How To Become A Pro Singer
So you want to become a Pro Singer.
The obvious place to start is by having an excellent singing voice and developing exceptional vocal technique – and we’ll get to that in a moment. But first, we’re going to talk about the “X-Factor” in a pro singer that really sets them apart from your regular weekend/bedroom singer who might sound pretty good, but lacks a critical element that can make or break your professional singing career.
There’s really three elements beyond a rock solid foundation of great technique that you’re going to need if you want to become a Pro Singer;
- Stylistic Choice
- Stage Presence
- Great Songs
Now, when we’re talking about stylistic choice I’m not talking silk scarves wrapped around the microphone ala Steven Tyler – I’m talking about stylistic choices within your singing that set you apart from the crowd. When you hear a new Adele song for the first time, you absolutely 100% KNOW that it’s Adele singing – right? Same thing for a Soundgarden song – Chris Cornell is immediately identifiable through the crowd of a million other heavy, grungy rock bands. Aretha. Ray Charles. Willie Nelson. Myles Kennedy. Axl Rose.
All of these singers have one key ingredient in common, while also possessing wildly different voices – Stylistic Choice.
If Rock ‘n Roll was all about perfect technique – we probably would never have heard a band like Led Zeppelin, Metallica or Black Sabbath. That’s not to say that perfect technique isn’t super cool in itself, it’s just that there’s a hefty does of personal style made by each of these singers, Robert Plant, James Hetfield and Ozzy Osbourne respectively, that gives them something ‘special’ that other singers just don’t possess in the same way.
How do you develop Stylistic Choice as a singer?
Having taken classical vocal tuition for many years, this was always on my mind. Bon Jovi doesn’t sound like an Opera singer. Ozzy isn’t singing hooty and covered. James Hetfield barks like a junkyard dog. And don’t even get me started on Iggy Pop, Axl Rose, Louis Armstrong or Mark Lanegan.
For me personally – identifying exactly WHAT I enjoyed about these singers was key to taking some inspiration from their stylistic choices. Instead of copying what your favourite singers are doing, the tone they’re going for, the way they might roll a sound – instead, you need to work out WHY it sounds that way and what aspect of their foundation is being used to create such a cool sound.
A great example of this is Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. I quite often get beginner singers who LOVE Alice In Chains, and proceed to sing excessively nasal when they try to sing a song like Rooster, or Would? or Nutshell. When in actual fact, Layne was a master of singing with Twang – which occurs when you narrow the Epiglottis (AES) to compress your airflow and alter the balance of frequencies in your tone towards a more intense, brighter and more efficient way.
By learning that his insanely intense, bright tone is actually a result of twang and forward placement rather than “singing nasally”, you can then impart a level of twang into your own singing that sounds natural, but shows some of the inspiration from your love of Layne’s personal style.
Add this to the heavily compressed mid range of Chris Cornell, the vocal runs of Adele or Aretha Franklin and the distortion of Papa Hetfield – you’ve got yourself an incredible bag of tricks at your disposal when it comes to stylistic choice and building a truly unique voice.
For me, stylistic choice came a little later in my singing journey – it’s important that you start with excellent technique first so that you can make informed, consistent and healthy choices. So make sure you brush up on that foundation and grow your voice in a natural and healthy way.
Now, stage presence isn’t really something I can teach you – it’s an extension of your own personality and also your style of music.
It would be weird seeing Johnny Cash singing into a microphone swathed with a hundred Indian scarves, right? Well, this works perfectly well for Steven Tyler.
On the flipside, seeing Chris Cornell wailing an E5 in “Beyond The Wheel” while wearing a cowboy hat and a sequined Western collared shirt would be a train wreck in the same way that seeing Waylon Jennings stomp on stage in a pair of 20-hole Doc Martens and his shirt ripped open would probably have you calling the funny farm on his behalf.
Stage Presence and personal style are a huge part of your “X-Factor” as a singer.
You might take inspiration from your favourite singers and the style they were going for, or you might go a little more indepth and look at the bigger picture of your art and what you’re really trying to convey with your stage show and how you fit into the picture as a specific colour on the canvas.
For me personally, I’m not an outgoing, overt personality like Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler, so the crazy dance moves and flailing mic stands just aren’t my thing – I love a guy like Paul Rodgers that just stands there holding the mic stand like a weapon, or Mark Lanegan who wraps his leg around the stand as though he’s a snake coiling up to strike you with his words, and this more subdued, sinister and imposing look and style has become much more a part of my presence as a singer and performer than any glitter or glamour might bring to my performances.
Who are you inspired by? What is your own personal style? What are you trying to convey with your show? These are all important questions to ask as you’re building and forming your stage presence.
I often get students who want to be professional singers – but don’t have a band or any songs of their own. Now, this is perfectly fine, but, when was the last time you saw a cover artist touring the professional circuit?
One of the biggest “X-Factors” you need to become a pro singer is great material to sing – whether you write your own material, you have a writing partner or you’re in a band.
For me, songwriting is my second love that goes with my passion for singing. In fact, I’d say my biggest strength as a musician is actually my songwriting ability – it’s just something I resonate with. We probably wouldn’t be talking about Robert Plant without songs like Stairway to Heaven or Black Dog, and Adele wouldn’t be a multi-million selling platinum artist just by singing Ella Fitzgerald covers.
Original, great songs are really the key to bringing out the best in your voice in many ways.
Now, one of the biggest obstacles that many bands and artists face in the process of developing stylistic choice, a great stage presence and of course writing songs – is limitations in their singing ability.
- If you can only sing in the key of D, the well of great songs is going to run dry pretty quickly.
- If you’re straining and struggling to sing your own songs on stage, you’re going to look pretty silly twirling a mic stand with all the confidence in the world while you’re butchering the chorus.
- If you blow out your voice after 15 minutes of singing – well, you’re just not really to be a pro singer yet.
So how do you develop a ROCK SOLID foundation for your voice so you can work on the “X-Factor” elements of personal style, stage presence and great songwriting with freedom and confidence?
Let me share with you the #1 most important thing you will EVER learn as a singer:
There are FOUR register overtones for each vowel that you sing.
Say what? That’s right – your vowels actually have a set of different tonal characters that they take on through each register of the voice;
- Chest Voice
- “Chest Mix”
- “Head Mix”
- Head Voice
So, that speechy, pronounced character that you’re singing with in your low range actually gives way to a very specific overtone as you ‘shift gears’ through each register of the voice up from mix into your head voice and vice versa.
The way that you achieve these tonal changes is through Vowel Modification – which is a pretty common technique, but one not often associated with register overtones in this practical and easy to apply way.
If this all sounds like Swahili to you – that’s totally okay, because I’m just going to SHOW you how to do it in this free tutorial video: