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Vocal Technique Advice from a Top Choir Director

Trey McLaughlin singing

Trey McLaughlin is the experienced choir director of The Sounds of Zamar, and a music leader who has hosted master classes at L’Opéra de Massy in France and the 7X Festival in Krakow, Poland.

We caught up with him to talk vocal technique, vocal health, and vocal inspiration.

Know your voice inside out

How do you look after your voice?

You hear a wide range of styles and techniques in gospel – some of which are considered healthy and some are not.

When we sing, we often get so passionate that we forget about how delicate our voice is. We have to take care of our voice, get enough sleep, stay hydrated and warm up before we sing. You cannot just get up there and start screaming!

You must make it your business to know your voice and understand its limits, and you must make sure the sources where you get your information from are credible because I have heard some horrible vocal advice!

Can you spill what that horrible advice is?!

A guy told me when you go hoarse, it makes your voice stronger and builds up endurance! I was like, “dude! When you are hoarse your vocal cords are so swollen that extra air is coming through because they can’t completely close!” I thought, wow, I hope this guy isn’t going around telling singers to sing hard because it’ll make their voices better!

What’s the best advice you’ve heard?

Take vocal naps. If you work in a career where you use your voice most of the time, it’s really good to do nothing for 30 minutes at a time and be quiet. That has worked wonders for me –  I can count on one hand over the last 15 years when I have gone hoarse because I have always been a good steward over my voice.

Gospel greats

You’ve performed alongside some gospel greats – what have you learned from these encounters?

The stand outs for me were meeting and working with Kierra Sheard, Jonathan Nelson, and James Fortune. When you experience their gift firsthand, you can often understand why they found the success.

Firstly, because those people treat other people in a way that they can relate to you. Secondly, you get to see the hard work they put in – because they have worked really hard to get where they are. They all agree that it takes a lot of work to achieve your dream.

What is the key to an incredible vocal performance?

It’s the honesty, more so than the skill. It’s important that a singer has taken the time to hone their skills to be able to do the technical things they need to do – but beyond skill, is honesty. The perfect marriage is musicianship and honesty.

Striving forward with a singing career

What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

I would encourage my younger self to understand and know that what I have to offer is enough and that it is legitimate. Because I was classically trained I was told that what I was doing now wouldn’t work for me and that I wouldn’t have a lucrative career. The classical world would call it ‘illegitimate singing’. I was told that repeatedly so I believed I needed to be an opera singer to be successful. I think God had other plans!

What ambitions have you left to fulfill?

I want to be a world-renowned clinician. I want to be a game changer; a person where people say, “people weren’t doing this before Trey McLaughlin”. I would like to experience more of the world and different musical styles and be in a position to inspire people to believe they can achieve great things. I wanna be in the history books someday!

Trey McLaughlinTrey McLaughlin is a member of the professional music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and he is the former director of G.E.N.E.S.I.S. the Columbus State University Gospel Choir. Trey graduated with a Bachelor of Music Performance Degree with emphasis in Vocal Pedagogy. Currently, he serves as the Director of Barefoot Productions, Inc. /Creative Impressions. Trey is also the founder and director of his own gospel ensemble (Trey McLaughlin and the Sounds of Zamar) and serves as the Director of Worship and Arts at The Historic Tabernacle Baptist Church. Find out more: www.treymmusic.net