All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: November 2020

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!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Responsibilities of Successful Voices

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ou would have to have been living under a rock for quite a while not to notice the strident cacophony of discordant voices shredding the air these days. It makes us sad, angry, confused, worried, unsure of things we once took for granted. Best friends, close family members see reality through radically different lenses and source facts from different universes. This cognitive dissonance can feed a sense of insanity and hopelessness, but as I said in my prior post, it can also move us forward and shake things up for the good. 

I want to help by addressing the elephant in the room. I want to talk about the voices driving the conversation and the responsibilities of successful voices... including yours and mine.

What is a successful voice? 

It is simply a voice that is listened to. This can be the voice of someone who is ...
  • singing in front of thousands of audience members in an amphitheater,
  • talking on camera to all those watching their TV show or YouTube channel,
  • writing a song that will be heard publicly,
  • speaking in front of a boardroom, congregation or classroom,
  • singing or talking to a friend or a child,
  • posting on social media.
So if someone is listening to you, your voice is successful. How do you know someone's listening? They will respond or react (overtly, silently, psychologically, verbally, or with non-verbal body language) to your message. This makes you an influencer. I want to give you what I hope is a sobering thought: 

An influencer bears responsibility for the responses to their messages.  
In other words, what your voice sets in motion is something you started. For this post, I'm going to get quite real with a deep concern I have for vocal responsibility (or the lack thereof). I suggest we think twice (or maybe 100 times)

... before we speak, sing, or write 
... before believing or buying into what others speak, sing, or write 

The voice's WHY

The voice can be very, very powerful. It can heal, destroy, inspire, shut down, mislead, correct, change one mind, or redirect the trajectory of the whole world in tremendous ways, for better or worse. It's a slippery slope to unintended harm when we don't realize what is really driving us and our messages. If we want to be on the side of the angels, our voice's core 'why' needs to be consciously and intentionally about far more than money, fame, or power.

Geez, this sounds so enlightened, ethical, and logical, right? So why is the world full of voices with messages of hate, meanness, deception, gender bashing, cluelessness, and other-directed harm? I mean, have you heard certain songs that encourage murder? Rape? Suicide? Watched any polarizing political speeches spouting lies? Seen any senseless rioting and violence sabotage peaceful protests? Read any hateful social media comments and responses? Ever been the victim of an internet troll? Perhaps it would help to consider what's driving these voices of darkness and damage. 

Reasons for vocal malpractice:

  • Fear
When fear is the driver, the voice chooses messages that are self-serving, vengeful, depressing, even violent. Any of us can slip into this almost unaware. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the 'other'. Fear of not having enough. Fear of being hurt, of not being safe. Fear of not being loved, of not being considered valid or significant.
  • Greed
A healthy dose of competitiveness can make one strive to be and do better, but taken to the extreme can lead to a narcissistic self-serving life devoid of empathy for others. When the goal of what we do is to make as much money, gain as much fame or lord as much power over others as we can, our voices will be willing to deliver any kind of message it takes to accomplish that, no matter who or what it hurts. Turning people against each other is a time-honored strategy of the power-hungry demagogue who seeks to divide and conquer in a transactional end game of winner-take-all.
  • Misinformation
In the world of sound bytes and viral social media, it's incredibly easy to anchor our opinions on misinformation, and then to use our voices to unknowingly spread half-truths, hoaxes and lies. I am sorry to say that I've shared stories that I later found were totally fabricated. When we realize our mistake, we can try to send corrections (and we should), but just putting the false material out there can allow it to spread like a garden weed given sunlight and water.

Pros and cons of ways to try to be vocally responsible:

  • Research and sharing 
We need to be very careful to do our due diligence when it comes to sources we research for facts, and things we share AS facts. Some sources of information are toxic wells of lies, such as the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. For fame, he spread the lie that the Sandy Hook massacre of elementary children was a hoax, and their parents were in on it. How cruel can a human being get? For me, that has poisoned the podcast/voice of Joe Rogan, who chose to illuminate Jone's voice by having him on as a guest. Rogan has tons of listeners. Rogan is responsible for airing the voices of his guests. This one permanently lost him my listening ear. I put Q-Anon conspiracists in the same toxic category. 

