Paying Attention, Are We?

I have super talented students/clients/friends/pals who, sometimes, during the course of our voice training, have a tendency to not “pay attention.”

Not to me;

Not to their vocal technique;

Not to the words or music;

But, to the “detail of performance.”

If you are looking for an edge in your auditions and performances, pay attention.

When you practice, make every practice a performance with performance energy — don’t practice with your typical high school, college, community theatre, or “hey, I’m a pro, I do this all the time” energy. That only serves to make you as mediocre as the rest of the performers.

Practice Performance.

Once you get into this habit, you’re still not finished.

Pay Attention.

Keep connecting the dots of the song. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve performed a song. It’s not just a series of notes or words strung together, it is something that lives through you. A song can ONLY live through you. The more attention you pay to the song, the deeper and more complex it becomes.

In other words, “If you phone it in, we won’t call you back.”

The Failure Dance

Work toward your successes, don’t dance over your failures.

And, fer Pete’s sake, don’t practice catastrophes.

Gimme a second, I can explain…

Whether we are doing a vocal warm-up, learning a new song or going over repertoire, every student of mine knows that if they stop, I’ll just keep going. I’m not trying to be mean or anything. It’s just that, if you practice stopping in a song whenever things “aren’t right” or you “made a mistake” or something “was weird,” then you are “practicing a catastrophe.”

Deep inside, you know that there is no perfect venue for singing.

There is no perfect day, night, time or temperature for singing.

Thus, EVERY singing experience will be imperfect, so get used to it.

Seriously. Get used to it.

Something’s always going to be a little weird or different somewhere, so don’t stop in the middle of your song when you’re rehearsing. Why practice stopping? Why stop and then dance around about how you missed a note (with all the energy you should have used to produce the note in the first place…!). Get over yourself and get back on the pony while it’s still near you — not after it’s galloped away.

The sooner you embrace the imperfection, the sooner you may exhibit the perfection.

“When It Feels Long, Something’s Wrong”

The reason a “song feels long” has more to do with the singer than with the person behind the piano.

We’ve all had it happen to us where, right in the middle of a song, we’ll think, “Damn, this isn’t over yet?!”

But if we have the time to stand outside of ourselves, observe and criticize — while we’re still performing — then we’ve really lost a grip on doing the job at hand, haven’t we?

More than technique, we singers/performers are judged by our passion and our presence.

Passion, because we have to care about and understand what it is we are saying — not just pretending we care by mustering up a concerned look on our collective face…

Presence, because we are in the “now” of a song, instead of focused on getting the words in the right order or hitting the high note or hoping the set piece comes in on time, whatever.

If we don’t stay in the now, we’re screwed because we have sacrificed our energy and attention to everything BUT the reason for our being on stage; to sing a song. We must be present for our own performance.

A song feels long to us when we are not involved and believe me, the audience reflects that feeling back to the singer very quickly.

Be present when you sing. Be passionate when you sing. Be alive.

What Are You Doing With YOUR Information?

Was picking up a pork tamale and rice from the Vallarta for Nathalie (chile relleno for me…) and this phrase kept going through my mind:

“What are you doing with YOUR information?”

All of us are informed.

Being informed has nothing to do with whether we have a high I.Q. or whether family and friends consider us “smart.”

Being informed is not really scientific because our “information” isn’t always based in truth.

If you “feel” fat — regardless of what the scale says — guess what?

Yer fat!

If you “feel” stupid or unworthy — guess what — you’re probably going to behave in stupid and unworthy ways because THAT is YOUR information.

If you “think” everybody else is better than you at singing, dancing, acting, writing, living, breathing, watching TV, well, yup, consider it a done deal.

Interesting that when someone lies to us, we get mad, we take it very personally.

But what if we lie to ourselves?

How should we take it then?

YOUR information leads you to your success.

YOUR bad information leads you only to cheap, self-fulfilling prophecy — which is usually shrouded in failure.

What would happen if you informed yourself that you ARE worthy?

What would happen if you informed yourself that you are as smart and as talented as ANYONE out there??

How about if you inform yourself that today, right now, within this moment, you are loved?

And if you doubt that, then you better get started loving yourself.

Love yourself and you’ll be able to love others.

It doesn’t work the other way around.

If you love yourself, then love others, you will be able to fill concert halls, theatres and stadiums with people who want to pay to see and hear somebody who loves themself.

Share the love, baby.

So, what are you doing with YOUR information?

