Over the years I’ve been teaching and working in the music industry I have never really got to the bottom of why, as a whole, contemporary singers don’t think they need vocal technique or training. That is until it’s almost too late, the damage is done, the tour cancelled, gig lost, money rescinded and confidence has plummeted into the depths of a deep, dark chasm. Then it’s “Oh, I wish I’d had training from the start” or “Oh I wish I’d realised my bad vocal/social habits were going to ruin my voice.”
I will sit and listen with sad and empathetic ears, but asking silently, “Well why didn’t you? This is your life, passion, career. And what’s more other people are relying on you to do it well and to be reliable.”. Externally I smile and say, “At least you can do something, it may take a bit of time and effort but you can get back on track.”.
Working with professional singers is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I love working with singers who have honed their performance skills and I enjoy listening to the on-the-road gossip. Whilst I have no desire to be on the road myself anymore I do love hearing the stories! The other edge of the sword can be hard going. This is the technical edge, it’s tough working with a singer who is an emotional wreck because they don’t know if they will have a singing future. Also having to retrain a voice that has accumulated some pretty bad and ingrained habits means the pro feels like they are going backward vocally to the point where at times they may consider the compromise is too much. They would rather work with what little they have or give up totally and focus on other areas.
But I always love a challenge and these days I have so many teaching and vocal technique tools that I am able to very quickly convey to a pro singer that putting in the time will pay off in the end and won’t be as time-consuming as it may first appear.
I haven’t always been good at this. I remember painfully my early days of teaching. I met a guy who was a session singer. He knew what he was doing was potentially damaging to his voice so I invited him to see me so I could advise him and give him some exercises to address the problems. I didn’t help, I made the situation worse. A few days after the lesson he rang me and said he was singing worse. He’d been on a session and his pitching was all over the place, disaster. He felt the exercises I gave him were feeding into the problem. I spoke to him for some time about the long term benefits but he was a working singer and couldn’t afford not to be able to at least what he could do well no matter how limited. It was a harsh lesson for me. I realised I needed to know a lot more about voice, the psyche of performers and working with working singers. So I made sure I went about finding out all I could about the voice, singing, vocal technique as well as the psychology of learning and teaching. Now, most of my clientele are pro singers/voice users or on their way to such careers.
The bottom line is if this is what you want to do as a career make sure you are doing what any other career person does, train and develop your tools of the trade. A good teacher will ensure you retain your personality and ‘sound’ whilst building up your stamina, range, transition, and vocal control.