You don’t have to have the best voice in the room to be a contender, but you do have to be the most convincing and unforgettable. The voice that people remember. They say “people don’t remember what you said, but how you made them feel.” A signature voice leaves an indelible impression. And the most potent counterpart is not the technical skill, although that can be impressive, it’s the emotional impact that brings home the bacon.
The quickest way to test whether a singer is singing from their emotions or their vocal skill, is whether you get lost in the song, or you focus on the critique of their voice. A great vocal will hit you in the solar plexus and make you think about your life as if the singer is singing directly to you. An “ok” vocal, will stay more on the surface and not hit those emotional places in the listener. This test never fails. Hard to do with your own vocal, that’s why you need a team ;). More about that coming up.
So how do you carve a signature into your unforgettable voice?
There is a process I have used over the past 3 decades, and given our success stories, it’s a good start to your process.
5 Steps to Making Your Voice Unforgettable:
1. Strengthen Your Instrument.
You’ll never realize your full potential or unlock your deepest emotion without an instrument that can deliver it. I always start here with building from where you are with techniques to create a strong, resilient instrument capable of delivering big emotion. If you’ve already got an established voice, dive in to take it up a couple of notches. If you’re looking for more, don’t hesitate to step it up. You’ll be so glad you did (and make your next record the one.)
2. Vocal Style.
Are you a sultry power ballad singer ala Adele or Ellie Goulding? Or a waif-like breathy goddess ala Cat Power or Feist? Or is your power in falsetto like James Vincent McMorrow or Bon Iver? Or are you a soulful blues dude like James Bay or Jack Garratt? My process for this is discovery. It’s like hunting for a treasure. Helping the singer find the way their voice sounds good, feels good and how it moves best. I like to experiment with ideas and phrases while recording because then we can listen back and examine what sounds best. Keep in mind that finding your own sound is a process of making your voice fit you like a glove. It involves trying things and continuing on until you are sitting in the saddle just right. Depending on the type of sound that you hear in your head, and how far you are from that, it can take days, weeks, months or years to come into your own style. Working with a vocal coach who is strong in vocal arranging and recording will help you get there faster.
Tip: When working on original songs vs. covers, keep in mind that originals are more of a blank canvas than covers that are already interpreted. You might want another singer (or vocal producer) to sing the track for you to flush out vocal arrangements more thoroughly.
3. Record Your Voice A Lot.
Don’t just wait for the studio to record your voice, you should record as often as possible. That’s what Garageband, or better, Logic, is for. More about that below. But seriously, if you want to get good, really good, and develop your style you need to listen back, analyze and make improvements. Don’t stop until the whole tracks sound exactly like you want it to. And if you can’t get there on your own, hire an expert who can (vocal arranger like myself.) Just one or two sessions will show you a whole host of ideas to expand your palette and bring out your own unique sound and style much more than you could get to on your own. Those songs can become a template you can use on other songs.
Tip: Edit your vocal track, punching in and out to perfect each word and phrase. Then go back and use Auto Tune to perfect whatever pitch needs tweaking. The beauty of this process, as technical as it is, is that it will improve your ear tenfold. As you do this, you’ll notice how much your voice improves. This is a really important piece.
4. Vocal Arranging.
Vocal Arranging is the non-disclosed trade secret of the industry. It is one of my favorite things to do and over 30 years of recording artists, it has also become a speciality. A vocal arranger brings the vocalist to a whole new level of performance on recordings, improving their style and signature – sometimes creating it on the spot.
Watch my Alumni talk about the process we went through on her record to carve her unforgettable voice.
5. Making Demos That Send Chills Down Your Spine.
Making crazy good demos is another insider secret. People will tell you to send your “roughs”, that they are used to listening to raw material, but that doesn’t mean sloppy, rushed tracks you sang through once without editing. Only Aretha can do that. When you uplevel the level of your demo’s using the above processes in these 5 steps, your final step is to eliminate the “cringe factor.” That means that shoulder hike up towards your ear when you hear that note you should have fixed, or a pronunciation that drives you nuts. Or worse, an insincere phrase that leaves much to be desired. Don’t leave anything that makes you cringe and go a step beyond and create a vibe on your demo that sends chills up and down your spine (and everyone else’s.)