Photo by Michael Bauer
How can you be true to your influences without losing yourself? – Alyse Black shows the way.
Alyse Black recently won The Recording Conservatory of Austin’s Top Singer-Songwriter Competition and is working with leading producers and artists – we caught up with her to ask about developing her own voice:
I did something really unintelligent when I decided to go into music full-time.
I took the first 12 songs I’d written, I got one of the nicest studios in town, I hired some amazing session players (who could play the phone book and it would sound good), and I went in to record an album.
Prior to this I had played less than a dozen gigs, if you didn’t count busking on the streets of Pike Place Market in Seattle. I had most definitely NOT developed my own singing style.
Part of my voice was still classical from the classical training I had received growing up.
Part of my voice was jazz, because of the jazz training and my jazz obsession for a portion of my life. But neither of these styles was truly what I heard in my heart.
Or I could sing cover songs EXACTLY like one of my favorite singers. But these songs I planned to record were my own. And I didn’t want to sound like anyone.
Have you been there?
I LOVE helping people develop their own, authentic sound. Here are some ideas:
Listen to A LOT of different styles and voices. Delve into the past. Delve into the music of other countries. Give practically everything a chance, but chase deep down the alleyways of music that “clicks” with you. When something piques your ear, ask yourself WHY. Is it the beat? Is it the melody? Is it a texture or timbre of the voice? Is it the emotion? Build lists and lists and lists of your favorite songs. When you do this, you are acdtually exploring the heart and soul of your voice.
Learn to mimic bits that you love EXACTLY. There is this PHENOMENAL vocal lick that Nina Simone does on “Sugar in My Bowl.” I must have re-wound that CD to practice that lick 63 times. (Yes. That makes me feel old to say I was playing it on a CD.) What you are building is a TOOLBOX of all the things you LOVE in the human voice. If you LOVE it, it is part of you. Now make it part of your voice by learning to do it. This part takes a long time – you need to absorb a lot of tools to have the full rock star capability.
Don’t be afraid of anything. Practice loud. Practice soft. Practice gritty. Try singing exactly like you speak. Try singing a wide variety of styles. Watch LIVE YouTube videos of your favorite artists and try out their movements and performance style.
Record yourself. A lot. You have a recording device in your phone. That’s enough for now. Record yourself in multiple styles and sounds. LISTEN. What is working for you? What is not? Remember, the goal is to really LIKE what you hear. Also, if you don’t look like a fool sometimes, you’re not pushing yourself. This part takes a while, too. Great artistry takes time. Some say 10,000 hours. Start now.
Let it ALL go. When you next sing (for a band you are in, for a gig of your own material, for a studio vocal that doesn’t need you to sing a particular style), sing for yourself. You have all the tools now. Exist in the moment. Commit to the song. Create magic.
The end goal is something that draws on all your favorite bits about your favorite singers, but is such a mishmash of all that you love that no one singer dominates. And within it, there is also your speaking voice. Your soul. A fine tuned amalgam of all your favorite bits until it sounds distinctly “you.”
So. That first record I made? Every song sounds like a different singer. And so “unsure”. Because I hadn’t taken the time to decide what my voice was. There is a great quote that says, “You don’t FIND yourself out in the world. You CHOOSE yourself.”
Don’t be ashamed of your influences. EVERY artist steals, and honest artists will admit it. But the great artists go on to make something new – from what they have stolen and from their own unique soul.
Patience, Young Padawan. Your voice is in there. Go have fun choosing the pieces.
P.S. If you’re ever feeling embarrassed by something that has influenced you, remember that I can still mimic Ariel from Little Mermaid on “Part of Your Word” down to the texture of the BREATHS between the notes. Yeah. I’m that cool.
Alyse Black performed on NPR, recorded a commercial for Target, won Billboard’s Annual Songwriting Contest, had several songs placed in movies and TV shows, garnered an endorsement deal with Fishman Amps, and toured the country playing nearly 700 clubs, theaters, festivals, television shows and radio stations. She recently won The Recording Conservatory of Austin’s Top Singer-Songwriter Contest and ran a successful Kickstarter to fund her long-awaited next album.