When you are committed to becoming a performer or singer, you know that you have to play a long end game with some key steps & strategy in place to navigate through your creative journey. This involves understanding what you are born with naturally (working your strengths!) & combining that uniqueness with what kind of artist you want to become.
Developing yourself as an artist & singer is a massive topic with many elements (check out my post on one part of the puzzle – confidence) & today we look at creating & developing your signature sound or style of singing.
You need to carve out sonic space so you can stand out from all the vocal noise that is out there.
I feel the 5 key steps to this process are:
1. Vocal Ability & Nuances
This week we will look at: Vocal Ability & Nuance
When you listen to songs on the radio or a playlist of various artists on shuffle, you tend to be able to recognise certain singers because of their distinctive tone, phrasing, tonality, vocal ability or nuances.
You know Sia cos of that raspy break in her voice, Adele’s warm tone, phrasing & belt or Beyonce’s clear balanced tone & insane ability to embellish with riffs & runs.
With Sia, it’s an ‘imperfection’ in her voice that has contributed to her signature sound. I’ve had moments in the studio where I’ve hated a take because my voice has cracked & the engineer thought it was brilliant because it STOOD OUT. Perfectly imperfect. Learn to be ok with those moments.
Adele’s nuances are also distinctive, her tone & phrasing in particular really stands out to me, along with her insane belt! She is a phenomenal songwriter (we’ll take more about that later on) & is very musical so phrasing & songwriting/note choices are part of creating her signature sound.
Beyonce is another you recognise instantly. Her sweet balanced tone is made more awesome with growls & cool melodic embellishments like riffs & runs. That is a strong healthy voice that has rock solid technique supporting it but also her vocal arrangements & production definitely add to her overall signature sound (more about that later as well.)
Where do YOU start to develop YOUR signature sound?
1. Know how your voice works & how to look after it so that you are starting with a strong foundation. You can’t sing to your potential or discover new areas of your voice if you are not in a great vocal condition. Strong vocal ability starts with a healthy voice that uses excellent technique when singing AND SPEAKING, on & off stage, so that there is a platform from which to leap into the vocal exploration abyss as opposed to ‘just getting through the gig’.
2. Record yourself singing lots so that you can listen back objectively (video is great but try not to obsess over the way you look or the faces you are making & actually LISTEN!). Analyse & understand what you are doing & work with a vocal coach if you need more help developing the things you like & strengthening the things you don’t to be able to work around or with them.
3. Find out what your strengths are & sometimes you might even find them in your ‘weaknesses’ like Sia! Remember to be open minded to this & to embrace your “imperfections” as uniquely you. They could be the vocal gold of your signature sound.
4. Decide on what your vocal style is naturally. Do you like to sing ballads, rock out or does a pop anthem get you excited? Start working in the genres or styles that you enjoy but I do encourage you try lots of different styles as well, cos as the saying goes, you won’t know if you like it until you try! You will see the hidden gems that make you unique, pop out & that too is a great springboard. It may takes a long time for you to develop all the nuances of your own voice but you have to start somewhere & starting where you are happiest & perhaps even what comes easily is a good place to begin.
5. There is a great saying (that I go on & on about) by Terry Clark. “Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate.” You don’t want to sound like everyone else but on the road to learning about your voice, you need to copy (that’s how humans learn! Think how a baby imitates your ‘goos’ & ‘gahs’ when learning to speak!) what others are doing to be able to springboard or assimilate into your own innovative sound soon, sing as much as you can of different genres, styles, artists & have a play ‘copying’ so you understand how to make those sounds. If you get stuck or need help, work with a vocal coach!
It’s natural to negatively pigeon hole yourself or feel boxed in when you hear people say “ You sound just like….. (insert name of singer)”. You may have vocal similarities & if they are an inspiration to you, it can be an homage to the artist as you’ve listened to them lots & love their nuances so much you unconsciously or consciously add them to you own singing. The reality is that it’s actually really hard to sound EXACTLY like someone else due to our skeletal structure being so different in our face/throat & the length of you vocal folds & larynx size can make a difference too. It takes a lot of skill to be a great impersonator.
Check out this vid by Christina Bianco:
She really does a great job of impersonating other vocalists. This is an ART form & she is only so great at imitating, cos she knows how the ‘mechanics’ of singing works. She knows what to do to make these different sounds as she is a very accomplished singer in her own right & is essentially ‘showing off’ her ability to explore her own voice & make any sound she wants. Mad props!
My point, you may ‘sound’ like someone else but you can differentiate yourself further by the way you sing a song & your own musical choices you bring into play as you develop your sound. It’s really apparent when you watch the Christina Bianco vid as the singers nuances really jump out when laid said by side.
Experiment as much as possible with voices & sounds so you can find what you like & what works for you.
If you have any questions or ideas that you want to share on how you are finding your signature sound, please comment below.
Over the next three weeks I’ll go further into the other areas (Musicality, Song choice, Songwriting & Production plus Trust/Vision/Authenticity) that can help carve out a sound that is all yours so stay tuned!