All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: March 2012

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Voice Fried, But Band Rehearsal Beckons?

I had a real-world wakeup about needing to know how to get a voice that feels fried in shape for a long band rehearsal....because this time the voice was mine!

This Nashville spring is full of pollen and other allergens, even more than usual this year. My schedule has been slamming with vocal lessons, studio production, etc. The day of rehearsal, I gave several vocal lessons starting 9am, drove to the studio and did a few hours of vocal production, drove back, gave more vocal lessons, and with the hours of intense work added to the spring air quality load, my voice was most certainly feeling a certain amount of FEAR.

Even yours truly doesn't want to sound bad at her band rehearsal. But thankfully, I did it... by the 6 o'clock start time I was so much better and my voice felt better after the long, strong rehearsal than it did before. Since I am all about what works in practical experience, I'll share what worked for me to you.
  1. I got some sleep the night before. I went to bed a couple hours earlier than usual, after soaking in a hot bath with Epsom salts.
  2. I drank water like a fish all day. I love my big glass decanter for water that I bring with me to the studio and gigs.
  3. I got some great nutrition. I drank a great energy drink for breakfast: fresh vegetable juice plus a potent new vegan protein powder called Vega Complete Whole Food Health Optimizer. Then I actually took time to eat lunch (meaning I grabbed a protein packed Schlotskys turkey sandwich and ate it on the way to the studio).
  4. I was very careful with my speaking voice. Even sitting at the console producing the fantastic Maria Sarah 's vocals as part of the team with producer Roger Ryan I made sure to sit so my ribcage stayed wide, supported my voice from my seat, used my eyes and pulled my voice from my mask instead of my mouth. 
  5. I didn't eat any junk. As a nutritional hypocrite I have been known to eat junk in the studio... which really steals energy. Duh.
  6. I rested my voice for an hour after my last lesson.
  7. I drank H2O Overdrive during the rehearsal for extra hydration.
  8. I warmed up and used Power, Path and Performance vocal technique for the whole rehearsal, which allowed me to sing my rangy songs without straining my voice!
Using wisdom and preparation works for the voice, folks, it really does. Anybody else like to share what works for you?

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Voice Of Kony 2012 ...Double Edged Sword of Fame

It was with great sadness that I watched Jason Russell, the voice of Kony 2012, the incredibly successful video put out by Invisible Children Organization, experience a now-also-famous complete mental breakdown. This is a powerful example of the double-edged nature of fame.

Voices need to be heard. It's the reason they exist; it's the reason they sound. If heard, the voice will attain some measure of 'fame'. When fame is experienced in large measure, a voice can experienced the greatest highs imaginable... and the greatest lows. I have experienced both in my own life. Rising to the top of the charts and then falling off the face of the music industry map for a few years gave me painful yet useful first hand insight into this condition. Because one of my goals in my work is to help other voices successfully navigate the treacherous waters of 'fame', I'd like to share a few thoughts with you.

There is an interesting definition of the word "fame" at World Dictionary:
  1. the state of being widely known or recognized, renown, celebrity
  2. rumour or public report
That should give you a glimpse into the double-edged sword nature of this condition. Fame gives... validity, financial benefit, and reach. It also takes away... privacy, control, and reputations ruined from true or false information.

Success in the music industry (aka 'music business') or the public speaking world requires fame. This is why we must be very sure of the nature of how we define ourselves as artists and speakers. If in creating our artistic definition we are not true to ourselves, we will find ourselves living double lives, always in doubt about our choices and about being 'found out', defensive about what others say and so on.

But even if we proceed with the greatest of integrity and purity of heart, fame brings with it an incredible vulnerability. Jason Russell will take a long time to heal from his severe public breakdown, and in fact is still in a psych ward as we speak. When you create a video that gets 100 million views in a matter of days, the fame it generates can undo a psyche.

