Vocally Informed or Vocally Confined?

Vocally Informed or Vocally Confined?

Be inspired by other singers without being a “sound-alike” – says Juliet Russell.

I am always fascinated by singers’ musical influences – the artists, songs and musical movements that inspire them.

A great singer will be able to assimilate their influences, while retaining their artistic and vocal identity.

Stevie Wonder and Amy Winehouse

Even a seminal singer like Stevie Wonder wrote Master Blaster (Jammin’), influenced by Bob Marley.

He references him lyrically, toured with him and was very open about who inspired this song, yet the end result still sounds completely Stevie.

Nearly all successful artists have an identifiable vocal signature; you hear their voice and instantly know it is them.

Amy Winehouse acknowledged the jazz singers who inspired her (Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra), but also grew up with Hip Hop.

Her influences combined, yet her vocal style is all her own. They inform her, but do not confine her. You would never confuse her voice with another singer’s.

It is great to be inspired by our musical heroes and heroines, but important to avoid being too similar to another singer, unless it is in a specific context such as a vocal “sound-a-like” recording session or covers gig where you may need to capture a specific style and sound, or even artist.

Three Ways to Make Covers Your Own

Be creative with arrangements. Explore and experiment before deciding on a final arrangement. Learn to improvise. This may lead you to some strange vocal places, but you’ll find out more of what you voice can do. Play! Riffs and runs can be fun to learn, but they are someone else’s expression. It’s better to find your own.

Interpret lyrics as you will. Song lyrics is that they often have a poetic quality that is open to interpretation. A traditionally male song sung by a female singer can have a completely different impact. Do you hear a dance song as a ballad? Think about how you can put your own imprint on a song.

Immerse yourself in the context. – Some songs have a deep history, a social and cultural context and it is important to understand this to do the song justice. Having a sense of what’s gone before will help to enrich your musical understanding, your appreciation of the lyrics, and ultimately deepen your personal connection to how and why you sing a particular song.

My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Mobu Mobu – “I Started a Joke” by the Bee Gees (Cover)

There’s an honesty to your vocal performance, which is appealing. There’s a fragility there, which suits the lyric well. I found myself really listening to the words and you capture the spirit of the song. I’d like you to work on developing your breath support, as sometimes the energy drops at the end of lines and you lose pitch. I think the stronger notes would also benefit from this too, particularly in the B section. Good whistling! Again, keep the energy up, particularly at the end. You capture the emotion well and with a little more technique, I think you could really develop your dynamic range and consistency in terms of tone and pitch. I enjoyed listening to you. Well done.

Carrie Johnson Carrie Johnson – “Sophisticated” (Original)

I really enjoyed listening to you. I’m impressed that you managed to achieve such a professional sound. You’ll have to share your secret with other singers! I like your vocal style. It reminds me of 90’s R’n’B singers. There is a lovely sweetness to your tone. Production-wise, try a de-esser on “Sophisticated” as the second syllable in particular is muddy. This is the song title so needs to be clear. At times the backing and melody clash a little, but weirdly it works. It’s odd in a good way! Your song is catchy and stayed in my head. Moving forward, experiment with where else your voice can go. Can you access more power or different timbres? You have a distinctive and commercial sound and an ear for a catchy melody. It sounds like you have good production skills too. Great assets for any artist. Congratulations!

Colin Hartley Colin Hartley – “You Don’t Know My Mind” (Original)

You have a distinctive tone and it suits this song. There’s a rawness to your sound that works here. It sounds authentic and stylistically appropriate. These are all real positives. What l would like you to work on is keeping the tempo more consistent. Once you start singing, your strumming speeds up and there are a lot of lyrics squeezed into a small musical space. You can afford to be a bit more laid back. That can be a real challenge for musicians who accompany themselves. It’s a fantastic skill to have, but there is a lot more to think about as well as singing. It’s great when acoustic musicians push and pull the tempo a bit, but l would practice with a metronome to build rhythmic consistency. You’ll find it easier to sing with more time for the phrases. There are some really nice elements. You connect well to the song and have a tone that suits this material. Well done.

Juliet Russell is a coach on BBC1’s The Voice, and has coached Grammy award winners, Brit nominees and X-factor finalists. She is passionate about developing artists and working with individuals and communities to develop their voices and creativity. As a performer she has sung with Damon Albarn, Paloma Faith, Imogen Heap, Yoko Ono, Alt-J, Seal and Ringo Starr, and has composed music for film, TV and radio. She runs Expressive Voice courses for singers wanting to explore their voices creatively, grounded in knowledge of vocal anatomy. Juliet holds a Masters degree in Music Performance and is also a vocal arranger and choral director..
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