Over the course of writing this column, I’ve come across some pretty sensational vocalists, and I had the chance to pick many of their brains about the most important aspects of being a professional singer. I’ve also observed many of the biggest voices in music, and the way that their voices have developed and changed over time. Getting up and singing for an audience, whether you’re a professional singer or just someone who loves to sing, is not easy. So, here is a list of some of the advice I’ve encountered while writing Vocal Points that may help the aspiring singers out there:
- Everyone can sing. This is probably the most important piece of advice I’ve encountered because so often we feel that only certain people are blessed with a beautiful voice. As vocal therapist Mark Baxter said in his OurStage interview, “Singing came before speech. Humans are instinctively wired to send and receive melodic passages of emotional statements.” So if you love to sing, don’t let anyone else stand in your way.
- Nobody is perfect. Its important to remember that our favorite vocalists got to be so good because of hard work and practice. As Kevin Devine explained to me, “I think I’ve embraced my limitations as a singer and tried to re-frame them as strengths. “
Let’s face it, much of popular music these days is cookie-cutter stuff”melodies that are easy to sing along to with mediocre lyrical content and little to no emphasis or inclusion of the intricate vocal harmonies which make music so interesting. Layering these harmonies add a really cool, depth to music which allow listeners to discover something new about the music with every listen. But now that the lifespan of a hit song is much shorter, and music tends to be more shallow, much of the importance and depth of vocal harmony has been forgotten.
But there are still bands who “get” harmony. A great example is Grizzly Bear, an indie band whose four members, Chris Bear, Daniel Rossen, Ed Droste and Chris Taylor all contribute unique vocals to their music. Both Droste’s and Rossen’s tenor voices are different, but the way that they come together with the upper-range voices of Bear and Taylor is truly stunning. Grizzly Bear’s phenomenal attention to details in music is so well done, making for a sound unlike anything else. And in live performance by this band succeeds at an even higher level. Grizzly Bear makes these complicated harmonies come together seamlessly, channeling a choir while still being full of life and fun to watch.
As great as 2011 has been, it’s time to start fresh. So, while you’re making your New Year’s resolutions, start thinking about what music will be your soundtrack to 2012. Here are some of the voices we’re looking forward to hearing more from in the year to come!
Paramore, who made news in late 2010 for their split with founding members Josh and Zac Farro, are scheduled to release a full-length album in early 2012. So far, we’ve heard singles “Hello Cold World”, “Renegade” and most recently “In The Mourning”. Still, we’re wondering how the full-length album reflects any change in the band’s style. And it’ll be particularly interesting to see if Hayley Williams‘ voice is strong enough to keep fans hooked.
We’re also looking forward to having John Mayer‘s voice back in 2012! His fifth studio album, Born and Raised, which was initially scheduled for the end of 2011, will now be coming out in 2012, as soon as Mayer’s voice has completely recovered. And since the album’s already mostly completed (just missing vocals) it looks like we don’t have too long to wait!
Mumford and Sons won’t be keeping us waiting much longer either. According to the band, their next LP will be more mature, sounding a bit like “Black Sabbath meets Nick Drake”. And after the success of Sigh No More, its hard for us to imagine the band’s follow-up being anything less than great. Our fingers are crossed. (more…)
Everyone knows that the stars of OurStage are the artists. We would be nothing without them! However, there are plenty of unsung heroes working behind the scenes to make sure the wheels keep turning and everything is running smoothly. We are the OurStage Community Team; Co-Op students who work tirelessly answering emails, writing blogs and reviewing the songs entered into competitions. We’ve been working here for the past six months, but now it’s time to move on to new frontiers. Still, the experience we’ve had here has been amazing, and our parting gift to you is a playlist of some great OurStage music that has either flown under the radar, or is just so great that it merits a second listen. So kick back, put on your headphones and check out some of the best we think OurStage has to offer. You can listen to the full playlist right here!
Cara: I spent the past six months writing Live Wired, and when I wasn’t spending the majority of my free time at venues around Boston, I discovered tons of great music while working at OurStage! My picks for the playlist include finalists The Well Reds from The OurStage Panel, who I was lucky enough to see perform, and tunes from Marie Hines, Talain Rayne and Cooper Brown”these are sure to make you smile. Enjoy!
Christmas comes once a year, and this year we’d like to give you free downloads of songs by some of the best and most distinct voices on OurStage. The seemingly bottomless pool of talented vocalists on the site made it hard to narrow down our list. But, we’re sure our picks will satisfy your musical cravings. Enjoy!
“Colorado Rain” by Fiske and Herrera is a beautiful folk tune that combines Amy Herrera‘s sweet vocals with Jared Fiske‘s soft tones to create perfect harmony.
