What Makes a Sought After Singer?
So, what is the difference between a singer who wows the audience at a school talent night and a commercially successful singer? We’ve all met someone whose voice was formidable who has auditioned for the X Factor (bad idea…) and not gotten through or heard someone sing at a local concert to have people say ‘you should be famous.’ So how have working singers gotten where they are? Let’s look at 3 key aspects of getting work as a singer.
The biggest difference between a good singer and a great singer is distinctiveness. This is pretty much essential for anyone who wants to be a recording artist. Think of some of music’s most distinct voices: Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, Marianne Faithful etc. You hear them on the radio and you know instantly who it is, no introduction needed. If you want to be a singer work on being you; avoid trying to replicate another person’s sound. I’ve judged at talent competitions and heard 4 people in a row trying to sound like Arianna Grandé. It’s not fun.
Ofcourse, there are fads and fashions and certain sounds are in vogue at any given time. A few years ago very dark voices such as Amy Winehouse and Duffy were commercial. Recently the faux fifties sound of Lana del Ray with her mock swing technique was garnering attention. Nowadays Rihanna and Miley Cyrus have brought the light pop voice back, harking back to Wendy James of Transvision Vamp. Don’t try to fit the fashion; find the right band, producers and writers for your own voice and just be yourself.
This doesn’t mean having no flexibility. In order to keep getting work singers need to be able to do covers gigs and I certainly encourage my students to learn the voice techniques associated with every type of music from classical to rock. It’s by learning those techniques that you can form an idea of where your personal strengths are as a vocalist and form an idea of yourself as an artist. In fact, learning technique is essential to staying in work. If a company is going to invest in your voice, be it a small weddings band promoter through to a major record label, the company needs to know that you are going to take proper care of your voice. I know of a major artist who had several big concerts in New York but lost her voice beforehand due to bad technique. The label had to fly a vocal coach from the UK out to her. Fortunately she was willing to learn and everything was fine. All professional voice users (singers, teachers, receptionists… anybody who talks a lot during the course of their job) should have their vocal technique, speaking and singing, MOTed once a year. I certainly do and it stopped me from developing acid reflux problems which could have damaged my voice and ergo my livelihood.
The third and final aspect of being a sought after singer is something more intangible… you have to make an audience feel able to relate to you. My singing teacher, the late, great Marie O’Sullivan used to talk about Craft -Artistry- Metaphysics. In music as in any other art form the first thing you must learn is craft, i.e. how to do things. Then once you are able to master craft you can decide which technique to use where, for example sob to darken a sound and create an emotive reaction, falsetto to add an ethereal/earthy edge to a song. That is artistry. The third and final stage is metaphysics, i.e. the ‘wow’ moment where an audience really connects to you. Ever heard a singer singing a song and felt that song was about your life? Has a piece of music ever comforted you, inspired you, motivated you or made you feel nostalgic? That is metaphysics. It’s not just showing off you have a pretty voice or a great range, but really communicating an emotion. For this you need not only craft and artistry, but emotional intelligence too. Some singers have created great metaphysics without necessarily having amazing technique, such as Bob Dylan. Technique is very important, as mentioned above, but if you have perfect technique and no soul people aren’t going to hand over their hard earned cash to hear you. Think about what experience the audience expects from you, not just the high and low points of your own performance.
We are all born with our own unique sound. I hope that you are able to embrace yours and find your full potential! If you are interested in discussing anything in this article or booking a lesson just fill in the little box below.
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