Matthews Arena under the seating of the building, meeting the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, before the 2011 Commencement which celebrated her career and garnered her an Honorary Doctorate. What an incredible thrill! “Respect” was probably the first imprint on my musical/vocal fabric, and I am eternally in love with this woman! God rest your soul, Ree!
I love working with singers to help them define their identifiable sound or trademark.
When listening to our favorite artists, we are attuned to defining the one thing that makes their voice unique, definable.
It may be the rasp or the swoop up to every note; it could be the “lick” or embellishment they use to approach melody notes from above or below.
It may be their vibrato, its rapidity, or the width of it. Maybe your signature is the content of your lyrics, or the instrumentation, form, orchestration of the arrangement.
Do you have a sound that is unmistakably yours, easily identifying you when you sing?
A yodel, a glottal attack on every syllable, a breathiness that’s present whether you are singing loudly or softly?
Does a singer need a trademark sound in today’s vocal industry?
I always ask a singer to decide if she wants to be versatile and sing whatever the Top 40 requires, or she wants to concentrate solely on writing and arranging her music to bring out the unique quality of her personal sound.
For some singers it is an easy decision.
They are not aspiring to be a major mainstream artist, and prefer to sing backup or lead in a Top 40 or Cover band.
This backing/cover singing is actually a great vocal challenge – especially when you think of the many unique and varied styles of the most popular songs of today.
Of course, a singer who is striving for a singular record career may have to do Top 40 band gigs to survive at the start of their career.
Your Signature Sound – Ideas
If you think a totally unique sound is the key to carving your niche in the music world, how do you cultivate that uniqueness?
Can you sing any song and use your sound to sing it?
Here are a few tips to help find your signature sound:
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Overdubbing your voice in parts over your lead vocal is always a plus; who blends with you better than you?
The Money Note
On every song there is a note that listeners love for you to hit. It usually comes in the body of the song, say after the bridge, and is held for at least a bar or two, first with a straight tone, and then going into vibrato to add passion and dynamic.
A rhythmic or a syncopated section that starts the song, appears throughout, and builds in inversion or intensity with each successive chorus.
These are just a few ideas for developing a recognizable sound of your own; just don’t limit yourself to the “safe” stuff. Be bold and try lots of different sounds and approaches on your way to vocal nirvana!
© Donna McElroy. All rights reserved.
Yesterday my Berklee Global Jazz Institute vocal group sang in the opening concert of the Newport Jazz Festival! We did one song, “Autumn Leaves,” my arrangement! The two young ladies are the children of the director of the Global Jazz Initiative at Berklee, Marco Pignataro, who was also a disciple of Dizzy Gillespie! Singing in the Newport Jazz Festival was truly an amazing experience!
The Berklee Global Jazz Institute is designed to help instrumentalists and vocalists with unique talent and wide-ranging musical interests achieve their artistic goals through an experiential and interdisciplinary approach. As part of the BGJI this summer I have been coaching this vocal ensemble.
Singing in the Newport Jazz Festival was truly an amazing experience for my students, and me!