If you’re looking for a spunky, hard-hitting song which flat out rocks, look no further. “The Other Side Of You” by June Divided proves once again that a woman can rock just as hard as any man. And front-woman Melissa Menago‘s strong voice never fails to impress.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is “I’d Rather Not Know” by country singer Adam Sanders, whose deep, hearty vocals make you melt. Sanders exemplifies how great country can tug on your heart strings.
We’ve talked all about our favorite singers and the way that their voices shape the music industry, but these voices would be nothing without someone like renowned vocal therapist Mark Baxter to shape them. Baxter’s experience and insight about the human voice has helped thousands of singers, from superstars to up-and-coming singer-songwriters, attain the voices they desire. And now he’s been kind enough to share some of that insight with us. Check out what he had to say!
OS: How did you decide to become a vocal coach? What sort of training did you undergo in order to be qualified?
MB: It was a very gradual progression from performer to vocal therapist. I took voice lesons from several different teachers over the course of many years. I became curious and started asking doctors and sports therapists about physiology. As my voice improved other singers in my circuit took notice and asked for tips.
I continue to study all aspects of the voice through self-study and courses at the Harvard Medical School’s Continuing Education Program. I am also fortunate to have Dr. Steven Zeitels, who is an elite Otolaryngologist, as a mentor. I have found the medical community the best source for un-biased information about the physiology of the voice but my lengthy stage experience is what really qualifies me to work with other performing singers. (more…)
Every singing voice is unique. After all, that’s what makes vocalists special, and what makes music so interesting. But besides tonal quality, range and timbre, there is another factor that sometimes contributes to a singer’s sound”his or her accent. For some singers, accent doesn’t play a huge role in their music, but for others, it is a defining factor.
The Beatles‘ Liverpudlian accent is, in my opinion, a defining factor in their music. It is very apparent in many of their songs, and is one of many factors that makes the band great. For example, the way that customer is pronounced in “Penny Lane” stands out, as well as countless other examples throughout their catalog of music. Still, it’s hard to know where exactly certain artists come from.
There are so many examples of British singers who sound as if they could easily be from the US. Elton John, Amy Winehouse and even Adele have been known to shed their British accents in song. And then there’s a band like Phoenix, who you’d never suspect comes from France. And this makes sense if you think about it. A regional accent is made up of differences in features like intonation, speech rhythm, vowel length and vowel quality, all of which naturally disappear in song. Intonation is replaced by the melody which the vocalist sings, typical speech rhythm changes based on timing and rhythm of the song, and vowel length and quality are oftentimes elongated and enunciated when sung. (more…)
The significance of the Billboard Hot 100, which compiles the Top 100 singles based on radio popularity, in the music industry today has certainly diminished. But despite new music industry road maps, the chart remains an interesting measure of what sells in a huge commercial way. So, let’s take a look what role the voice plays in each of the following chart-toppers’ success on Billboard from the week of November 26, 2011. Here are the Top 10 artists in order.
1. Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, “We Found Love” While Rihanna’s hits are always fun and catchy, the way that her voice sounds recorded (a bit whiny) has never blown me away. And then there’s the fact that some of her stuff is diluted with pitch correction software, which shows in live performance when she’s often off key. All that aside, this particular song is not offensive, but its just very bland.
2. LMFAO – “Sexy And I Know It” DJs Redfoo and SkyBlu may have no vocal talent, but at least they don’t pretend to. They have fun and the song is what is, and that’s why it works. (more…)
John Mayer isn’t known for his humility. In fact, quite the opposite”he’s been called showy, cocky and even called out for his womanizing ways. But he IS known for his voice. The way that he can make his fans melt with his sultry, light tones, both in a stripped-down live performance, and with layering of harmonies on his fully produced records. But all that became impossible for Mayer when he was diagnosed with granuloma (throat inflammation). After looking into alternative remedies, it was determined he would have to undergo throat surgery to fix the problem. And while the surgery is somewhat routine, and he’ll be able to perform again after he recovers, he explained that the experience was humbling, in a post on Tumblr “I never thought I’d be wishing I could do what I love again”. Like so many vocalists, Mayer had begun to take his voice for granted, and needed this experience as an awakening to move his career and life forward.
There’s something exciting about discovering an artist who not only records fantastic music, but can also perfectly duplicate their music onstage. In this auto-tune age, an artist who can rock just as hard every night in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of fans as they do the studio”where they have multiple takes to nail that high note”is a rarity. That’s why I continue to go to live shows. Enduring all the mediocre acts is really worth it when you finally come across an exceptional talent. Vocally, I’ve always been blown away by James Taylor‘s live performance and how well he re-creates his sound live. His gentle and soothing voice translates perfectly to live performance, he is a master at utilizing the tone of his voice to mesh, but also to contrast his simple arrangements. His low-key delivery is able to captivate his audience and get them intertwined in his magnificent stories.