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Finding our identity in singing

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aravindmadis
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I have been really thinking about Ron's comment on choosing right songs for the voice and here is my assessment.  It has taken me time to reach a certain level of maturity to understand this.  I wanted to share this with everyone and would love to get your thoughts
 
Here is a video of David Lyon covering "Faithfully" by Journey
 
and here the same song covered by another singer named Tommy
 
Obviously they have very different voices.  David(who is a fabulous singer) has a much darker voice than Tommy.  Tommy is able to effortlessly get the light tone, while it is tougher for David to do so.  Being a much inferior singer than David, I have always struggled with finding the right tone(or I would call "extent of darkness") in my voice for the songs I sing.  It is my assessment that "Faithfully" is perhaps not a right choice for David(just compare this rendition to his cover of "Rainbow of the dark" which is an amazing match for his voice and the style of singing he is good at.  
 
Which brings me to a question about what kind of singers are you? Are you a 
1.  Light singer - Uses very little weight in singing and very little volume and probably uses speech level singing irrespective of the genre.  Generally a great match for lighter voices and for delivering emotions through "soft" notes.  This is more "Head voice" singing
2.  Heavy singer - Uses a heavier tone(more chest) and more volume in general in singing. Has power in delivery and is more suited to darker voices who like to belt and much better to convey emotions through "powerful" notes.  When I am saying "soft" or "powerful" I am not referring to the range or the fullness of the.  Both Steve Perry and Bruce Dickenson can do a full sounding B4, but they convey a very different feel and emotion.  
 
A>  The choice of your voice dictates what you will sound better doing.  Steve Perry would probably sound not great trying to do Dio and vice versa.  They can both do the other type of singing, but it would most likely not be their best work. We need to understand our voice and respect its strengths and limitations 
 
B>  The other thing is about doing covers.  If you have a very different voice from the original singer, a very well done cover can divide opinions. Even if technically perfect(as David's cover of Faithfully is), human beings associate the song with the emotions conveyed by the original singer.  If you are not doing a great job at replicating the emotions, they may not be satisfied.  If you cover the song taking a different approach(light instead of heavy), they might well be outraged.. We can choose the Light or Heavy singing to cover a variety of emotions, but when it comes to a very popular cover with a unique voice, we are walking a tightrope when singing a song that does not suit our voice/style of singing
 
C>  The choice of "Light vs Heavy" does not dictate whether you will succeed in a certain genre.  Steve Perry carved an amazing career in rock singing light.  On the other hand Michael Bolton seemingly uses a much heavier style to sing amazing R&B.  The reason I think is that human beings define their experience with singing not in absolute terms(light vs heavy styles), but relative within the song.  I have had this problem when within a song I am not sure whether to go full fledged or to go light. And when I do covers, this confusion shows.  The type of co-ordination you use has no bearing on the range.  There are different ways to sing fifth octave notes
 
D> Maybe a singer exists who can do both "Light" and "Heavy" co-ordinations and do them both amazingly.  In other words be a combination of Dio and Steve Perry.  But for most of us, this becomes a big problem when doing songs which cut across the passagio.  Mastering bridging is very difficult to do it one way, let alone trying to do it in different ways.  What is the most optimal way to bridge for our voice(which we can do with fullness and consistency) and what sounds good on our voice? 
 
We need to experiment as much as possible to find out true identity as singers.  We are all unique and special in our own way.  I think this is as important as learning the right technique.  
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I definitely agree that experimenting with your voice is crucial. Also knowing how the voice works is crucial. I do musical theater, and therefore I often have to alter my voice for the different characters. So, sometimes I talk and sing "lighter" or "darker" or anywhere in between. If you know your instrument you can produce a lot of sound colors.

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Ditto on the learning who you are. Though as i always say the dog will always want to meow and the cat bark.

I think sometimes you have to put yourself in check at times. I always wanted to be able to have one of those super light voices. I even almost damaged my voice at one period of my life trying to over lighten my voice. Not to mention a few very horrible performances.

Even though I always wanted a voice like that, how many high and light people wish they could have some raw power and brute strength.

My moral of the story is, sure work on your short comings, as well as try to find every color your voice can produce, I always do. But remember what you have and what you are, and 100 percent chance someone wishes they could do it just like you.....meow.

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It's a good point. 

 

I do wonder how other factors such as personality come into this. For example, as a laid back person I'm not sure how good of a job I'll do covering Axl Rose - different anger and energy levels. My 'rocking out' state of mind is more 'cool' than 'wild'. Actually it's more geeky than cool but you probably get the point. 

