(Don't think you're good enough? You're
by Mark Baxter
voice is both the most important and misunderstood
instrument in popular music.
the local scene the vocals are often an afterthought, barely
touched on in rehearsals, under-mixed live and hurried in the
studio. On the national scene the singer IS the band. On top
of this pressure, many performers are insecure. The prevailing,
idiotic, mentality that a REAL singer should be able to make
anything work causes people to dwell on their weaknesses rather
than their strengths. I call this the impostor syndrome. True,
singers are strange animals, but a little less so if you consider
there are two distinctly different breeds: The egos and the
alter-egos. Expecting one to sing like the other will cause
problems every time.
a loud-mouth makes a great vocalist. An extroverted, uninhibited
person is as natural for the singer slot as a seven-footer is
for a basketball team. Performers like Celene Dione pop out
of the womb singing. They are encouraged as kids and win talent
contests as teenagers. These gifted, 100-watt egos gladly stand
up in crowded restaurants and belt out tunes or bust into free
style raps at parties. But what about the rest? What if the
desire to sing and perform is in spite of the personality? Is
there a height requirement for the NBA? No. Just don't expect
much encouragement on your way there.
for some people to understand, but not everyone sings because
they love the sound of their voice or think they have talent.
Many become singers by default. They sing because their songs
require them to, or it fills a void in their heart. Often, they
begin their journey as guitarists, drummers or keyboard players
and gradually step into the vocal limelight. Most often, they
are shy, unassuming people who require the "safety" of the stage
before metamorphosing into their alter-ego. That's the way Clark
Brown explains it, a soft-spoken student of mine who becomes
a ferocious predator when he sings. He describes his transformation
as a cathartic experience -- a great high. From the audience,
Clark appears to be living the dream; he's completed an album
with Geezer, on TVT, and is now touring across the States and
Europe. Yet, he will be the first to tell you he doesn't consider
himself to be a great singer. Like many alter-egos, he struggles
with an impostor complex, night after night, just to get his
In the studio,
alter-ego singers need more time and space. If you have yet
to capture a compelling vocal on tape, but know you have one
in you, don't despair. You simply need to create the proper
vibe. Don't be embarrassed or expect a studio to do this for
you. Choking in the studio is nothing more than stage freight,
which I will discuss next month. There are steps you can take.
First, make sure the song is right for you. Then, find an engineer
or producer you trust and clear the room of strangers. It's
useless to pretend that people watching while you're making
love to a song doesn't bother you -- it will show in the tracks.
Jimi Hendrix was terribly insecure about his voice. To come
out of his shell, he would turn the lights off and hide from
view of his producer. What a tragedy it would have been if he
had surrendered his delicate poetry over to a loud-mouth vocalist.
On the other hand, Steven Tyler, a 110-watt personality, throws
everybody out of the studio when he sings, including the producer.
The difference is he doesn't feel like less of a singer for
If you are
a loud-mouth personality, you don't need my encouragement to
sing. I'd tell you to warm up before hand but I know you won't
listen -- not until you lose you voice. If you are an alter-ego
type, my advice is to explore many different music styles, vocal
ranges and backing instrument combinations until you find your
niche. Everybody has one. It will boost your confidence and
make you feel more like a singer. Incidentally, if you listen
to Aerosmith's first album, you'll hear a different vocal sound.
Steven told me that, back in those days, he was insecure about
his voice and placed it in the back of his throat to sound cool.
Millions of albums later, he now knows exactly what works for
him. So, keep the faith and don't let it get you down if your
first few projects don't connect. Experimentation is what the
local scene is all about.
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
(800)659-6002. Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Mark