Could Leo DiCaprio Sing Like Frank Sinatra in a Biopic? Sure!

This is a fun question to ponder. Leonardo DiCaprio has been acting on screen since 1991 – about 33 years. His current age is around 50. Frank Sinatra started singing professionally in 1935. He turned 50 in 1965.

We’ll start there as our baseline, making things fairly equal in the world of 50-year old male human instruments.

Jumping back to “The Tonight Show” in 1965. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra show up to harass fellow ratpacker and substitute host Joey Bishop. They’re clearly more than a few cocktails in and smoke like chimneys for the interview portion until Mr. Sinatra gets up and sings “Angel Eyes” with the band. The age on his voice is there, you can hear the some creaks and gravel, but he still belts it out live (extremely well) and his vocal performance (interpretation of the song) is really spot on.

What really stands out in the performance is how free and yet still in control Sinatra is. He does use his full voice, not parts of his voice (resonance would be missing) and even when he is singing the softer passages, there is still power behind it (think “loud talker” crooning). After all, he’s been at it for three decades here and he knows what he’s doing. He’s not “trying” or “working.” He’s a little tipsy and not sweating it. He’s not even concerned about entertaining us. He tells us at the outset that he is taking on the role of a saloon singer – a role he knows well. Once he announces this, Dean Martin jumps in with a joke, Sinatra laughs and moves seamlessly into the song – and the saloon. The audience goes right with him and Sinatra holds their focus in the palm of his hand. It’s a short song, a pretty melody, and a powerful performance.

Here’s approaching 50 Leo singing in character as Rick Dalton from “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” a role ostensibly based on a variety of non-singing actors from the 1960’s like Burt Reynolds, William Shatner, Edd Byrnes, George Maharis and others.

And, of course, it’s as awful as it’s supposed to be. What’s surprising about this performance though, in its funny/hack-kind of “Anti-Sinatra” way, is that Leo DiCaprio – one of the most watchable, energized, interesting and captivating screen actors over the last three decades – manages to turn himself into a vocal performer with all the power and relevance of a flea on an elephant. That is an accomplishment. It’s hard to be that bad.

So, how could a 50 year-old DiCaprio develop his voice into the iconic 50 year-old Sinatra sound?

“Work Heavy” – The resonance of Sinatra’s voice was magical – particularly for a guy who was 5’8″. It was not a light sound, it was a heavy sound. Sinatra could croon, yes, but he was a belter. He came up through the “minor leagues” in the early 1930’s when microphones were new to live performers. He learned how to use his full voice and be heard. That use of vocal energy continued throughout his performing life. Leo, put your back into it, belt it out and practice being the loudest guy in the room. Practice dominating the room with a big, heavy voice. You’ll get used to it.

“Intonation” – This is a high hurdle. There is no male pop singer in history who could utilize vowels, consonants and diphthongs like Sinatra. This skill had to have its origins in his Catholic upbringing. The mass was exclusively spoken and sung in Latin during his youth. Learn how to sing in Latin as a kid and you will know how to intonate. Phonics (how to “sound out” words) would have been how he learned to read in school, another huge assist. He wasn’t fluent in Italian, so we’ll take that off the table. Think of how the painters who studied the Dutch Masters became Impressionists. Sinatra’s early musical environment of sustained vowels sung in church, group singing and, later, Tommy Dorsey’s breath control, phrasing and tone on the trombone in clubs and concert halls led him down the path to his spectacular, rule-breaking intonation.

“Phrasing and Storytelling” – Even though Sinatra won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “From Here To Eternity” in 1954, his acting didn’t exactly set the standard for actors in the future. Far from it, really, as actors are now better than they’ve ever been. BUT, Sinatra’s phrasing, storytelling and delivery have set a standard that is now rarely reached by other pop vocalists. It’s a big subject, as simple as it is complex, and I’ll break it down in a future item.

Circling back, “could” Leonardo DiCaprio sing like Frank Sinatra? Yes, of course. Heavy up your voice, get some strength and learn his intonation. The challenge, the defining challenge, will be to deliver a song like Sinatra. There’s a lot more than singing going on.

Teen Beatles Workshop Starts Tuesday April 23rd

Under the watchful eye of multi-instrumentalist Emerson Lopez-Haller, we are happy to announce the formation of our ongoing Teen Beatles Workshop on Tuesday nights from 5:30p to 7:30p. Program begins on April 23rd and the cost is $300 per month. Teen participants (all genders welcomed!) should be between the ages of 13 and 19 and have at least a year of study under their belts in bass, drums, guitar or keyboards and, since you asked, yes, you will also be singing. We will be playing actual Beatles transcriptions note for note from the recordings and you will definitely grow in this program! Space is limited to five. For more information, you can write me at or text at (818) 383-1025 . See you on the 23rd!

Can Lawyers Rock? This One Does

Sims and Crew at The Whiskey in Hollywood (Photo Courtesy of Thach Nguyen)

Meet Nancy Sims: International Attorney by Day/Rock Star by Night. (Now there’s an idea for next year’s business cards…)

Great technique, too! Look at that bite!

This is a terrific shot of the energy that Nancy has onstage and, probably, applies to her work in boardrooms and courtrooms – just without the high boots and fishnets. Rock on, Nancy!!

Disney’s “X-Men ’97” – Congrats, Jennifer Hale!

Environmentalist, Animal Activist, Artist Rights Advocate, Musician-Singer-Songwriter, Businessperson, Mother, Voice-Over Artist Extraordinaire and, like Mary Poppins, a damn near perfect person, Jennifer Hale stars in Marvel Animation’s “X-Men ’97.” If you were one of the four million people who tuned in to Disney+ when the series began streaming last week, you heard Jennifer voice my favorite X-Person of all time Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl, Phoenix/Dark Phoenix). Jean Grey is one of the most powerful heroes in the universe. Now that I think of it, so is Jennifer. Congratulations, Jen!

“Road House” – Congrats, B.K. Cannon!

Ahhh, “Road House” has finally opened on Prime. Ever since the trailer debuted a couple months ago, I’ve been counting down the days. Doug Liman is one of my favorite fun/action directors and he really delivers on this one. I’ve watched it twice already.

As a bonus, studio fave B.K. Cannon is featured throughout the movie as Laura the wise-cracking-heart-of-gold-Budweiser-T-shirt-wearing bartender at The Road House. B.K. is a super talent and brings the fun wherever she goes. Proud of and so happy for you, B.K.!

What Do I Do With My Hands When I Sing?

This is the number one question from singers who have trained hard and now want to “show their wares” in a club or cabaret setting. “What do I do with my hands?!”

“Leave ’em attached to your arms,” I say.

Amateur singers use their hands for emphasis. As if pitch, poetry and dynamics just aren’t enough in the presentation of a song, newbie singers often find themselves waving their hands all over the place to make it look like something good is going on.

Which doesn’t look that way at all… It looks awkward and performative (read that as “insincere.”)

So, put your hands down. Both of ’em. Leave ’em down. If you absolutely have to move your hands, then move one hand at a time, but keep that ramblin’ hand below your waist.

And now that your hands are tied, let’s get back to what your real focus needs to be in order to nail a song. It’s not going to be the beauty of your voice or the dimple in your cheek that engages your audience. It’s the thought that counts.

Every song begins with a thought. That thought starts on the downbeat of the intro – not when the lyric begins. The arrival of a thought and the arrival of music are simultaneous. An intro is a musical thought percolating in the mind of the singer. The intro plays, the thought develops, pressure builds and finally that singer bursts into song. In a musical, that thought might have been spoken out loud in the prior scene or perhaps the character is now putting all the thoughts together in real time. To drive the energy of a pop song – one with not as much context – we definitely need to create some powerful arguments in our head in order to have a dialogue or “back and forth” with our audience. That’s how we keep them engaged, not by throwing our hands or walking around the stage, but by having an open, direct conversation with the crowd. Share your thoughts with the audience and they’ll pay attention. Pose, prance, gesticulate… they’ll check out until someone else comes along who can keep them engaged.

