Create your own signature vocal sound

By Cari Cole

A generic sounding voice is vanilla. A voice with cred has distinct characteristics, an “instantly recognizable” sound, its own signature vocal sound.

That said, is it cultivated or just what you were born with?

What I have witnessed over the past 3 decades of working with singers in New York City is it’s a blend of both. It’s taking what you have and making something of it. That means working on it and nurturing it, until what you hear in your head is what you hear back.

What are the Symptoms of a Signature Voice?

1. You don’t sound like everyone else — or try to.

You own your own unique sound and go in the direction of what sounds best. You aren’t afraid to stand out or not be like everyone else (this is harder to do than you think). The tendency is to try to sound like what is popular at the time. Don’t make that mistake, but also don’t settle for how you sound until it has its own identifiable character.

2. You put your own spin on songs…

…and never sing them as the original singer did. Sometimes because you can’t and mostly because you don’t want to. In other words, you’re stubbornly independent and detest being a copycat. That said, when singing covers, you start by copying exactly what the singer did (in your practice) and then veer into your own territory and claim your domain.

3. You obsess over your vocal sound and work on your voice to improve it.

That means you work on your vocal strength, agility, technique and phrasing until you start hearing back what you hear in your head.

These are all symptoms of a singer that has a signature. Don’t just expect it to come out, you have to nurture it, encourage it, plant the seed and then water it.

Here are some more ways to expand your signature sound:

1. Experiment and play with the sounds of words as they come out of your mouth.

For example, pronounce words differently than other more “proper” generic singers.

2. Record yourself a lot and listen back.

What bugs you about your own voice? How can you sing differently to eliminate the things that annoy you, i.e., if you have a thin sound, work in technique to fatten up your sound. If you don’t like the way you pronounce, work with a coach (like me) to get alternate approaches and to fix whatever else you don’t like about your voice.

3. Don’t sing what doesn’t sound good.

Sometimes you force the issue because you want to sing a song that might not be right for you. Before you abandon the song, try changing keys or tempos first. If you don’t find a fit – move on to a song that suits you better or see the next step for more info on phrasing.

4. Phrasing for your own tunes.

One of the problems artists have singing their own material (and why singing covers can be easier than singing your own songs) is because you are singing with a blank canvas. Believe it or not, when you sing a cover, it has already been interpreted for you. The details of the phrasing, emotion, and dynamics are all there for you as a template. Artists often sound better singing covers than their own tunes.

Solution: have an accomplished singer sing your song to get better interpretive, creative phrasing ideas.

Share how you work on your signature, or artists whose signature voices you love the most!!  

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