 

Also, not a lot of people can sing about dragons and magicians like Dio used to. So I suppose that choice of lyrics, covers, musical style (or your niche in the wider musical style) has to do with various factors... 

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I don't think I've ever learned as much as from writing my own songs. Singing a cover always has an element of 'training wheels' and comparison, which is neat in a way, but ultimately, what you do when you sing something from purely inside yourself forces identity to come out, strength and weaknesses. 

 

I don't agree with the order, but probably 50 percent of my favorite singers are on this list somewhere:

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-singers-of-all-time-19691231

 

They all have really powerful identities. It's far more common for the singers on this list to either either write songs themselves, or have someone close by who writes songs for them than being able to sing Journey covers in the original key and having people like it.

 

So yeah, that is probably my best advice. Even if someone succeeds at being Steve Perry, he already exists. We've already got one who even claims to be on this forum. (Hi Steve!) :D Histrorically the singers with the strongest identities to the public, sang like themselves, strengths and limitations included. Failed impersonations were a lot more successful than successful impersonations, as cloning someone else by definition.

 

Case in point, here is one of my top 5 singers impersonating both Elvis and Roy Orbison by his own admission in this same song he wrote:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gQBaM8icPs

 

Thank god for me he is terrible at both impersonations and ultimately sounds exactly like himself. That's identity.

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  Writing your own songs is a good way to find your identity. Also remember that the people or groups who made a success out of a cover song sounded nothing like the original. Would you really want AC/DC to cover a Jouney song and like Journey? No, you would want to hear how they transformed it into an AC/DC song.

  Most of the time when a song doesn't work it is because the MUSIC does not fit the Singer. Be willing to change the Music a little to fit your style and sound.

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  Writing your own songs is a good way to find your identity. Also remember that the people or groups who made a success out of a cover song sounded nothing like the original. Would you really want AC/DC to cover a Jouney song and like Journey? No, you would want to hear how they transformed it into an AC/DC song.

  Most of the time when a song doesn't work it is because the MUSIC does not fit the Singer. Be willing to change the Music a little to fit your style and sound.

 

Yes, a million times. :D Even the most famous song coverers of all time, like Frank Sinatra, who sang huge swathes of the Great American Songbook, tailered the songs to 'themselves.' It was arranged for them, for their voices, it was interpreted by them.

 

"Being the original guy" can sometimes be a dead end as an artistic endeavor. You might get a job as an impersonator, if the original guy dies you might replace him in a band, and it might help you when practicing your voice, but when the original guy already existed, ultimately, people want the 'new guy.' That's how the American songbook stayed alive and still exists to this day.  There's still 'the new guy' to sing them.

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"Imitation is the nicest flattery but individuality is the key to immortality" - Corey Taylor

 

It is said that you can make your voice do anything and I agree, within reason. I think there are different types of voice. What is more important is what you want to do with your voice.

 

I sound better on some songs than I do on others. It behooves me to consider carefully what songs I sing, at least for this audience. At a New Years Eve party with several inebriated people, I can get away with a lot. :lol:

 

Another thing I have been learning about how well a song does or does not fit with my voice. How bad do I want to do that song? Is it one that I just like to sing now and then and don't plan to have as a permanent part of the set list? I am not talking about not working things to improve or try new things. Only to make the time spent more efficient and useful.

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Yes, a million times. :D Even the most famous song coverers of all time, like Frank Sinatra, who sang huge swathes of the Great American Songbook, tailered the songs to 'themselves.' It was arranged for them, for their voices, it was interpreted by them.

 

"Being the original guy" can sometimes be a dead end as an artistic endeavor. You might get a job as an impersonator, if the original guy dies you might replace him in a band, and it might help you when practicing your voice, but when the original guy already existed, ultimately, people want the 'new guy.' That's how the American songbook stayed alive and still exists to this day.  There's still 'the new guy' to sing them.

 

Just yesterday, on the radio, I heard a snippet of Bob Dylan's cover of Frank Sinatra's "Stay with Me." I kinda wished he had left it alone.

:(

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Just yesterday, on the radio, I heard a snippet of Bob Dylan's cover of Frank Sinatra's "Stay with Me." I kinda wished he had left it alone.

:(

 

Haha, most people who have sought it out seem to like it though:

 

 

It's not his best performance, but it had potential. It's not his tone/pitch that I dislike, it's his stilted delivery in the phrasing. It's like the words are clunking out to my ears. Covering a song in your own way doesn't immediately guarantee it will become a classic, of course, and while it may not be our favorite, it has its fans from the looks of it.