Legit Chicks

Okay, aside from the bridesmaid dresses, “wheres-the-blowdryer?” hairdos and wild-eyed looks, here’s an interesting example of “legit” (legitimate) singing from a variety of gals.

Any female who has studied with me should recognize the “home position” of the mouth(s). Big bite, tension in sides of mouth, jaw pressed down, lips pushed away from teeth, strength and flex in the major muscle groups, teeth on top and bottom showing…

Wagner (pronounced “VAHG-ner”) is the Heavyweight Division of legit singing. Demanding, Big, Dark, Extreme, Dramatic….it takes everything you got.

It also takes a lot of years to get the false vocal cords to create big, fat tones like this. On the other hand, the female belt for Broadway and Pop — using the true vocal cords — comes very quickly.


Oh, hey, and if you make it all the way to the eight-minute mark, Brunhilde arrives looking like an operatic Liza Minelli.


A Simple Song

Was just ruminating about how — oftentimes — my most accomplished singers have a tendency to look down on “simple songs.”

You should see the faces I get when I assign a golden moldy like “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to a singer who can already belt everything out of WICKED and CANDIDE.

Two realities are at play here.

When we are “accomplished,” we want to sing all the stuff with vocal fireworks — super high, super low…

And when we are “accomplished,” we don’t want to spend (make that “waste”) the time practicing songs we believe are not challenging.

When we buy in to and reinforce those two realities, that’s the mindset the production staff picks up on before declaring they need to “go in a different direction’ — which, ostensibly, doesn’t include you.

Treat a simple song as if it is the most difficult song ever written.

Do that and you will discover volumes of information about the character, yourself, the show, life….

Treat a simple song as an unworthy task and you will ease yourself right out of the running for that revival of “Sound of Music.”

Hey, If You Want To Sing Louder, Flex Your Back!

Singing is only as hard as you make it.

Don’t confuse that with me saying, “Singing is easy.” It’s not. It takes tremendous energy and the whole body has to participate.

For me, the first step in singing is: Get used to being loud. And get used to using your whole body when you sing.

Next step: Get “loud” under control.

Last step: Practice & Perform.

That’s about it.

We don’t need to be pre-med students to figure out that if something hurts, we’re not doing it right. We don’t need to have majored in anatomy/physiology to figure out that lifting 400 lbs. on our first day in the weight room is not an option.

But we do need to keep things simple. Make the “hurdles” physical, not mental. Incorporate the body into the voice first — not the brain. “Feel” pitch with full energy, you’ll never sing flat again.


“I’ll Do It After The Strike…”

I’ve been a member of SAG since 1979 and have witnessed several big strikes since then.

And after all this time, I can tell you the one mistake we performers constantly make (and will continue to make) during a strike;

We treat it like a vacation.

Which it isn’t.

It’s an opportunity.

It’s a chance to go to the gym more.

It’s a chance for us to get in that dance class, voice class, acting class and improve our skills.

It’s a chance to READ more and become more literate.

It’s a chance to volunteer in something meaningful instead of waiting for the union to set up a Blood Drive.

Write a letter to the editor.

Meditate in an open field — even when it’s raining.

Do something instead of nothing.

Or do nothing.

But don’t blame the writer’s strike for it!

Our Demo Tracks…

Every gig we do is a learning experience.

And if it’s not, then we’re not paying enough attention to what we’re doing.

That’s why, when my students/clients/pals record these vocal samples, I only give them three takes straight through the track to deliver.

My reasoning is thus:

1) With digital recording, three complete vocal takes should give me plenty of material to “comp” the vocals, which means that I simply take the best phrases — sometimes, even, the best word — and put them all together in a single vocal take. If there are too many takes to choose from, or if we start “punching in” single words, etc., the performance gets lost because we are seeking perfection over performance. I’ll always take performance first because it’s real and real humans are seldom perfect;

2) With three full takes on one song, the singer has to “go for the gold” each time. It’s a good practice to get in to. The singer is pushed to get to what that song means pretty quickly. No “warming up” for five or six takes and then expecting magic. Music producers come in all shapes and sizes with different demands and a singer has to be prepared for a session that could last fifteen minutes or five hours. If a singer goes for the gold on each take, giving it his or her all each time, then a producer is less inclined to throw out entire takes and ask for another one while also respecting that the singer is there delivering a high quality, fully energized product (the vocal line) in as efficient a manner as possible (studio time costs money — be a hero, not a diva).

Finally, digital pitch correction.

I don’t use it. The demos you hear are demos. Some major artists now touring are using pitch correction software in their live shows.

We don’t call that art. We call that “cashin’ checks”!