Hearing a recording you love can be more detrimental than one you hate –says Paul Kirby.
Hearing yourself on a recording for the first time is a shock. Even seasoned recording artists can find the sound of their recorded performances an unpleasant experience.
Unless you plan what to listen for, it is easy to allow the harsh reality of a recording to damage the most vulnerable part of you.
As a singer, you must find a way to keep your vulnerability intact, because being a good singer requires you to be generous, tender, and to have the ability to keep your fragility available to you without you being drowned in it.
Listen With Intent
To make sure you don’t hate listening to yourself, you must do two things:
- Discipline yourself to listen for specific aural (audio) facts.
- Separate truth (a global sense of who you are and what you bring to the world) from fact (something that is in the past and objectively verifiable).
In other words, you must listen with intent.
Listen For The Facts
I recommend that you try to listen for as many positive facts as negative.
“Ugh. My voice sounds terrible!” This is how I feel if I hear myself on a recording and I am not happy with my tone. It generally feels like it is the end of the world.
But there are, in fact, other things that count. There are plenty of other facts about my singing beyond the tone of my voice.
I recommend that you choose three things to listen for, and tell yourself the rest, at least for this moment of constructive self-examination, is not important. This takes discipline!
For example, you might choose to focus on:
- How clear was my text (my words)?
- How was my intonation on this one spot I have been working on?
- How was my volume?
You must prepare these questions before you listen to your recording – it is a process of mental preparation.
72 Hours Makes The Facts Clear
It is often easier to find the truth about your performance once you have sorted out the facts.
For me and for many performers with whom I have discussed this, there seems to be this 72-hour period where the truth and fact sort themselves out.
For me, it defies explanation, but 3 days is the natural passage of time where I become more objective, and am able to listen for facts without letting them distort the larger truth about my singing.
Fact Doesn’t Equal Truth
When you listen to a recording, you perceive the auditory facts, just as we discussed above – but facts are not the whole picture.
This is where truth comes in. Truth is much larger than facts.
What is the truth about you as a singer? The first truth about you as a singer is that you are willing to sing.
You are willing to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and take a huge risk – you are willing to be vulnerable.
Some years ago, I quit singing entirely because I allowed my sense of truth to be drowned in a vat of so-called objective facts.
It happened when a teacher I worshipped told me, “You have not done one thing I have told you to do.” I was crushed.
With the distance of time, this comment doesn’t seem so harsh. At the time, I was undisciplined about sifting truth from fact, and owning the “truth” about my own singing.
Listen For Truth
When listening to your recordings, you must learn to look for positive truths about your performance.
Discipline yourself to ask questions that are not about the aural (sound-related) facts:
- Did I allow myself to be vulnerable?
- Was I telling a story?
- Was I listening to what my fellow musicians were doing?
- Was I in the flow, was I present to what was happening?
- Did I convey the intended emotional journey?
- To what extent did I do what I rehearsed?
Turn Negative To Positive
As you listen for facts and truth in your recording, you’ll surely notice some negative aspects of your performance.
For example, perhaps you sped up in a certain song.
Recognize the fact: you sped up. Speeding up unintentionally may reflect a lack of discipline. You might consider how to keep yourself more grounded while caught up in the excitement of performance.
Look for a positive truth: did you and your band speed up together – as a group? This means you were feeling it together – you were telling the same story. That is a good thing.
Not Yet Where You Want To Be
When you hear things you don’t want to keep in your singing, you are likely very close to being able to change them, especially if you set positive, optimistic and realistic goals.
Seeing the gap between where you are today and where you desire to be tastes bitter at first, but it is a flavor that we must all grow to love – and we can, if we are willing to acquire an adult palette.
Like the taste of late season home-grown rucola (arugula in the US), the bitter but intriguing flavor is delicious – but only if you know how to put it in perspective.
Eventually, that sharp flavor signifies that you are cooking with fresh, real spices. As a singer, it means you are ready to embrace a larger truth about yourself.
Be Cautious Of The Recording You Love
It may seem crazy, but hearing a recording of yourself that you love, can be more detrimental than hearing a recording you hate.
We are so conditioned to want and need approval that the good recording becomes like a surrogate parent saying, “Yes, yes, it was all OK in the end – there was a happy ending”.
Liking what you hear in a recording is simply a fact – it is not the whole picture we discussed above.
We get seduced into thinking that a great-sounding recording is the truth, because it tells us what we want to hear about ourselves.
When this happens, we may neglect the whole process of searching for truth and listening with intent.
So, next time you sit down after a gig to listen to the recording, make sure you do some mental preparation before you hit play.
Decide beforehand which audio facts to listen for, commit to finding truth that goes beyond the facts. If you do this, you will certainly experience growth – as opposed to agony – when listening to recordings of yourself.
Paul Kirby is an American singer living in Oslo. His classical training is from Boston University Opera Institute, and he has performed throughout Europe during his 30-year career. He soon earns a Masters in Management from BI Oslo, coaches/consults on profitable creativity, and fronts Oslo bluegrass band Moving Day!, which he founded in 2008.