 

I've listened to a lot of Frank. He's one of my favorite singers, but I never heard his version of that song. I listened to it now, and Frank was a master of meter. He had maybe a 2 octave range (which moved around as he aged), or there abouts and couldn't sing John Lennon, much less Steve Perry to save his life, but he was one of hte best interpreters of song in history.

 

So if you want to interpret songs and make them your own, changing the key to exploit the best areas of your voice, and using phrasing and sound coloring can help a whole lot guys.

 

Edit:

 

 

I much prefer his life version here. In spite of the vocal flaws there is so much more life in the phrasing. Interesting.

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  Writing your own songs is a good way to find your identity. Also remember that the people or groups who made a success out of a cover song sounded nothing like the original. Would you really want AC/DC to cover a Jouney song and like Journey? No, you would want to hear how they transformed it into an AC/DC song.

  Most of the time when a song doesn't work it is because the MUSIC does not fit the Singer. Be willing to change the Music a little to fit your style and sound.

 

That's a great point. 

 

If you play in a cover band playing in bars - everything goes... as long as you hit the notes and do it in a manner that won't interfere with people's beer drinking...

 

If we're talking about aiming to different places - I'm also all for making a cover that drifts away from the original. Scissor Sister's disco version  to Comfortably Numb was a good example of how to transform a song to something radically different (the results were great and no-one will start nagging about capturing the spirit of the original).

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And Killer, you prove the point, to a large extent. Maybe a lot of people like Dylan's cover. To each his own.

 

And so, as we continue on our paths of singing, we should seek and define our path to better focus on what we want. But also consider the audience.

 

If Dylan had posted his Sinatra cover here, he would either have a thread full of "get some kind of singing lessons or at least a book on singing" or no comment at all, hoping that it descends into oblivion as newer posts in other threads come along. Sometimes, silence punctuated by the chirps of crickets is just as strong a judgement.

 

"Hello? Is this thing on? Can you hear me in back? Hello, Cleveland!"

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  • 2 months later...

As Martin said, the voice can produce a lot of different sound colors.  But this kind of skill set may very easily violate "technique."

 

It takes a lot of singing of different songs and learning to really explore and work your instrument.

 

So many adjustments can be made, but again it's not always going to be "technically correct."

 

Some will require you fall out of "correct singing" and just go for it and see what comes out.  

 

I know people like Daniel and others will not agree, (and that's okay) but I believe some singers full voice-head voices and falsetto are much more tonally closer especially up high than other singers.

 

Singer #2's full voice tonality is much more tonally closer to his falsetto voice tone than singer #1.

 

Whether that's due to a strict adherence to bridging early I really don't know, but taking my own voice, my head voice tonality is not "close" to my falsetto tonality.  My head voice tonality is closer to my chest voice tonality in the higher notes. Is this due to years of pulling chest?

 

I'd have to say that's possible.

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Writing your own songs is a good way to find your identity. Also remember that the people or groups who made a success out of a cover song sounded nothing like the original. Would you really want AC/DC to cover a Jouney song and like Journey? No, you would want to hear how they transformed it into an AC/DC song.

  Most of the time when a song doesn't work it is because the MUSIC does not fit the Singer. Be willing to change the Music a little to fit your style and sound.

 

Although I agree to an extent in rock, pop, metal, jazz etc. Vocalist in musicals or opera don't usually have that kind of luxury. Sometimes you'll be able to have them bring it up or down a half step or whole step or a small amount of artistic freedom on a solo or aria, but that is usually about it. You have an entire cast, director, orchestra to work with. It is usually as written or to the directors interpretation, everyone cannot relearn a score to suit individual needs, likes, voice types. I suppose that is why systems like Fach are used. In opera or classical all the emotion must be through the technique within the appropriate dynamics of the voice type.

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^Excellent post, Darius.

 

Another reason why the terms tenor, baritone, etc., really only fit the opera genre. To me, opera is a lifestyle and a commitment. So, for example, if someone wanted to call a certain rock singer an "operatic tenor," well, no, not unless he is actually singing opera.

 

I think opera requires certain sound, certain production and tone. It's not just a matter of singing well. It is singing well and as close to the original intention of the composer as possible. Though granted, there is always going to be some interpretation. I have a seen a few people negatively criticize Pavarotti and oddly enough, they decide his singing went downhill after the Three Tenors Tour. And I think it is because some people felt that opera is for the elite, not us unwashed heathens. "These are my toys and you can't play with them. Nanner, nanner, boo, boo!"

