Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: May 2018

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.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

How to Succeed at Life, Love & Songwriting - Interview with Dallas Frazier


Dallas and me after our interview, photo by Sharon Frazier
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
Long-lasting success in a music career is uncommon, elusive, and something many of us in the All Things Vocal village would love to have. So I asked Dallas Frazier, who has found deep satisfaction in both his personal and professional life, to talk about his journey with me. Listen to the audio podcast link to hear our interview with his amazing story and tips for navigating our crazy business. You'll understand how honored I am to call this generous, brilliant music maker my friend.

Among things we discussed:

  • His early start in Bakersfield, California, working with Ferlin Husky, signing as an artist with Capital Records at 14 years old, writing his own material. 
  • How he experienced working on TV with a well-rounded 'out of the box' band and learning to love more than one style of music.
  • Marrying Sharon, the love of his life, at 18 years old. They have been together ever since (she was right there on the couch as we talked)
  • How he wrote some of his iconic songs such as Ally Oop. It reached #1 on the charts 58 years ago, and is still played today. Dallas wrote it at the cotton gin where he was working at the time.
  • Making the move with Ferlin to Nashville, and his incredible hit-writing success there. Dallas talks about how he was hungry for success, literally and figurably, and how he and the circle he found dug in to have tons of hits by most of the country artists of the time including Charlie Louvin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley (cut 5 Dallas songs), Percy Sledge, Connie Smith (cut 71 of Dallas's songs), George Jones, Charlie Pride, Brenda Lee, Charlie Rich. 
  • How Dallas got caught up with alcoholism. Then how he purposefully quit the business to get away from temptations to drink. A year off turned into a 30 year break from the business, and Dallas went to seminary and into Christian ministry as a pastor. He shares his paradigm shifts from alcoholism to over-doing legalism and perfection, and how he has now found balance and a new understanding of God. We discussed this common issue with musicians, and how important it is to know who you are without your music. 
  • He is now writing again. He believes he's writing even better than ever, and his having a lot of joy in the process of trying to write 'for the masters'. We discuss writing for the market as opposed to the heart, and the balance needed there.
  • We finished with Dallas offering some very important insider tips for those who want to become successful songwriters. And I got to thank our mutual friend Ginny Foley, who introduced us some years ago. My deepest gratitude to Ginny, and to Dallas for his friendship and support, as well as this interview for us all!

Dallas Frazier bio highlights:

  • Among his legendary hits: Elvira, Ally Oop, There Goes My Everything, If My Heart Had Windows, All I Have To Offer You Is Me, Beneath Still Waters, Will You Visit Me On Sundays, Fourteen Carat Mind, What's Your Mama's Name, Mohair Sam, The Son of Hickory Hollow's Tramp and tons more.
  • Dallas had lots of songs in the pop charts, he also had some R&B success with songs such as 'Big Mable Murphy' cut by Diana Ross as well as Brook Benton. 
  • In 1994 Keith Richards and George Jones did a duet on Dallas' song 'Say It's Not You'. 
  • 'There Goes My Everything' won CMA's 'Song of the Year' in 1966.
  • 'Elvira' won BMI 'Country Song of the Year' in 1966.
  • Artists who cut Dallas Frazier 'tribute albums' (all songs written by Dallas) include George Jones and Connie Smith.
  • Dallas was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976
  • Country Music Hall Of Fame honored Dallas by featuring him in their 'Poets & Prophets Salute'.
  • There is a documentary being produced by Brian Oxley, projected to be finished by summer of 2018. I'll update this post with airing details when it lands at a network!

Find Dallas at his website www.DallasFrazierMusic.com

If you need help singing your songs... contact me here. Got a thought about going for long term (instead of short term) success with music? Leave a comment. 

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Danger of Meek Posture To The Voice

To save his voice, I want to poke this guy in the back.

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
Did you know your voice is vulnerable to your physical stance? Maybe it's time to assess the condition of your backbone when you're communicating. Let's talk!

