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Your Vocal Coach in Residence for May: Ron Browning

Ron Browning is the vocal coach for Alison Krauss and has also worked with Carrie Underwood, Patti Labelle and Wynonna Judd. 

He shares a few secrets with us about his life as a performer and his insights as a vocal coach.

Most underrated aspect of vocal technique?

Not spending enough time learning about all the different vocal modes and the techniques that produce them. I’ve also been disappointed that many educators fail to mention the importance of the new born baby cry as being the center of the core voice, and that it can easily be used to correct a weak or failing voice.

Most overrated aspect of vocal technique?

The mega-octave vocal range! So many singers rush in to get the 5-octave range when they are not ready for it. It’s like adding on floors to a building when its foundation is very crumbly. First things first.

Worst venue experience?

The old Mayflower Hotel in Louisville, KY, mid-70s. There was no piano bench, so the waitress stacked a bunch of dirty tablecloths on a dinning chair that tilted backwards with wobbly legs. The piano was always out of tune and some black notes were missing.  The damper pedal would lock into an on-going sustain from time to time. I’d have to get down on my hands and knees to repair it. That always got me a round of applause and tips though – I milked it.

Weirdest gig ever played?

When I was Artist in Residence in Winnepeg, Canada in the late 70s, I performed for the Kiwanis Centre for the Deaf. It was an audience of several hundred people, with 4 interpreters across the front of the stage.  I thought it was going to be the easiest show ever, so I didn’t practice. They picked up on everything— EVERYTHING.  It was the toughest gig I have ever done. I was completely exhausted on every level afterwards. I felt I let them down because I didn’t practice for it, and chose to wing it.  Big lesson learned!

Worst stage costume you’ve ever worn?

A full body dog costume (Sebastian Basset) to promote season ticket sales for the Louisville Orchestra in the late 70s. However, I did share the dressing room with the renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman who tried on my dog costume, so it was worth it.

4 features of an incredible vocal performance?

1) A fearless and expressive voice that seduces the listener

2) A burning desire to communicate from a real state of being

3) Masterful phrasing that is loaded with rhythmic hooks

4) The most important parts of the story are highlighted by hand gestures, the face, eyes, or the rest of the body, to help the lyric come to life.

Favourite philosophical singing quote?

Singing is words dancing on air, so let them groove.

Favourite vocal health remedy?

Bringing an honest free moan throughout every part of the vocal range. It relaxes the body, the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the larynx, and allows easy projection and golden resonance to return. It’s a massage for the voice, body, and Spirit.

Worst piece of advice you’ve ever heard about singing?

Sing as if you’re regurgitating, and sing as if you are very constipated. Good grief!

Ever been star struck?

I was star struck the first time I met Aretha Franklin. We shared the same producer/arranger—H.B. Barnum. I got to attend her sound checks in Los Angeles. My tongue stuck to my teeth and lips every time I spoke to her. Also, when I hung out with Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) in his dressing room in Oslo, Norway for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert. He made me stutter like Porky Pig. My face was as red as a beet!

Last record bought?

Alison Krauss’s recent “Windy City” album—I bought 20 of them at Cracker Barrel—wiped them out.  Afterwards, someone who worked for them, gave me her big poster display. She was in Europe at the time.

Biggest lesson you’ve learned about the music industry?

That talent is such a small percentage of what it takes to make it in the business.  It blows my mind, to be perfectly honest, but I do get it.

What’s your perfect day off?

Driving to Eastern Kentucky to visit my mom, my siblings and their families. Eating anything my mom cooks, especially her famous Pig-Lickin’ Good cake. That always recharges my battery.

Ron Browning is internationally known as the “Voice Coach to the Stars.” Alison Krauss, the most celebrated Grammy Award winner (27 wins), recently praised him in The New York Times, USA Today, BBC News, the Tennessean, and The Sun in London, where she called him “a genius.”  Ron has been seen and heard on Entertainment Tonight, The Voice, Oprah Network, and BBC’s Simply Classics, to name a few.  His clients include all levels of singers from beginners to award-winning celebrities in all genres of music. Ron works with 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. 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. Website | CD Baby

  • keith

    I especially like the “4 features of an incredible vocal performance?” tips.