 

But it is a lifestyle and commitment and even if one starts training in young adulthood, it could be ten years before landing premiere and title roles, working up through the ranks of second or relief singer, to a minor part, and so on.

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I agree to a certain extent, but opera is for everyone. The majority of great opera singers came from poor backgrounds and are actually very humble, but the do protect their craft from those who seek to diminish it. They should they work years and years to perfect it and wish for it to retain certain qualities. You don't have to be wealthy or elite. in todays markets it about the same I know people paid $800.00 a seat to see Cher at Madison Square Garden, you can get a decent seat at MET for less. Most Opera house also have student seating cheap and many now give away seats. Palm Opera uses Twitter about 8 hours before the show and give away left over seats. That is also part of it though it is supposed to be a special experience , not fast food. I've seen people pay way more for a football game or baseball game. Really good operas having incredible staging, real horses, the best lighting, snow, rain etc. that all cost mega bucks.. but what the audience gets is a full experience , like a movie.

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HMDarius, it's really fascinating to hear the perspective of a professional opera singer. I've always been relentlessly feral spirited and I couldn't imagine singing within the confines of opera. The reason I began singing was to express myself as as an artist and a lot of the music I gravitate to is similar where there is some kind of wild unrestrained emotional expression.

 

The idea of servicing a historical craft and keeping it alive with singing technique is almost beyond my comprehension. For me it sounds like a suffocating straight jacket, for you it's a life passion and goal, I really enjoy your posts for this reason.

 

It's like the antithesis of how I know how to express myself, but I do enjoy classical music and have often enjoyed the operatic performances posted on review and critique my singing so maybe opera is a world worth exploring more so.

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I always tought identity in singing has to be grown into. To me thats not a proccess of experimenting but instead expressing what you like about music in a way that you are not intentionally copying anyone.

 

For example people give grief to Metallica for steering away from their Trash Metal roots to do some Hard Rock "commercial" stuff...but if they did it out of love and their personal growth its fine by me.

 

My brother always says that if he heard 10+ people play some guitar solo improvisation that he could deffinatelly know which one is mine because i have a certain style, but i never noticed that until he said it. Obviously i copied TONS of guitarist and covered tons of songs but i guess i took a piece of everyone and unintentionally created a style that can be called my own (obviously it sound like someone, you cant be 100% unique these days).

 

Im actually not even trying to find my identity in singing, i feel like that is something that will come on its own. If im doing a cover ill always add a lil twist to a song where i feel like it, and just by the way i like to sing. Just here on this forum i posted 3-6 covers and every single one of them has a deviation in melody from the original song, and ofc Timbre and intensity is very different.

 

Stage pressence is something that makes you YOU also. When i first started playing guitar live i actually rehearsed moves at home and i "faked it, till i made it". Now i act more natural and dont have to think of my performance.

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I like all kinds of music, including classical and some opera. One of my favorite movies was "Amadeus" with Tom Hulce, Jeff Daniels, and F. Murray Abraham. Abraham was absolutely brilliant as Salieri. And it was based on the Rimsky-Korsakov opera about the subject. 

 

Priest - "Why that's charming! I didn't know you wrote that."

 

Salieri - "I didn't. That was Mozart. Wolfgang....Amadeus....Mozart."

 

My favorite voice in the whole wide world doesn't actually sing in opera but sings arias and art songs and some original compositions. That is Sarah Brightman.

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You know, I picked up the guitar as I was inspired by certain players and ever since my gear choices and some othrr stylistic choices I make are inspired by these players.

I've startrd singing just to see of I can. I don't have a favorite singer or a clear vision of how I want to sound. Has its shortcomings but in a way it makes finding an identity much easier...

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I think I'm a rarity in that I knew precisely who I wanted to be prior to taking singing seriously at all.

 

I wanted to be an ultra passionate singer that wore my heart on my sleeve in songs, that was just skilled enough, that some could relate to my expression, but did enough things 'improperly' for whatever reasons (passion, lack of virtuous skill, or artistic reasons) that others would listen to my voice and hate it, "that isn't the right way to sing!!!!!"

 

I wanted a medium to express myself, but ultimately to remain a bit raw, dirty, primal, flawed, and imperfect, but always honest, and have some people relate to a flawed human expressing himself, rather than my ability to execute some technical feat.

