Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vocally Speaking - If you needed brain surgery, would you want an orthopaedic surgeon to perform it...?

Let's suppose that a patient needs brain surgery and then finds out that the actual surgery will be performed by a Doctor of Orthopaedics! "How could that be?," you might exclaim!!! It's true - it is highly unlikely that it will happen in real life. However, in the recording studio there is person who is usually called the "Producer" assigned to be a "jack of all trades" and, so to speak, "brain surgery is included".

What do I mean by brain surgery is the actual narrow field of vocals? Primarily the producers are instrumentalists and majority of them are very good at their craft. But, very rarely, they are also the vocalists, least of all vocal mentors.

Quite often, the clients come to our studio with their own recordings and reveal that the producer was excellent in everything else... until it came to vocals.

Some of the producers, apparently, did not even care about the vocal performance and some of them were trying to give some irrelevant (and sometimes even quite deadly) instructions. One of my clients was advised to push his voice out of his throat as hard as he could and another was suggested to sing a Rock'n Roll song very 'airy'. Go figure! But since the term Vocal Producer is quite unknown and foreign, the "brain surgery" will be performed (i.e., the voice pushed to the max, the Melodine and AutoTune overused while being used for every syllable of the lyrics). However, the "patient" (Recording artist) might "die" in the process and/or kill his voice for good, not to mention ever accomplishing what he came for and paid a lot of money for.

This is one side of the coin, but what is the other? While auditioning future talents I came across some singers whose production was somewhat decent, but their own vocal performance wasn't acceptable.

Once I dared to suggest that they might need some adequate vocal training, they got somewhat upset and replied,"They will be looking for another more prominent producer." In other words, I suggested that they first would have to "undergo brain surgery performed by the neurologist" (qualified Master vocal instructor/mentor) in order for them to survive and move forward. Their reply was along the lines of - No, I will be looking for a "better orthopedic surgeon for my brain surgery. Given the above, many would wonder if THEY MIGHT TRULY NEED BRAIN SURGERY?!!!

Go figure.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vocally Speaking – Performing “Naked” Less a $40 Million Stage…?

Over the years my clients and I have bought a lot of CD’s, especially in the past, and respectively attended a lot of live performances. Speaking of 40-50 years ago when artists literally recorded right off the floor, as technology was not as advanced as it is now, the live performances had a very close resemblance to what people heard on the records. As the technology was progressing and, at the same time, people’s talents for whichever reason were regressing, the gap between what was recorded using that modern technology (autotune, melodine and what have you) and the attendees at concerts were hearing was getting progressively bigger. In some cases you could hardly recognize some songs in the live interpretations of them. Some of the big artists were very lucky and had very big budgets which allowed them to dissect the song literally into syllables and then piece it together at the molecular level. However, when push came to shove and the album had to be performed live, some of them were lip synching while others were building $40 million stages using pyrotechnics and other special effects to hide their inadequacies. Sometimes attending the performances like this you could easily mistake them for the Cirque de Soleil, as there was everything going on but singing. Some of them you could mistake for exotic dancers. One of my associates once said, “If I want to see an exotic dancer, I will go to a strip club. But if I want to hear good singing, that should be more so for my ears than for my eyes.” In other words, we need to teach the world to sing!!! I have been watching some benefit concerts, which were actually not too beneficial to the actual artists, as we could see them in a “naked” state without the entourage, flashing lights, special effects and high tech sophisticated stages. Being somewhat overweight myself and definitely knowing how to dress to hide at least 10-20 pounds, I could only imagine how stressful and embarrassing it would be if I had to expose myself au natural in front of complete strangers. In a manner of speaking, the artists in this context were forced to do exactly that and all their imperfections and shortcomings in their vocal performances were very well noticed by the naked eye. Sometimes I wonder first of all how these very talented people – however, with no knowledge of professional vocal technique – made it as far as they did. I also wonder if the whole world has gone deaf. When they hear the big artist’s name they cheer anyways. My fear is that singing between the notes – ie. off key, off tone and off tune – will become our standards and nobody will know the difference between tone deaf singing and the real singing. How sad is that???

Vocal Prosperity and Parental Management - When the Push Comes to Shove Part II – Then What…?

