What’s Your Vocal “Thing”?

What's Your Vocal 'Thing'?

It’s time to carve your niche in the singing world – says Donna McElroy

I love working with singers to help them define their identifiable sound or trademark.

When listening to our favorite artists, we are attuned to defining the one thing that makes their voice unique, definable.

It may be the rasp or the swoop up to every note; it could be the “lick” or embellishment they use to approach melody notes from above or below.

Do you have a sound that is unmistakably yours?It may be their vibrato, its rapidity, or the width of it. Maybe your signature is the content of your lyrics, or the instrumentation, form, orchestration of the arrangement.

Do you have a sound that is unmistakably yours, easily identifying you when you sing?

A yodel, a glottal attack on every syllable, a breathiness that’s present whether you are singing loudly or softly?

Does a singer need a trademark sound in today’s vocal industry?

I always ask a singer to decide if she wants to be versatile and sing whatever the Top 40 requires, or she wants to concentrate solely on writing and arranging her music to bring out the unique quality of her personal sound.

For some singers it is an easy decision.

They are not aspiring to be a major mainstream artist, and prefer to sing backup or lead in a Top 40 or Cover band.

This backing/cover singing is actually a great vocal challenge – especially when you think of the many unique and varied styles of the most popular songs of today.

Of course, a singer who is striving for a singular record career may have to do Top 40 band gigs to survive at the start of their career.

Your Signature Sound – Ideas

If you think a totally unique sound is the key to carving your niche in the music world, how do you cultivate that uniqueness?

Can you sing any song and use your sound to sing it?

Here are a few tips to help find your signature sound:

CheckboxSinging Your Own Background Vocals

Overdubbing your voice in parts over your lead vocal is always a plus; who blends with you better than you?

check_02The Money Note

On every song there is a note that listeners love for you to hit. It usually comes in the body of the song, say after the bridge, and is held for at least a bar or two, first with a straight tone, and then going into vibrato to add passion and dynamic.

check_03The Hook

A rhythmic or a syncopated section that starts the song, appears throughout, and builds in inversion or intensity with each successive chorus.

These are just a few ideas for developing a recognizable sound of your own; just don’t limit yourself to the “safe” stuff. Be bold and try lots of different sounds and approaches on your way to vocal nirvana!

My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Tracy Amador Tracy Amador – “The Scientist” by Coldplay (Cover)

Tracy, you have a wonderful instrument. Work on memorizing your piano accompaniment so you can look at the camera (audience); also, try lowering the key on this “POP” song so your “CLASSICAL” chops don’t dominate your sound.

Marcelo Vieira Marcelo Vieira – “Alone” by Heart (Cover)

Marcelo- what a tremendous and powerful instrument you have!! I love your range and ability to sing so intensely in your falsetto. Bravo! The falsetto development is phenomenal. It seems you overshot some of the notes just slightly, and intonation is key with a big voice like yours. I would suggest that you try taking off one of your headphones so you can hear yourself in the live room. You will get better results and truer versions of your vocal exclusive of the effects! Keep up the great work.

Tenui vdw Tenui vdw – “In Your Arms” (Cover)

Tenui! I love your fresh sound and youthful energy. I’d like you to use more eye contact with the (camera) audience! Make ME feel “safe…” when you sing to me. Your guitar skills are enough; what else can you do to move the audience with your singing? Stand up and move around a bit! Show more of your personality!! WooHoooooo!!!

David Jameson David Jameson – Beatles mashup (Covers)

David – you are singing the Beatles music in the rich tradition of English pub music. Both of you guys, however, are hunched over, a counterproductive posture for healthy singing! If the guitarist stands using the butt and back muscles for better support, and the keys were raised so you don’t have to crouch over them to play, your already robust and glorious sound will be improved, making your performance much more enjoyable for you and your audience!

Donna McElroyDonna McElroy is a Grammy nominated vocalist, celebrated arranger and well-loved Voice Professor at Berklee College of Music. Her contributions include arranger/background vocalist on gold and platinum releases “Why Haven’t I Heard From You?” by Reba McEntire; “We Shall Be Free” by Garth Brooks, “Addictive Love” by BeBe and CeCe Winans, and “House of Love” by Amy Grant. She’s been the recipient of a Grammy nomination for Bigger World (WB) and a Dove Award for Songs from the Loft (Reunion). Television appearances include Arsenio Hall, The Tonight Show, and The Grammy Awards.