Developing your signature sound involves a few key factors & today we look at developing your musicality, by challenging yourself to embrace & try on different genres. This post is part 2 in a 4 part series, (you can find part 1 here – developing your signature sound – vocal ability & nuance).
I believe we need to build a wealth of sonic experiences to really find out what we like & to ‘walk a mile in other shoes’ aka ‘sing a style that’s outside of your natural ability’.
Listening to lots of different genres hones your ear to the stylistic nuances that set each genre apart OR link them together. You may recognise how one style morphs into or grew out of another & that there are specific tools that you can implement to actively style your singing the way you want.
Using your voice like an instrument makes you valuable & more able to interact with other musicians especially in a band setting where you can demonstrate that you are listening to the sound as a whole & fitting into it using smart creative choices that you have learnt from devouring as many different styles of music as possible.
I know there are only a limited number of hours in the day so try create an inspirational or themed playlist of 15-20 songs which you add to monthly & play on high rotate when driving or working out. You could also sign up to NPR.org All Songs Considered or use iTunes My Music/For You to explore playlists of a particular sound type (i.e.; opera, hip hop, retro soul, nu soul, funk etc etc)
Put your own stamp on songs
If you have lots of ideas & musical tools to draw from this can really help you enhance your uniqueness. If you are performing covers put your own spin on the song by doing it your own way. Re-interpret it. Imagine you wrote the song & you are telling the story YOUR way.
I believe singers are like actors and the song is like a script. Interpret it however you want. If you are working with a producer (or director in the acting world) they will help you pull a number of songs together for an album (or scenes in a movie) as they have the big picture in mind. More on this in part 3 of this developing your signature sound series.
When you start out (see part 1) it can be very helpful to imitate singers when you are practicing, to figure out what they are doing or how to create the sounds they are making. It helps you learn how your instrument works & helps you explore the corners of your own voice ironically.
When you feel good about the tools you’ve developed, make that song your own!
The best way of telling your own story is to write it yourself! However, not everyone feels comfortable writing songs & many people aren’t natural writers. Great songwriters may never have studied songwriting but are avid readers (the classics are a great starting point!) & listeners. They understand that you have to flex your songwriting muscles to get better & may have written a song each day for a year before picking the 12 or 13 that they want to go on an album.
You can also study song form & you will see patterns emerging that place songs in certain genres. Blues are often 12 bar forms, pop songs often have a verse/pre-chorus/chorus/verse/pre-chorus/chorus/bridge/pre-chorus or straight to chorus format. These are all feathers in your cap to understanding how song & vocal structure play a role in crafting an engaging & entertaining performance. It’s great to collaborate with other more experienced songwriters when you are starting out. You’ll learn so much & have a blast if you pick the right people!
If you are not writing songs, choose carefully the songs you want to perform & consider picking songs that showcase your strengths & abilities technically (embellishments like vocal flexibility & agility in the form of riffs & runs) but that you also relate to lyrically & enjoy the melody of.
Don’t be afraid to change the key to suit your range & to help you communicate better. If a key is too high & it’s meant to be a whispered intimate delivery, that’s going to get lost if you have BELT the heck out of the song to hit those notes. Vice versa with a song that’s too low. It takes much more air to make low notes happen & can be hard to get the expression or energy of a lyric across if you are pushing too hard to try to get those low notes to be heard. There are ways to balance your tone & get the best out of entire register as a whole but that is another topic altogether. Check out my online singing courses or work with me if you want to develop these elements.
Phrasing – if I had to pick one topic to highlight that tackles all of the above points, this is it. Learning how to phrase effectively can be your secret weapon in developing your own signature sound. One of the problems we have as singers is that it can be quite tough to come up with your own phrasing ideas – especially when singing a cover – as all the phrasing work has already been done for you by the artist. When to dynamically swell the voice & add a “cry” (made famous in country music) to express an emotion or belt out a heartfelt plea of “don’t go” or “get out!” & “please listen to me”. When to use an embellishment like a fall off or portamento (sliding from one note to another) used a lot in soul music – think Aretha Franklin!
If you are starting out songwriting it can be even tougher as you are starting from scratch & you need to create the soundscape both lyrically, musically & with the vocal production (dynamics, vocal arrangements etc). It may seem to be easier singing covers, but I encourage you to try your hand at songwriting to see how you can play with melody development.
I often get my students to practice various phrasing styles using drum loops of 4/4 or 3/4 time signatures & ask them to sing well known song choruses, changing the phrasing each time. The awareness that comes with the differences in impact of starting a line one beat early or late, is what you want to learn & call on when you are singing.
You can also try speaking the lyrics to see where you would naturally emphasise or elevate the pitch of certain words. You’ll very rarely speak in a mono tonal way & pitch usually lifts when you are excited or even angry. Use this when crafting your own sound. You’re literally translating how you speak into song!!
Last but not least, you can get a professional in & work with a vocal coach or vocal producer to help craft your songs, be they covers or originals, so that you make it your own by adding unique phrasing or embellishments that support the story telling & you as an artist.
So now it’s YOUR turn! What genres have you been dying to try out?
For me, it’s rock music. Old school Led Zeppelin, Heart & Aerosmith!! I love singing it but predominantly sing pop covers for gigs or or electronic style music (insert a million different names for each sub-genre!) in my original collaborations when I write for commercial projects.
What ideas will you be trying in your next practice session? I’d love to hear you thoughts or questions!
Start with your blank canvas & start developing your signature sound, like now!