As I mentioned in my previous blog, Vocal Prosperity and Parental Management - When the Push Comes to Shove - Hats Off!?, I taught quite a few children as well as adults, especially in previous years. Once case specifically stuck in my mind. In 2000, I got a phone call from a parent who had an eight year old child who was actually already, according to the father, a child sensation in the singing and performing world. He even had a manager and was just about to break through to the music industry at large. After I agreed to the evaluation and assessment appointment (Introductory Session), I could see that the little boy looked like a young Michael Jackson and actually even sounded somewhat like him, with the exception that he was already experiencing some vocal problems. He was naturally talented but definitely “played it by ear”. I decided to take the case upon myself and our journey began. The father was not only a guardian but also played the role of the manager and later even a producer. It was quite fascinating to see how the father was progressing. It was also fascinating to see that the boy was growing and gradually becoming a teenager, with all the consequences attached to that transformation. Once I first spotted it (they were coming and going to their lessons for several years in between their recording sessions in LA and elsewhere), I asked the father when the development would finally stop (as the boy was quite ready to sing professionally) and they would finally obtain the record deal? The answer was always, “He’s not ready yet” or “They want to exploit my son.” Meanwhile, he had multiple offers on the table from various record companies that were ready to sign this child – soon to be a teenager – sensation. That puzzled me a little. Why wouldn’t he choose at least one offer out of least dozens and finally get on with it. I guess I was asking way too many questions and between the ages of 11 and nearly 14, they disappeared for almost three years from my view. I was almost certain that they ended up somewhere in the States and a new sensation Michael Jackson alike was just about to break through at any given time. I hadn’t heard a thing until I got the next call from the Father/Manager of my student. He said that they were ready to come back, as the boy was experiencing vocal range problems, as now he was nearly 14 years old. I said, “Of course, bring him over and let’s evaluate it.” When the door opened up in my studio I saw an over 6 feet tall fellow which was nothing that reminded me of the little boy I once taught. He said Hi to me with a bass voice and I understood that everything from this point on would be really different. First of all I learned from the Father/Manager that he never took any offers from the Record Companies and decided to produce his son himself “indie style”. He was traveling with him all over North America and recording different songs which started to sound, instead of better, actually worse, as the boy’s voice had deepened completely and never could reach his fascinating high notes, which he had been able to reach in the past. Moreover, I have learned that they had been studying with different vocal coaches here and there who no doubt mixed up my student to the bone. He got confused and then depressed, as he understood that something had drastically changed, but he did not know how to deal with it. The worst part was that he, in his mind, was still a child sensation, ie. did not go to school, used tutors, slept until 4pm as he was going to bed at 5am. In other words he was living the lifestyle of a star, but unfortunately never became one. To watch all of this was extremely disheartening, but in my opinion the problem was not with my student, but with his guardian/manager, who also very much so enjoyed the process of traveling and recording with his son. And before he knew it, they both had “missed the boat” and their “train was definitely gone”. Sad but true. I saw and met the parents who had the best interest at heart for their children, but at the same time they were a little bit too selfish and too self absorbed and some of them nearly ruined not only their children’s careers, but also their children’s lives.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vocal Prosperity and Parental Management - When the Push Comes to Shove - Hats Off!?

Over the years, besides adults I have taught a lot of children. Some of them were learning how to sing for fun, but the majority of them were addressed by me to the junior instructors, who were also trained and guided by me. Those children who were coming with very determined parents who sounded very serious are usually enrolled in my course provided that the child was showing a great interest and had at least a remote talent to be able to succeed down the road in the music business. However, it was not always a straightforward endeavour. My memory still possesses a case where the whole family walked into my studio in Toronto and the child (approximately 12 years of age) and both the mother and father were wearing cowboy hats. I found it was a little unusual and unique. I saw people wearing these types of hats in Calgary, Texas and Nashville, but definitely not in Toronto. In my brief interview with them, the father revealed that his daughter had been taking lessons all over the place and he was quite disappointed because she was not achieving any results. He, meanwhile, seemed to be quite serious in playing his role as his daughter's manager. Obviously they were talking about the country music, which explained the cowboy hats in Toronto. So he sounded as if he had it all under control and that the only problem was his daughter's proper vocal development. I said, "Great" and I started the Introductory Session for my Vocal Science method. I could see that the mother of the child was impressed immensely - meanwhile, the father (the manager) first looked puzzled, then extremely amazed and then literally scared, especially by the time I was completing the session with very obvious, even videotaped before and after instruction results. That puzzled me a little. Why would he be looking so scared I was wondering? I finally completed the session and the mother of the child jumped up off of the couch and with absolute amusement offered me her Gold credit card. She said that she had been sitting in on a lot of her daughter's vocal lessons, but she had never seen anything like this. The father (still in the hat) also jumped up off of the couch, trying desperately to prevent his wife from paying for the course. Both his wife and the daughter were really surprised at his reaction. His words were, "Let's go home and talk about it." His head was down and he was avoiding the eye contact with me. They finally left and did not register for the course. They left me extremely puzzled as everybody liked it and admitted throughout the session that it was different than anywhere else. I asked myself for some time why did that happen. And one day after a couple of similar precedents, I found an answer. The father of that child clearly understood that I meant business, that his daughter would finally learn how to sing, which would mean that it would soon be time for him to take the hat off and become a real manager. Was he ready for it? Evidently not. He obviously liked the process and it was easier to play the role of the manager and feel good about it. When the push came to shove, there was not a real deal present. He called me over a decade's period of time asking for a lesson or two and revealing that his daughter was still studying and trying some recording. Obviously he liked the process of "getting there" and the child never became a child star as it was intended, as by now she would be a full grown woman and no doubt still singing nowhere. Go figure!!!
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