How Long (And How Often) Should I Practice My Singing?

What does it take to get a singing voice in shape? How do I know when I’m in shape and how do I stay in shape?

You always want to start with a good vocal warm-up – one that emphasizes the vowels we typically sing (A, E, Aw/Ah, O) and one that works chromatically (half-step at a time) through the vocal register. I do wonder why people do that “motorboat” (er, “lip trill”) thing as a warm-up. I’ve never heard a song that required it, so I avoid it. A decent vocal warm-up should take about five to ten minutes and if you consider yourself a singer, then you should do that daily.

As for going through your repertoire, after your vocal warm-up, you should run your five, multi-purpose audition songs all the way through. Don’t just do 16 or 32 bars, get some stamina and stretch in there. Stand and sing, but if the only place you can sing is in your car in traffic, then so be it. Make sure the songs represent you as a positive person, a winner. Singing a ballad about what a loser you are may be cathartic, but you’d also be putting a fluffy raincloud over your head at your audition. Honestly, if I’m a producer with $20 million to put into a new Broadway musical, I would not be inclined to hire a group of performers who consider themselves losers or unlucky at everything they do. Find something positive to sing about.

At this point, including the warm-up, we’re at about 20-25 minutes of singing. This would be the baseline for maintenance (and you can now tack on your fun, sobby torch songs). If you do this seven days a week, great! You will grow stronger and always be in relatively good shape. You probably really enjoy singing, too. If you do this for three days a week or fewer, you won’t really grow, you’ll pretty much stay in the same arena, and, like most things, you get out of it what you put in.

Does this mean that you need to start singing an hour or two every day? No, don’t do that — yet. Build the habit slowly, adding one or two songs a week (a month, whatever), so that if you start at 20 minutes a day, the next week will be 25 minutes and so on. For three years, I sang in my bathroom every day. At the end of those three years, I was singing for two hours straight. I don’t expect everybody to do that, but, once I get started, I really do like singing.

My most recent gig lasted for a few years where I sang standards and showtunes for three hours a night in a high-end restaurant, Thursday through Saturday. It was a ton of singing, but I was able to do it because over thirty-five years, I had built a foundation for a strong voice, constantly relied on solid vocal technique and maintained a fairly consistent practice.

What Singers Don’t Understand About The Female High Belt

Disclaimer: Do not attempt to do this on your own. You could hurt yourself. A healthy, safe belt requires an experienced coach, so if you need help, you can text me, call me or zoom me.

It’s technique over talent. Simplicity over complexity. Proper musical tension wins over a non-descript “mix.”

I don’t advocate a mix for female singers until they are fully and safely able to belt F3 to Ab5 (utilizing true vocal cords) and sing in their legit (false vocal cords) from Db4 to Eb6.

It’s a simple question: if you don’t have equal strength in both voices (legit and belt), why would you try to mix them?

Nothing like listening to a singer belt their way through a number only to bail out on the last note with some wacky mix that sounds nothing like the exciting voice they were using for the first three and a half minutes. You’ve seen it and heard it plenty of times.

Building a safe belt starts with pulling the corners of the mouth into a smile. In the early days of discovering it, it has to feel like an extreme, forced smile in order for the singer to feel musical tension for the exit of the sound. After all, your mouth is a sound hole, why keep it closed? The belter presses the jaw down (about two fingers worth), shows teeth on top and bottom, bites (into a big sandwich) and then simply “yells” over the molars.

“That a lot of tension!” you might say. And I would agree.

Then I would show you my acoustic guitar and ask what you think it would sound like if I “relaxed” one string and left the other five strings to their proper tuning (or tension). Would the guitar still be in tune? Is it even playable? Would the headstock, pegs, neck, wood and bridge all be working well together or would the whole instrument fail because of one relaxed, no-tension string?