Human communication is a very complicated & nuanced art, as opposed to the robotic, computer-generated voice. The messages we send are not just defined by the articulation of vowels and consonants, but also by the textures, timbers, shapes, clarity, melodic nature, rhythmic phrasing and volume level of our vocal sound. Our messages are also defined by the body language that accompanies our words, because how our hands, arms, legs, face and spine move significantly affects the sound and the interpretation of what we say and sing!

So we make all kinds of choices when we use our voices, just like actors do, to deliver a message that gets a specific response. When we choose, we take into consideration the nature of the heart to whom we are communicating. For instance, out of kindness and empathy, we may take the posture of weakness, literally slumping and condensing our physical profile so as not to offend or intimidate others. But after you learn what meek posture does to your voice, you may want to re-think your choice of caved-in body language.

Real stories

  • Tall Recording Artist

I was asked to work with a signed recording artist who was about to lose his label deal because of vocal problems. After spending time working with him in vocal lessons as well as attending some of his shows and watching him interact with fans and music industry people, I saw a huge part of his vocal issues. Every time he talked to someone he slumped, crunching in his chest and moving his head forward. When I asked him if interviews and schmoozing events left him vocally tired, he said yes as if asking 'isn't that normal?' I told him it may be normal but it's not necessary, and that we had to get busy and stop his speaking voice from sabotaging his singing voice!

So I poked him in the back, asked him to move his head over his heels and drop his chin. It seemed like he gained 2 inches in height! It was then that he realized he had been shrinking his body so as not to appear condescending or intimidating. And I told him what I've told so many others... that he needed to be all that he is, and that shrinking any part of himself will not help others... it will hurt his ability to bless them with his voice. He began singing better than ever, his producer and label noticed, and his deal was saved.

Tall people should sing and speak at full height, not like they have a premature dowager's hump!

  • Modest Female Singer

When the female gospel singer came into the lesson and I immediately identified her meek posture, the curved back and crunched chest. When she began to sing, the tight, uncontrolled sound I expected came out. By the end of that lesson she was standing at least 1/2 inch taller, breathing better and was overjoyed with her new-found vocal ease, range improvement and pitch control.

I have had many young, adult and elder ladies who try to hide the fullness of their chests in the name of modesty. This always makes me angry at society. It's like wearing an invisible burka to cover your shame. I say if anyone has a problem with you being all that you physically are, it's their problem, not yours! Lead with your heart. That means open your ribcage, and lift all that is on top of it! When you do this, you not only give yourself freedom to breathe and be and sing and speak well, you give this freedom and validation to others who see your example. They and I thank you.

  • Cool and Shy Teenagers

The 14 year old girl came in to her first vocal lesson with me to get ready for an audition. When she began to sing, she assumed the typical cool teen side slump, and the high note had to be pushed out as I would expect in that posture. When I asked her to stand flexibly tall and pull her head back a bit, pulling her voice with her lyrics, she was amazed at how easy those high notes became.

A 15 yr old boy came in with slumped chest like he was having to report to the principal. His voice consisted of pushed chest and weak head voice, separated by the typical adolescent male vocal crack with no mix area. When I straightened his spine out at the wall and had him come from pelvic floor instead of tight ribcage for power he was able to back off his volume, mix his middle voice and get in a clear and higher head voice. It eased his vocal strain so much he started laughing!

Teenagers often take on either a 'cool' posture habit to impress and deal with peer pressure, or a crunched posture from shy self-consciousness normal for this age. That cool side slump is paramount to imitating scoliosis. Those who have a real condition of excessive curvature of the spine will agree with me... this is not posture one should try to imitate. Hips should be same level, not one dropped and one shoulder up. The ensuing ribcage contortion is a terrible posture habit that causes breath limitations as well as unnecessary vocal tension. Shy posture is also detrimental to breath support and control for both singing and talking.

  • Vocally Strained Elderly Singer

A man in his 80s came in wanting to sing better. He had been an amateur singer of popular standards all his life but was having trouble now and missed the joy of using his voice without strain. I was able to pinpoint the core of his limitations pretty quickly - it was his pronounced upper spinal curve. I put him at the wall with a cushion behind his head that was thick enough to encourage him to straighten up, without causing too much discomfort. I asked him to try and sense his power as coming from his pelvic floor instead of the middle of his chest. He was instantly able to sing with more range, control and ease. I then had him walk in the middle of the room and showed him how to use his mic to 'pull' himself tall with his lyrics when he sang.

