before your performance. Keep it handy to reference on performance days (or any other busy days you want to be healthy!)

My pre-performance meal list includes:
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Salmon salad
  • Simple turkey sandwich
  • Fresh, raw slices of avocado, orange, pineapple and fresh nuts
  • Oatmeal with banana, pomegranate seeds, grapes and fresh nuts (I make my oatmeal with rice milk)
My favorite artist eats potato chips before singing.. can I do that?

Some people swear that eating chips coated with salt and oil make their throats feel good. Some people can drink a beer during performance without any obvious problem. I used to eat ice cream between sets when I was a young singer in a Memphis cover band. A girl I used to do a lot of background singing with could just look at me eating popcorn or nuts between takes and have her throat seize up! And then there are singers who smoke, and singers for whom secondhand smoke send their voices into spasms like chain smokers! To repeat what I said at the beginning, people are different. Our tolerances and physical health status is different. I would offer three thoughts about weird things people eat or drink before and while singing:
  1. Find out for yourself in rehearsal how something affects you. Don't trust eating or drinking the unknown at a performance.
  2. Just because you get by with something not good for you for a while doesn't mean you can continue. 
  3. Be considerate of others.  If what you are doing seems to cause indirect vocal problems in someone else, refrain from doing it at that gig.
Eat for the Long Run

For singers and speakers, your body is your instrument. If you'd like to know how to eat for the long run, not just a gig, find out what specific foods act as “medicine” in your body or as “poison”. 
  • Consider meeting with a nutritionist or naturopath to receive the appropriate tests. Sometimes you don’t know how good you COULD feel, until you’ve made those key changes in your diet. 
  • For more nutritional suggestions, sign up for my newsletter and get my 5 page report on "Vocal Health". 

What about you? Do you have favorite foods/drinks before singing? Have you eaten something that sabotaged your voice and that can be a cautionary tale for us? Share in a comment!

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Hands Of A Vocalist

First of all, Happy New Year everyone! I have been absent this blog because of my work on a project I'm creating called "Singing In The Studio". It's a labor of love and a compilation of information and vocal strategy from a lifetime of recording. I'll let you know when it's (whew!) done...  Meanwhile, let's talk about your singing hands.

The hands of a singer (hey, or a speaker) make an interesting study for me. Personally, if you were to make me freeze my hands in place, I don't think I could sing- or talk! Years ago, a studio engineer in Memphis told me to stand perfectly still at the mic. This guy was NOT a singer and therefore trying to explain how stiffness affects the voice was falling on deaf ears. I did as he asked, and sure enough my tone was dead, my performance numb, my vocal range limited. Thank goodness I knew to ignore that advice from that time on.

Consider the traditional hands-clasped-in front-position used by classical singers. Now visualize the "smooth-move" hands of a hip hop artists such as Usher. Next think about the expressive hands of a pop vocal diva such as Celine Dion. Now the subtle hand-speak of an R&B icon like Aretha Franklin or the sultry hand moving of jazz singer Jane Monheit. Read the message given by the hands of gospel singer Cece Wynin; remember Christina Agulera singing "This Is A Man's World" on the Grammys a few years ago. Think about the conversational hand-talk in performances by Garth Brooks and Faith Hill. Lastly, remember the incredible performances of Michael Jackson in the recent show they pieced together for "This Is It".

In different ways, they are all doing the same thing. All these vocalists are using their hands to help with their breath control and to keep their throats open... whether they know it or not!

What about you -- do you use your hands when you sing?

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