No Autotune Necessary

Going back looking at some old posts. Short but sweet.

Why I sing

Here are ten isolated vocal tracks of pop singers (the link says 11, but the one of Idina Menzel has been disabled – pity).

While we all knew (I’m using the Royal We here) that Ann Wilson and Freddie Mercury were rock gods, it’s nice to know that even contemporary artists like One Direction have chops. And that Beyoncé’s voice can stand on its own. It’s heartbreaking to hear how incredible Whitney Houston had been, knowing how her voice wound up, as well as how incredible Amy Winehouse was, knowing how she wound up – and wondering if she would’ve wound up going down the same vocal path as Whitney Houston if she’d lived as long.

And it’s nice to hear isolated vocal tracks that are good, instead of ones we can poke fun at. And with that in mind, I will not post recordings of Linda McCartney or Britney…

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

The phrase that is the title of this blogpost is attributed to Oscar Wilde. Actually, it was first written by a British writer named Charles Caleb Colton. Wilde’s version of it, written nearly 100 years later, added the phrase:

“that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Well, that’s quite different.

We have heard tons of amateur singers channeling famous singers at auditions. “Wow, she sounds a lot like Idina Menzel/Sutton Foster/Laura Osnes! But not quite.” They haven’t found their own voice. They might not be mediocre, but they’re not great.

I think imitation has its place as a pedagogical tool. As a child, I found my upper register by imitating Julie Andrews. I found my chest voice by imitating Karen Carpenter. I found my mix by imitating Barbra Streisand. But I don’t think I sound like any one of them (except when I go full Julie as a comedic choice).

If you are imitating someone, you are rearranging your vocal tract in the way that they do to produce a particular sound. Perhaps your tongue is forward and the sound is very bright and head-dominant. Perhaps your mouth is open wider or taller. Perhaps your lips are more rounded.  What if you try one of those things when you’re singing something you’re having a problem with (WWJD – what would Julie do?) How can you make that work with your own voice?

It’s not limited to celebrity imitations. What about character voices? If you made a baby sound, or a little girl sound, or a gruff Santa sound? Or a witch? What do you find when you make those sounds?

Or accents! If you’re good at them, which I am (she said, immodestly). How does singing something with an RP British accent feel versus singing something with a Cockney accent? (Did you know there are 30 different accents associated with the UK?) A French accent versus a Russian accent? A midwestern accent or a southern accent? What happens inside your mouth? What is the sound like? What can you learn from making that sound?

Check out the amazing Christine Pedi in this video. She’s made a career out of doing imitations, especially switching between them rapid-fire – but I don’t know what her own voice sounds like.

So imitate away – but examine what you’re doing. What’s healthy about it? What’s not? How can you use imitation as a tool to find your own voice?

Developing a plan: when talent isn’t enough

I follow marketing guru Seth Godin, whose daily blogs go beyond how to sell something and into the practical and functional elements of:

  • What do people need?
  • What do you have to offer?
  • Does their need and what you have to offer coalesce to benefit both of you?

Thursday’s blog was about skill vs. talent.

A lot of people have natural talent. A lot of people were born with a talent for singing, writing, dancing, acting. People who are told from the time they were small children that they should be on Broadway, or on The Voice, or at the Metropolitan Opera, or in Hollywood.

And a few people make a living doing those things.

And more people don’t. A lot of times it’s because that’s not what they want to do, in the long run. And that’s fine. Sometimes because they don’t have the skills to take their talent to the people who need it, and don’t know how to develop those skills, or what they even are.

And some people make a living doing things that they weren’t “born” to do. They were talented, but weren’t the best singer in their choir, or the best dancer in their troupe, or the lead in their school play. But they’re the ones working at their craft. And the word “craft” is essential here. Because craft = skill. Craft = technique.

It’s not enough to have talent. You have to develop your craft. And you have to develop  (or craft, to use the word as a verb) other skills necessary to get that talent out there for the people who need it.

These might be things you’re not comfortable with yet. They might involve reading a book on business, taking a language class, listening to artists you’ve never heard of, or … eek … talking on the phone with someone who might be able to help you out (for someone who spent hours on the phone in high school, I’ve become loath to use the phone for something other than accessing the internet).

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How can you take what you have to offer (your talent) and get it to the people who are in need of it? (You’re going to have to find out who those people are, for one thing. And where they are.)

When you take a trip, you make a plan. A plan that allows for spontaneity and changes in direction, but a plan nevertheless. At least to get on the road and on your way. Your destination may change but you have to take that first step or you aren’t going anywhere.

What’s your plan? What’s the first step?

Articulating your text: Could Siri understand you?

8461B1E0-155C-4E01-B562-43667B451AB3_4_5005_c.jpegOne thing I was thinking about yesterday – if I were to use voice dictation for a monologue or the text of a song I was working on, how well would Siri understand me? Would she spit back my text relatively close to how I intended it, or would it be gibberish?

It might be an interesting practice technique to try this the next time you’re working on a monologue (or song text, which you should be working as a monologue anyway) and see what happens. Will Siri (or Alexa, or “Hey Google”) pick up every word you say? If not, why not?

  • Are you dropping the end of your sentences?
  • Are you slurring words that should have more emphasis?
  • Are you talking too fast?
  • Are you hypo- or hypernasal?
  • Are you inserting “ums” and “ahs” where you shouldn’t be?

Virtual assistants are, as we all know, imperfect. Sometimes I say perfectly ordinary things that Siri has managed to interpret in wildly inappropriate renderings (and thank goodness I looked at it before I hit “send” or else I might’ve been in big trouble). But sometimes, maybe I’m talking too fast – a common issue I have – or maybe I’m not articulating clearly enough. I do tend to be a bit hyponasal, and sometimes in voice dictation, the words come out  with Ds where there should’ve been Ns.

(One word Siri always gets right, for some inexplicable reason, is “Kardashian.” Which I think might signal that the end of civilization is nigh.)

Give it a try. The results might be fascinating. Tell me about them in the comments.

Scattergories/Categories

Scattergories is a creative-thinking category-based party game originally published by Parker Brothers.

Why I Sing is a creative-thinking but currently somewhat unfocused blog currently published by Christine Thomas-O’Meally (why, that’s me!).

Recently, I established the Curiously Stronger Performing series, which focuses on specific elements of performance:

  • The functional (how to present your music, how to walk into the room, how to talk to the pianist);
  • The creative (selecting music, creating themes);
  • The expressive (interpreting text, whether in English or another language; developing an inner monologue; physicalizing a song in the most efficient way).

And that’s what this blog needs to do. So a project I’m setting out to do over the next few months is to go through my blogposts and assign them a category.

Blogposts that are specifically about practical things like vocal technique, audition techniques, translating, and diction will go under the area of function.

Blogposts that are about finding new ways to look at things will be about creativity (and possibly about expressivity as well).

Blogposts about interpretation and physicality will be categorized under expressivity.

Announcements will either go under general or will be uncategorized.

Hopefully, this will help organize things so that they’re more easily found.

This will take awhile. Some might go under multiple things. Some of the older blogs might get reworked and updated.

Stay tuned!