When he began to practice this way he came in to subsequent lessons with more and more ability. A few years later his wife wrote me that he had died, but that from our lessons he had found his voice again and used it with great joy!

I have also taught people with significant COPD to sing much better by straightening out the upper spine. It doesn't take much breath to sing, if you take it and use it with good technique. Whatever their level of physical health, older people benefit greatly from flexibly tall body language, not only in their singing and speaking voices but also in all the benefits that come from being able to breathe more deeply.

  • Victims of Abuse

I have worked with male and female students of all ages who have been in some way abused or perceive that they are not valued. Emotional, physical or sexual abuse can cause habitual meek posture because it was literally developed as a way to survive. Healing includes not just psychological freedom but also physical unfurling.

Here's what happens when you slump

When you shrink your height, cave in your upper torso or otherwise drop the bottom of your ribs:
  • Your diaphragm, which is attached to the bottom of your ribcage, will loosen. This gives it too much slack, limiting its control of the breath.  Losing breath control means losing vocal control of all kinds.
  • Your head will inevitably move forward and your throat channel will tighten. A tight throat will sound and feel tight. 
  • The combination of limiting breath control and tightening your throat will cause your voice to be vulnerable to many issues. Vocal resonance will thin, pitch accuracy will suffer and vocal range will diminish on low and high ends. It can result in vocal strain and even damage from trying to push through to sing or speak adequately.

Tips to get yourself out of your slump

First of all, do a complete re-think of the concept of meekness. It is NOT the same as weakness. I would define meekness as the ultimate strength... because it comes from the confidence that doesn't have to defend itself. Communicating kindness is much more effective coming from gentle strength, not manipulative weakness. I know, that may sting:) 

Do a thought experiment... stand physically as if you are queen or king of the universe and you really are the only one who can fix everything. Now take a deep breath. Imagine your lungs as being 20 feet tall, wide and deep. Send out your presence to fill every crack and cranny in the room you're in. Now say...
'I am supposed to be all I am, and my voice is needed in the world'.
Try singing or speaking at the wall, head and heel against it (if you have thick shoulders you may put a towel behind your head). Now sing or speak, using your hands expressively, powering your voice from your pelvic floor while keeping your spine flexibly tall. Notice how open your ribcage is. Do you feel a difference in your throat? Ask someone who knows you well to listen and tell you if they notice a difference in the sound of your voice.

If the idea of humble strength is new to you, try noticing the results. Experiment by telling someone how wonderful they are, while standing very tall as you do it. You will communicate strong empathy, which actually means more to the person than a meek compliment.

When meek posture is the right choice

There is a time for everything... including meek posture.
  1. When you are communicating to a wounded, hurt or scared or excessively timid human or animal, your body language can add a needed non-intimidation element to help them trust you.
  2. When you have a spinal degenerative issue, such as scoliosis or kyphosis (true humpback condition). Even in these conditions, try to stand or sit as tall and flexibly as possible. Ask your doctor about doing targeted physical exercises and stretches to counteract the pronounced spinal curves and help you breathe better. 
  3. When you get cast in a rough sounding voice-over or movie roll like Billy Bob Thornton's character in 'Sling Blade'. Thornton's slumped posture, besides creating the allusion of spinal deformity, helped create the character's voice. I would make a safe bet Mr. Thornton needed a round of chiropractic afterwards! 
  4. And of course in truly unsafe situations, you may need to use guarded and closed body language, just as a threatened animal does. 
But if you must slump for these or other reasons, get back to exercising and stretching out as quickly as possible. Don't allow slumping to become habit. And remember, you don't have to slump to be gentle or humble. 

And finally, here is a great TED talk by Amy Cuddy on body language:


Bottom line

There are times to speak and sing, and times to listen and be silent. When it's your time at bat, stand or sit flexibly tall, as if your voice matters... because it does.

What are your thoughts? Do you know how you backbone is stacking up when you sing or speak?

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