Ron has been seen and heard on Entertainment Tonight, The Voice, Oprah Network, and BBC’s Simply Classics, to name a few.
His work has been featured by CBS’s Entertainment Tonight and NBC’s The Sound of Music Live where he prepped Carrie Underwood.
He performed with Aretha Franklin’s backing singers and orchestra and networked with international royalty during the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize concert.
Ron shares his trade secrets on technique, inspiration and motivation!
So tell us about your perspective on voice training – do you have a motto or philosophy?
I think we were all born to sing, which is why the voice instrument is a permanent fixture in our throats – so the air can easily play us when it exits the body! It’s easy and we started singing day number one as a baby! Voice techniques are great IF, and only if, they return the voice to the way we were as babies, and as kids on the playground – noises freely made! That thought guides my approach to freeing the voice.
What vocal obstacles did you have to overcome in your personal development?
I had to figure out breathing, but only because I had terrible asthma and the worse allergies and sinuses in the world. Also, I was forced to get my diet under control because everything I ate turned to phlegm, which is no good for singing or acting (sorry, don’t mean to be gross but it’s the truth). As a result, I’m gluten, dairy, soy, corn, egg, and meat free! Oh, and no nightshades! Also I was shy – that had to go!
What is the most common technical problem in singers today? How do you fix that?
Many of them over-produce everything from breath to special effects and they use what I call “fake soul” and not enough of just singing the dang tune! When they come to me I make them get on “the witness stand – to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I force them to get real! No fake stuff! I bring them down a few notches where their stories (songs) are more convincing.
How would you remedy a tired voice during a busy schedule / run / tour?
Free moaning while getting a massage is awesome! Sounds weird but it works like a charm! (A licensed massage therapist, here) I have the singer put a straw into a glass of water and blow to make bubbles. They can hum their songs as a warm up through the straw.
What does “free moaning” and this straw-humming do?
It normalizes breath, support, and keeps the singer from over producing and uses minimal effort to produce the easiest and best tone, bringing everything to the front of the face, the mask. This relaxes the voice and gives confidence when the singer realizes they don’t have to work so hard. Lip trills are also great. I tell them to sing like a smart-ass. That frees everything up and they’re suddenly not as tired anymore.
Tell us about your celebrity clients. How do you meet them? Who is your most loyal student?
I have many and in all the different genres. I’m very fortunate! The record labels send them to me, and the TV networks as well. Also, I get a lot of referrals through other celebrity clients. Alison Krauss and Wynonna Judd, both are very loyal, and both send me a lot of wonderful clients. Alison is especially fascinated with the voice and loves learning all she can about it.
Was there a client who was having a major voice problem moments before show time?
The incredible Patti LaBelle! She had completely lost her voice and they were going to cancel her show. Wynonna forced her to meet with me several hours before show time to see if there was anything I could do. I got her complete voice back for her and she called me a “miracle worker” and thanked me 3 times from the stage. It was indeed a miracle, considering she couldn’t do anything but whisper when I went to her hotel room.
Do you have any “magic trick” exercises that are instantly effective?
Yes. For singers who seem to wrestle with the high notes in songs – I will have them drop the lyrics and sing the melody on “yum yum yum” as if they are bored to death. That keeps it ALL in front of the face with a smaller mouth resonator, which takes the weight off notes, and gives them the right amount of energy. The sound will then thin out and be mostly projected onto the hard palette where great pitch and projection are much easier.
How can singers help themselves with their practice and lifestyle choices?
A smart daily voice workout routine is mandatory, one that involves general tonic exercises that covers all the basics, always making room for new techniques. The workout also needs to include work on the new material the singer is working into their recording project or show.
What about diet advice?
Stay hydrated! Eat foods that cause no or very little phlegm. Asthmatics, diabetics, reflux-ers – know what you can and cannot eat. Do everything in moderation, unless you have a medical condition that dictates otherwise.
Tell us about your “career counseling” service. Are singers often under confident or critical of themselves?
Yes – both. But a lot of the “low confidence” thing is there because they simply don’t have their voices together, or they don’t know how to interpret or connect with the song, or they do not have their show put together well. Sometimes a singer might not feel good about their body and how they move around in it. Maybe they need new photos.
So, your advice extends to branding?
Yes, sometimes singers don’t understand how to create a brand that their fans stay excited about. Once work is done to make a more stellar looking and sounding commodity, they become more excited and confidence returns – the magic spark. Sometimes a new look is the answer. Or a new website. It’s amazing what small things can derail an artist. A few extra pounds? OMG yes!
How would you assist a singer who is struggling with stage presence / stage craft?
I have them study facial gestures and conversational hand gestures on YouTube of several of their favorite artists with the sound turned completely off. They have to borrow 10 or 15 gestures (face and body) that they would probably not consider doing on stage. Then I have them work those into one of their songs, regardless how uncomfortable it seems. I have them take it to “cheese level” – FULL OUT – “like a lounge lizard.” Then after they do that, I have them back up a few degrees and relax with it – OWN IT! I video them and they see how natural and expressive it is. They always think they’re going to see “cheese” – but there is NONE!
Which singers inspire your personal style? Any favorites?
There are too many to list, but early Aretha still takes my breath away! Ray Charles too. There’s nothing more honest and soulful than those two. Streisand caught my ear years ago with her belt and her straight-toned middle voice and her ability to milk notes. She can turn anything into a “diva note”.
What is one of the components of the magic of these singers?
They have the right idea when it comes to GROOVE, which is one of the key ingredients that sells records. “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing!” (Duke Ellington).
Is there a singing book that you would recommend?
Yes, several. Oren Brown’s Discover Your Voice, Richard Miller’s Structure of Singing, Lamperti’s Vocal Wisdom, and Roger Love’s Set Your Voice Free, and mine of course when they come out.
With vocal technology readily available such as live autotune, do you feel that voice training is still as important?
More than ever! The fact that autotune is used as much as it is shows a lack in singing ability today. We’ve all become perhaps a little lazy, thinking that “we’ll fix it with autotune”. If anyone wants to be a professional singer, then they are expected to have all the basics under their belt – and good pitch is one of the biggies. Or, at least, that’s how it used to be! Singers should be able to produce great vocals LIVE without the technical tricks — period. However, autotune can create a cool sound that has a certain robotic / futuristic flavor that’s fun. The song “Believe” by Cher is a good example.
Ron Browning is internationally known as the “Voice Coach to the Stars.” His clients include all levels of singers from beginners to Grammy-winning celebrities in all genres of music. Ron works with the major record labels producing vocals and preparing artists for radio, concert tours, and special television appearances. He is a voting member of the Grammy Foundation and the CMA Awards. Ron has been seen and heard on Entertainment Tonight, The Voice, Oprah Network, and BBC’s Simply Classics, to name a few. He is a successful songwriter, jazz pianist, painter, and is currently writing a series of voice and performance manuals, which will include interviews with many of his students and celebrated clientele. His solo jazz piano CD, In a Sentimental Mood, is available on iTunes and CD Baby.