 

I've improved a lot as a singer, but I still feel like I have wiggle room. I definitely am not a virtuouso, I still have pitchiness from time to time, and my willingness to frequently alter my timbre is alienating to some. A lot of singer are like:

 

This is the quiet part, so I will use my quiet voice,

This is the loud part, so I will use my loud voice

 

With me I approach singing like, this line makes me

 

Angry, so I'm gonna seeth or explode

Makes me nostalgic, so I'm going to reminisce,

Makes me desperate so I'm gonna wail 

Makes me happy, so I'm going to deliver it with a smile

Makes outraged, so I'll defiantly spit it out

Makes me energetic and jubilant, so I might shout it

 

I do try to get those things near the intended pitch, and in a timbre that feels expressive. But part of how I want to sound is not clinically precise or formulaic. Technique is like a bridge to me. Trying to get whatever it is I'm trying to express near enough to pitch, in a way not overly unhealthily in my voice, with aesthetically appropriate timbre.

 

I don't know what it is like to not be driven by these impulses. That's why something like opera is so fascinating, cause technique and tradition kind of come first, before the impulse. I feel like the least operatic singer in the world, even if I sing really loud, with a dark tone, and loads of vibrato or if my technical skills approached a level I could mimick the technique, it wouldn't be opera, because I'd just be making noises that feel authentic.

 

I do like helping people, so exploring sounds others are interested in that might not be impulsive for me to see if I can help others express themselves has never felt inauthentic to 'see what happens.' if can sing bubblegum sounding pop I'm not interested in as an artist, but I wouldn't be able to uphold a tradition of even my most beloved singer's technique, much less bubble gum pop. I don't even know how to sing in a genre or how people can even sing a genre. It all feels like a straight jacket to me. I want to make a wide variety of passionate noises that feel authentic. That's it as a singer. Technique gives me a wider variety and more control over the passionate noises. That's all it is there for when it comes to me.

 

So yeah, people are really different. I can't even quite imagine discovering my identiy as as singer. I'm sure it's possible, if you're self reflective and pay attention to what really feels most authentic to you.  If you pay really, really close attention, I think a lot of people might find it. It might be modern life is so busy, they just don't have time to search for it, nail it down, and get it.

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You know, I picked up the guitar as I was inspired by certain players and ever since my gear choices and some othrr stylistic choices I make are inspired by these players.

I've startrd singing just to see of I can. I don't have a favorite singer or a clear vision of how I want to sound. Has its shortcomings but in a way it makes finding an identity much easier...

I seem to remember either singing along with songs or at least humming them in my head and always fascinated by music. The first singing voice I remember and I think is unconsciously my vocal role model is Glenn Campbell when he came out with "Wichita Lineman."

 

In 1974, when I was 10 and just before we moved from California to Texas, I picked up my grandparent's classical guitar, which only had 3 strings left on it and not in a row. In the midst of the madness of packing boxes, I remember laying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, and finding a simple version of the arpeggiated beginning to "Who'll Stop the Rain?" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which was popular then.

 

A few weeks later, we moved to Texas, living temporarily in Richardson, a suburb city on the north side of Dallas. Down the street and a few turns away was a shopping center near US 75 (we called it north central distressway), was a little music shop that is no longer there. My mother gave me a folk student guitar my father had given her, as he had started out as a music major at University of South Dakota. They were able to afford for me, a new set of strings and Mel Bay's Book of Chords. My stepgrandfather taught me the notes on the staff of sheet music. And "figure it out for yourself."

 

Otherwise, if I could not find music with the chords written out, I would have to pick it out by ear. But at least now, I could play songs and sing along.

 

That same music shop is where later, when I was 18, I bought my first electric guitar. My grandparents had promised if I improved my grades in school, they would get this for me. I exceeded the minimums of their requirements and, ta da da da, nothing. Thanks for being true to your word ....

 

Anyway, so I had enough money saved up from mowing lawns and doing chores and whatnot. I bought myself a Memphis copy Les Paul Standard, standard black, nickel covered PAF pickups. NIce fat and jazzy sound. Always had high action, though. And I got a Marlboro 132 A practice amp. And an MXR 10 band graphic eq stomp box.

 

So, over the years I have picked up a few more guitars. Another cheapo guitar that I bought at a flea market in Kleburg, Texas for $40. It was good until I accidently knocked it over one day and broke a brace inside. Spectrum Acoustic with built-in pick-up. Hondo copy Flying V (my favorite,) Fender 85 amp that does 200 watts rms. More volume on that than I will ever need. Roland GS-6 rack mount digital effects unit. Yamaha C45M Classical guitar. A few other things I have, too.

 

I need to get rid of the two oldest guitars. I would like to find a guy that flips guitars and I could give him these two oldest ones in trade for a decent bass.

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