I'm going to step out and use my voice to support this cause. Why would I take the risk, with the vicious degree of criticism heaped on these people?
  1. I have informed myself by researching the positive and negative articles, comments and responses.
  2. I personally know Jedediah Jenkins, one of the principle figures behind this movement. Jed's mother and I have been close friends for years, and I know Jed's motivations, utmost integrity and wisdom. With the education, talent, creativity and connections he has developed, he could do most anything he wants. Yet with very little financial support (for instance, he sleeps on the floor, no bed, in a house he rents with 5 other people) he chose to dedicate years of his young life to this cause... to stop Joseph Kony and the LRA from terrorizing communities, torturing and murdering people and abducting children.  For those who have read "Screwtape Letters" (CS Lewis), Jed wrote an interesting parallel allegory in a blogpost concerning Jason's breakdown here.
  3. I am thrilled at the seed this project is planting in people - especially the young - that their voices can truly make a difference, and their lives have great value. As Jed says, "If we stop blaming injustice on laziness, culture, and history, and start solving injustice with love and focused attention, then we have done our world a service."
  4. I like the transparency of the organization. I have come to believe that though honest differences of opinion may question their tactics, their motivations and integrity are beyond reproach. If you want to read Invisible Children's official responses to the criticisms, go to the 'critiques' page of their website. I've been notified there is a big Time magazine article that will hit the stands dated March 26th you can look for titled "The War Lord vs the Hipsters".
What would I say to a voice that is, seeks or needs for whatever reason to be famous?
  • Don't necessarily discount criticism. Ask yourself if it is warranted. Does it bring up something you need to change or tweak? Or... do you need to put up a defense of your position in an appropriate place to answer criticism? Positive criticism can help your voice succeed. 
  • BUT...Don't feed the trolls!! The only way to deal with them is to starve them of the interaction they so crave. Here's a good page about trolls.
  • Be sure that you take care of yourself. Your human body needs sleep, silence, food, hydration, play and wise physical exercise. Your mind needs time with friends and spiritual connection and grounding. Neglect these to your peril.
  • Always keep one foot out of the world of fame. If you give out everything you have or stay in a constant spotlight, you'll be of use to no one soon. Keep a small circle of accountability close to help keep you grounded... and listen to them!
  • Do a serious gut check on your core motivations. Remember that the god you serve will be the god you have to please. And the god of fame will crush you with demands. Indeed it has silenced/killed some of our favorite voices.
Something to ponder:

In Roman times, a conquering hero would drive his chariot
down a road lined with cheering crowds. As he accepted their
adoration, a servant was required to ride on the back of the chariot
whispering into the hero's ear: "All Fame is Fleeting... All Fame is
Fleeting... "

To your vocal success and your productive, useful, satisfied, prosperous journey... with love.
Remember to pray for Jason.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Think You Can't Sing Again? Think Twice

 If we sing long enough, most of us come upon a time where something stops us from singing. It can be an illness, trauma, personal or family priority or other life situation that causes us to set music aside. Then we wake up one morning with that ache of the soul that misses singing. And we think it's too late... too much time has passed, or illness has left us physically incapable of singing again.

If this happens to you... I would urge you to remember what I say today. The choice to sing or not to sing is just that...  a choice. If you want/need to sing bad enough, you can do it in almost all circumstances that leave you still able to speak.

I had an older gentleman in my office yesterday that was recovering from throat cancer and had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from years of smoking. Guess what? He was singing again! He had gained most of his voice back and just needed a little tweaking to help stabilize his control. What helped was his long time habit of standing tall with his head balanced on his spine, like lots of great crooners do. And he is not the first throat cancer survivor I have worked with who gained their voices back.

Got vocal damage? Get medical advice, for sure, but know that with voice rest and corrective training you can recover from vocal nodes or polyps and get your full voice back. Sometimes surgery is employed as remedy of last resort, but most of the time is not needed. Adele proved by her performance at the recent Grammy Awards that you can fully recover from hemorrhaged vocal cords. I myself had damage from an endotracheal tube from which I lost over an octave of range. I fully recovered with vocal training from coach Gerald Arthur, developed more vocal range than ever, was able to continue my session singing and then went on to have my own hit career. That recovery informs my vocal coaching today. One singer, Adley Stump, came to me to deal with vocal strain. I worked with her with vocal lessons and vocal production and she began to sing her powerful style without a problem. She was chosen last week when she performed on "The Voice".

Does this mean you'll win American Idol, The Voice or get signed to a record deal by a major label? No. But what it DOES mean is that if your voice needs to sing again so well that it moves you and whoever is listening to you, it can. And that, in my humble opinion, is the best reason of all to sing.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

What Singers Can Learn From Master Musicians

Well, actually singers can learn lots of things from master musicians, but I want to highlight this one today: The secret of the light-just-right touch. Great musicians know that pressure matters, for instance...
  • When drummers hit drums too hard, they lose tone from their drums. They end up sounding oddly smaller with more attack than tone.
  • When guitarists/bassists/etc strum or pluck too hard, they lose the best resonance of their instruments, and makes fluid playing movements harder. 
  • When piano players strike keys too hard, they also lose the best tone... whether playing acoustic or electronic keys. In the recent TV documentary about Elton John and Leon Russell's "The Union" project, I heard Elton speak about Leon's great touch.
  • When string players bow too hard they cannot control pitch or tone and usually get sent to distant rooms to practice:)
  •  When horn or other wind instrument players blow too hard, they get a pitchy splat... and not in a good way!

What master musicians know and practice is the secret of the light-just-right touch which coaxes the brilliance out of their instruments, gives them control of pitch and dynamics, allows for easier movement upon their instruments. Even when bearing down for more power, these musicians still 'pull their punches' and never play as hard as they can upon their axes.

This secret is directly applicable to singers. We're talking about the light-just-right touch of air applied to the vocal cords. Our voices need adequate and consistent breath support, sure, but breath support that is CONTROLLED. With this balanced pressure we get much better vocal tone, more technical ability, we record better and we have the added bonus of protecting our instruments from strain!

In other words... for great singing try backing off breath pressure. Just a bit, especially on the power notes. There... doesn't that sound/feel better? Comments welcome.

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