Whether you are a solo singer/songwriter , rehearsing your first band, singing karaoke, or just wondering about how to get it all going here is some advice that you might find useful.
Let's start with the central issue. How good you sound is much more important than how good you look. This will sound like crazy talk to some but it's essentially true. Singing is an aural art form and your success as an artist will rest mostly on how well you communicate with your listener. The best visual presentation in the business will not help you if you sound like crap. Or put another way, a blind person will not think you are a great singer no matter how well you are dressed!
Many wonderful singers started out with only the very basics of a good singing voice, perhaps just the raw ability to sing confidently and more or less in tune. Along the way they learned to bring out the best in their voice and to create a kind of vocal charisma, a unique musical identity that is instantly recognizable to the listener.
Firstly, don't think of yourself as a singer. Think of yourself as a MUSICIAN. The human voice is merely an instrument like many others and it takes dedication and skill to use it effectively. If you want the kind of voice that will stop traffic, the kind of vocal range that lets you sing in almost any key, the sort of voice that most people would die for then you have to build it yourself. Lots of raw talent is not enough in most cases and it can sometimes be a disadvantage.
Why? Because it can make you a complacent low achiever and lead you to believe that the world revolves around you and the greatness you are destined to enjoy if only the world would listen. A great natural singing voice is one thing but it's what you DO with it that counts.
As a singer you must develop your musical judgment. You will need to make good musical decisions every time you open your mouth to sing. Deciding how to sing a phrase, whether to build up a particular section or to lay back your timing into the bridge or if you should sing out the end chorus an octave higher with lots of licks all takes musical taste and judgment that nobody is born with. If you think of yourself as a musician first then you will be able to recognize these judgment skills in other musicians and be able to learn from them.
Singers should always be looking to push themselves. Expand your horizons by learning other instruments like guitar and keyboards or bass, drums or saxophone. The mere act of learning to play a bit on another instrument will teach you much about singing. It will also help immensely with your songwriting, but that is another rave.
Expand your horizons in other musical directions. If you sing hip hop then try singing a bit of country or jazz. Force yourself out of your comfort zone into areas you know nothing about. Throw yourself into the deep end of the pool until you feel the water flow over your head! Most musical styles borrow on the same vocal techniques but differ in how they are applied. For example, listening to how Michael Buble sings can give you an insight into phrasing and how to create tension and release in a vocal performance. Your understanding of this can be applied to almost any contemporary musical style you wish.
Don't fall for the old lazy argument that you are an original artist and you don't want to dilute your 'sound' with outside influences. The truth is that influences are what make you the singer you are and the great singer you will become. You must absorb all the information you can, pick as many brains as you can find, listen to the old players and try to figure out how they did what they did. If you have a favorite singer then learn everything you can from that person and then move on. Do not try to sound like them even if you can. You must learn to move beyond mere copying and into forming your own sound.
Above all, make this journey your passion. Leave no stone unturned in your quest to be a better musician and a great singer.
So, should you rush out and get singing lessons I hear you ask...
Initially no. What you should be doing is hanging out with other musicians, preferably better ones than you. Don't spend all your time with friends who are hacks with no intentions of doing anything meaningful with their music after the school holidays. This can be difficult if you have strong relationships with people you enjoy making music with but it is a necessary step in your musical education and growth. You must find great players to learn from. Most accomplished musicians actually enjoy mentoring young hopefuls with ability and drive. Finding some good players to learn from is the single most important thing you will ever do for your musical career.
Then, when you are ready, look to improve your vocal technique with some singing lessons. We can always use better technique but remember this. Vocal technique is important but it is a relatively small part of becoming a great singer. Most singing teachers teach similar techniques. They can correct technical problems and get you to sing exercises that help expand your range, improve your vocal control and agility which ultimately helps increase your confidence to sing. In an ideal world you will be able to find an excellent singing teacher right around the corner from where you live and you will be able to easily afford the lessons. This, unfortunately is not always the case.
Finding a singing teacher can be a difficult and time consuming problem. Don't forget that you are the one who decides if that teacher is right for you. It's important to have a rapport with that teacher. They need to be someone you can learn more from than just technique. Remember that 'musical judgment' I mentioned earlier? Find a singing teacher who can not only guide your vocal technique but can give you some insights into improving your musicianship, some advice in making those musical decisions.
Remember to be humble and realize that singing is an art that you can master with patience and great guidance. It's critical that this process brings out your own unique voice, not what your singing teacher wants, but the voice that you have inside of you.
If you cannot find a good singing teacher then consider doing an online singing course. Online singing lessons are more abundant now and there are a some good ones and some poor ones. Just steer clear of things like singing review sites - they usually recommend only the products they get commission for selling and are not to be trusted.
Above all, set your sights high but your expectations low. You must strive always to be better and not be afraid of change. Test yourself with new challenges and concepts, meet lots of like minded people and don't waste time. It's a precious thing that you cant recover and your willingness to set goals and achieve them will help create that singing career that you desire.
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Michael Oliphant is a singer, keyboard player, studio engineer and producer based in Melbourne Australia. He is a co-founder of Explore Your Voice Online Singing Lessons, host of The Explore Your Voice Show Podcast and sings with the innovative Australian band Late For Breakfast.