I bet you can remember the first time you watched a new artist perform live or discovered a new artist on the radio or play list. It is so exciting to hear a voice that can make every hair on your arm stand up!
Hearing a ‘GREAT’ singer can immediately stop you in your tracks. The truth is, the reason for this visceral reaction to a singers voice, is tough to explain.
Maybe it’s something about the their vocal range, the tone of the voice or perhaps it’s the singers ability to tell an emotional story which completely captivates you and makes you want to hear more. Whatever it is, once you discover this new artist, you are completely hooked, becoming a fan for life.
My first concert experience was seeing the Jackson 5 Reunion Tour at the CNE when I was just 10. I went with my sisters who were quite a few years older. If I remember correctly, my parents were away and lucky for me, instead of my sisters staying at home to babysit me, they decided take me to a concert.
Most people would agree, Michael Jackson’s voice through out his long career, was pure magic. It had an undeniable presence, a sense of urgency very few singers have or will ever have and without question, the emotion in his tone was palatable.
His use of rhythm in every word, every inhale and every exhale created another layer of rhythmic phrasing which seemingly matched perfectly the rhythmic phrasing of the band.
To this day, I often wonder if the instrumental arrangements, which of course were brilliantly produced, were created to match his vocal phrasing as a posed to the other way around.
Aside from his undeniable songwriting abilities and sheer genius arrangements and instrumental productions, I believe it was the way Michael Jackson ‘sang his songs’ which ultimately made him the most successful artist in the world.
Michael’s vocal performance was as precise as his physical performance. He crafted each vocal moment to transport his fans through out a wide range of emotions and back again.
Hard to argue that Michael Jackson was a ‘GREAT’ singer in fact, he maybe one of the most influential vocalists of all time.
You can hear Michael’s vocal influence on so many modern day artists including the Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, and the list goes on and on and on.
There was an era in the music industry when artists were made!!! Being a great singer was the ticket to being discovered. Think about singers like Whitney, Celine, Luther, Barbra and Mariah. All these incredible singers were absolutely known for their jaw dropping vocal performances which showcased their exceptional vocal abilities start to finish.
Of course through out every generation in music, there have always been artists who were not the best singers and yet the audience still called them ‘GREAT’.
Artist’s like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Willy Nelson, Elvis, and Amy Winehouse just to name a few, will stand the test of time because of their unique vocal tone and authentic delivery. This may in fact be the ultimate definition of what makes a great singer GREAT.
When I was an artist myself, I constantly struggled with having my own vocal identity. I sang each song using a different voice thinking it was the song that should dictate my vocal approach.
Over many years of working on my voice, studying every type of technique, I learned how to expand my range, improve my pitch and sing with more and more power. I kept working on my voice until I could sing all types of music with absolute stylist accuracy. But what I didn’t realize, was I sounded like a different person on every song, making it impossible for the audience to connect emotionally to me as the artist.
It took me years to really understand that what I needed in order to be a ‘GREAT’ singer, was actually to STOP SINGING and simply tell the story in the song using a consistent vocal identity.
What it means to be a ‘GREAT’ singer today, is at the heart of all my vocal and performance coaching. I work with all levels of artists including Roy Woods, Neon Dreams, Blake McGrath, JESSIA, the cast of Schitts Creek Season 5 and countless developing singers.
It is so important for me not to use a one size fits all vocal technique but rather I use a highly personalized approach allowing the singer to build just enough vocal and performance skills to ultimately choose a ‘voice they love’ and then be able to use it whenever and where ever they want.
Singers train with me to ultimately sound untrained. We develop sustainable vocal coordination focused on producing memorable vocal moments rather than a cookie cutter voice that’s beautiful but often forgettable.
I have broken down the work I do with Singers into 3 stages. The first being to develop Natural Vocal Coordination™️. This is when the singer is able to eliminate any tension and strain in the body and mind which stops the vocal chords from coordinating naturally. The second stage is developing strong Vocal Hooks including Rhythmic Hooks, Lyrical Hooks, Melodic Hooks, Dynamic Hooks and so on. This stage is exciting because the singer starts to get a sense of how to use their natural unique voice whether they sing a cover or an original song. And finally the 3rd stage to becoming a ‘GREAT’ singer is Mastery. This is when a singer can make any word rhyme by using the shape of their mouth and use of resonance to manipulate the sound of their voice into what ever they want it to be.
The goal for every singer is, with effortless effort, generate an emotional reaction from their audience each and every time they open their mouth to sing.
A true artist knows how use their unique vocal identity on every song they sing, period. This is how artists can explore different music genres while maintaining their recognizable vocal identity.
Artists like Post Malone, Rod Stewart, Mic Jaguar, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Kelly Clarkson just to name a few,’ cross musical genres all the time. Their vocal identity is consistent on all their material and their loyal audience shifts with them as they do it.
It is easier and easier for Artists today to explore these shifts in genres as radio and record company pressure become less and less influential on how an Artists can reach their audience.
Streaming platforms are still curated but offer the listener way more variety in terms of artistic expression and new artist discovery.
No matter the generation, ‘GREAT’ singers sing the music that shape our lives. These cherished artists express a piece of our own story in the songs they sing and even more importantly, how they choose to sing them.
So the next time you hear a singer for the first time, ask yourself, what makes them a ‘GREAT’ singer.