That said, we all need to look deeper than sources that just reinforce what we want to believe is true. The larger and more accurate truth is often found in the middle of several sources. Listening with an open mind to the 'other side' of a viewpoint can reinforce or change our views for the better. And as any good detective series will show, it's never a bad idea to change your mind when it's based on new evidence!
  • Ranting 
This is often a narcissistic sounding of a not-so-humble opinion. It might make one feel good to get it out, but if it does nothing to change anyone's mind it's best to write it down to get it out of your heart and then burn it. 

That said, sometimes a rant is just the thing to call attention to truly bad situations and behavior in a way that can change them.
  • Shaming 
Calling people out rarely does anything but drive them away from your viewpoint. Here's a great article about professor Loretta J Ross, who suggests calling people IN instead of OUT. I've always said the magnet is more powerful than the blowhard. 

That said, shaming corporations and politicians sometimes does create enough bad publicity for them that they correct what they are doing out of self-interest. 
  • Giving up
If we just stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything's fine when it's not instead of summoning the courage to speak when we need to, we lose our chance to make a difference. 

That said, silence can sometimes be a healing balm when the fire of conversation is too hot.

Getting back to WHY

I believe the answer abides in the 'why' that motivates us to send our messages. Do I need to rant my truth to satisfy my ego and need for control, no matter what the result? Or do I want to influence thought and actions to make the world a better place? If your 'why' makes you want to be an influencer for the good, engaged in ethical messaging, I invite you to consider the following 4 things you'll need to be successful:

1. TRUTH - Find out what is true. Don't just research the like-minded material you want to be true. Check out what the 'other side' is saying, and why they are saying it. Don't listen to morons or crooks, but do listen to people who see things differently.

2. COURAGE - Choose to be courageous. I believe we all know when we should speak truth, even and especially when it can cost us. Be willing to lose. You'll be in good company... Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. You probably won't be risking nearly that much.

3. UNDERSTANDING - Understand those to whom you are communicating. How can you craft your words or lyrics so your audience can best hear it and possibly be swayed by it? How can you be an example and encourage others to be both brave and wise?

4. LISTENING - After you share your view, really listen to the responses and replies. In Native American culture, there is a tradition called the Talking Circle. A 'talking stick' is passed to whoever wishes to talk; everyone else looks down and listens in silence. This creates the opportunity to discuss, challenge a viewpoint, learn new information and come to a much wiser consensus than voices yelling over each other to prove their point or blindly accepting the views of someone that demands total control and obedience. I'd love to see this concept take hold in more face-to-face meetings between people. It can be chats over webcam, sure, but unfortunately social media is too often where we speak without listening, and where we listen without verifying what is true. 

Thoughts for influencers with large platforms

When you have a lot of listeners, you have a lot of responsibility. Take it seriously. Whether you're an artist, a songwriter, public speaker, podcaster, minister, teacher, or business person, look closer at what you're sending out. Does it really match your value system? What does it illuminate or encourage? When you address dark issues or subjects, do you try to bring them into the light or some resolution? Again, ask yourself what you want your influence to do.  What kind of response do you want to get?

There are voices out there that are truly making a difference on a grand scale. One example I'm enthralled with today is Dolly Parton. She could just sing her country standards before her worshipping fans and enjoy her legendary career success. But instead, she courageously and empathetically decided to use her influence to champion causes, create charitable foundations and donate millions to worthy charities, including many that benefit the people of her beloved Appalachia. Dolly Parton's singing, speaking and songwriting voice has made a huge difference in so many lives for years. If you want to be inspired, check out Billboard magazine's timeline of Dolly's good deeds

Doing an internet search for celebrities who support charities will bring up long lists. But the world needs us all. Using our voices and platforms to make the world a better place is the only way our voices are truly and eternally valuable. 

Questions for YOU

Has this post challenged you or turned a lightbulb on about why and how you use your singing, speaking, and writing voice? How can we help each other? I believe, as the title of my friend Mark Elliott's single says, that as a community of good hearts 'we need to have a long talk'. If you'd like to comment, I hereby pass you the Talking Stick. I'll be listening.

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