The answer is; you could still “play” the guitar, but people would probably not enjoy it very much. Ask yourself why brass instruments are made of brass; drum heads are stretched over a drum; why we strike, pluck and pop an electric bass. It is musical tension that is required.

Interesting thing about that single “relaxed” guitar string; if you apply one finger to the lowest fret and then raise the pitch fret by fret, you are also increasing the tension on the string. The string gets tighter (or shorter) with each fret in order to hit a higher, faster vibration. In our singer’s mind, that’s what we’re also doing with the voice.

What many (too, too many) singers don’t understand about the high belt is that, with a proper (or “heroic”) amount of musical tension in the body, you barely feel it when you hit the high notes.

PLEASE do not try this at home. You could injure yourself or create bad habits that have to be unlearned. Learning to belt safely requires personal training. Acquiring a high belt is an athletic event and to get to the Olympics, you really do need a coach to give you constant, constructive feedback. So, please, if you want to work your belt, give me a call or send me an email. Do not try this on your own.

Remember, if it hurts when you sing, something is definitely wrong.

Removing The Doubt In Vocal Performance

When it comes to vocal performance, I guess we can put “doubt” and “fear” into the same wordsphere. Only problem is that doubt and fear are extremely personal; based on a performer’s lifetime of unique experiences. When I was 17, I sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in front of a halftime homecoming crowd. I was decked out in a sequined white tux with tails (thanks, Michelle!) and a stars and stripes top hat. Cheerleaders were in position down on the field – maybe they formed a star, I don’t remember that part very well, but I do remember that I sang and danced on that field. And my microphone was off. The whole time.

The microphone didn’t have an on/off switch, so there wasn’t much I could do about it. As I was performing what appeared to be a mime act, Donna, one of the celestial cheerleaders said, “Your mic’s not on.” And I said, “Yeah, I know” and kept dancing (box step, walk, walk, grapevine…).

When I quietly left the field with the cheerleaders, Scott the sound guy confirmed on the sidelines that, yup, my mic was off the whole time. The drama teacher, Mr. Ruehle, saw my reaction to that news and complimented me on my professionalism, mentioning how I just “shook it off.”

It was disappointing for sure, but I did shake it off. You see, just two years prior, at the gargantuan annual high school musicale extraordinaire held in the sold-out gymnasium, my mic was off for the entirety of my big solo debut at my new school. Now, that was horrifying.

Performing can be a very humbling experience and your willingness to surrender to mayhem is one of the keys to happiness.

So, as a vocal performer, what is in your control?

The Lyric.

You can’t do much about the mic, the mixer, the accompanist or the sound system, but you can know your lyrics inside out.

Here’s your checklist:

  1. Without singing it, how fast can you enunciate every word of the song in a monotone with no spaces/word stretches? Can you do it in under 30 seconds? Time it.
  2. How few breaths can you take in that 30 seconds? One? Two?
  3. Can you look at or read an article on your phone while saying your lyrics as quickly and as understandably as possible? Can you then tell us what the article was about?
  4. While facing in one direction, focus on one item in the room and tell the lyrics to that item, then change to north, south, east or west, focus on another singular item, repeat and continue.
  5. Be joyful in your practice.

“Kiss Them Now” – Nonbinary Love Ballad From Richard Klinger

Grief is a beast. Loss affects all of us at some time in our lives and the loss of a loved one can affect us for the entirety of our lives. Richard Klinger lost his wife Janis several years ago and has battled with grief ever since. Richard created the Jane Fonda workout series, once served as Assistant Attorney General in Montana, was Clive Davis’ West Coast Head of Business Affairs for Columbia Records, headed up a major music publishing house and was at the forefront of the home video revolution – but nothing prepared him for the continual agony of grief. Being an ardent researcher, Richard read books and articles on grief, attended grief groups and reached out to a variety of authors on the subject. His “The Art of Grieving” album was released last month. It is comfort music meant for all grievers. Below is the track “Kiss Them Now.”