How to become a better singer ~
My journey in life has always revolved around how to become a better singer. Well, I should say: it started out with me trying to convince myself I was an actual singer in the first place!
I remember a time when saying out loud that I was a singer felt a bit hilarious to me. As if I was 5 years old declaring to become a ‘princess/ice cream maker/nurse/spiderwoman’ (all of those things at the same time) when I’d grow up. Meeting new people felt nerve-wracking, because inevitably the standard ‘meeting-new-people’ question would come up: ‘So what do you do?’
‘Oh, me? I’m uh…I’m a singer/songwriter’
*awkward pause, waiting for them to burst out laughing or go ‘aaaw that’s so cute!’*
‘….wow, that’s awesome!’
*sigh of relief*
‘Hey Mark, come meet this girl, she is a singer/songwriter!’
Growing up in a small town in the Netherlands didn’t really help. I was convinced I was an impostor. Or at least delusional. Of course I knew intellectually that the profession of ‘singer’ was a real one, unlike spiderwoman (….right?), but it still made me giggly.
On my very first songwriting trip to LA, I experienced the total flip side! EVERYONE was a singer/actress/waitress. This fact was superintriguing to me. A city full of incredible vocal talent. I was curious to find out which people ended up climbing the social ladder quick and which ones wouldn’t even get a chance. It did my little psychology heart good to discover that it had a lot to do with having a certain mindset. I mean, having a great voice obviously helps. A lot. But what makes someone ready for the real thing has less to do with having perfect pitch, an interesting timbre or an incredible range than you might think… I couldn’t help but wonder (yup, having a total Carrie Bradshaw moment here):
What do successful singers do exactly? What are the secret rules?What do I need to learn if I want to become a better singer?
1) They turn nerves into excitement
Watch any behind the scenes documentary and you’ll find out that, yes, even Ariana Grande or Beyonce or any other superstar still gets nervous! They are not robots! So why does their voice not get shaky and why don’t they freeze on stage? They’ve learned to make their nerves work *for* them instead of against them. If you think of the scary event as a fight-or-flight trigger, pro artists respond with ‘fight’.
I can hear you say: ‘But…that’s a reflex response!’ Partly you’re right, but… I know from experience that you can reprogram your brain to choose action instead of paralysis. Choose calmness over tension. Choose focus over fear. (Yes, you can learn this.)
The more confident you are about your voice,
the more you are used to showcasing your voice,
the more you are used to expressing yourself in daily life,
the more faith you have in yourself,
the more likely you’ll be ready for that stage when the adrenaline is rushing through your body.
If you change your habits, you can change your emotional reflexes.
2) They can deliver under challenging circumstances
How many times have we seen American Idol auditions where the contestant gives the disclaimer: ‘I have a cold today.’ I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but…nobody cares (ouch, I know). You’re stronger than that, darling! Unless you are in seriously bad shape, the show must go on! The iconic opera singer Renee Fleming once said (and I’m wildly paraphrasing): ‘There are a only a handful of days in the year that I feel my voice is in ideal form. Of course those always happen to be my days off.’
Especially when you first start out, your circumstances are hardly ever ideal. You might be a little under the weather, nervous, tired or sad about that fight with your boyfriend. And even if YOU are doing excellent, there’s a good chance the equipment is not ideal, the sound in your in-ears isn’t great because there was no time for soundcheck, or you’re not sure how to communicate to the sound engineer what you’re missing in your monitor.
How to perform under those circumstances? By getting to know your voice reeeeally well. By trusting yourself. And by not making this about you, but remembering that you are doing this for your audience. Something bigger than yourself that you can tap into.
Watch ‘Katy Perry: Part of me’ and ‘Lady Gaga: Five foot two’ to see some examples of delivering under challenging circumstances (emotionally and physically). Granted, both documentaries show very extreme situations! If anything, you will gain a tremendous amount of respect for these ladies.
3) They learned how to evaluate and develop themselves
No one is thrilled to hear criticism, even when it is constructive. When learning how to become a good singer, singing and performing can make you feel incredibly vulnerable. And feeling like what you are doing is not good enough…kinda sucks. But once you learn how to take feedback – or better yet, how to give yourself feedback – you give yourself something immensely valuable: a chance to improve. A good start is to not take things personal. We tend to take things personal when we literally think they are a part of us, as in: we feel like we are incapable of changing it. If someone says you can’t dance, and YOU feel insecure about your moves, you might get upset. However, if you are willing to be honest as well as convinced you can improve with a few classes, you might say: thanks, I’ll work on that!
Justin Timberlake famously taped and watched every N sync show to study his performance. This made him grow incredibly fast as an artist. Improvement is often in the details. Be honest with yourself about how to improve and how to become a better singer, a more interesting artist, a more compelling performer, make it a game! You can tweak most anything with the right attitude and strategy.
4) They know how to create an experience
The very best artists are masters at creating their own little world. The audience is invited in that little bubble, and are able to forget about their daily struggles for a moment. What a powerful thing to do!
In order to create an experience like that, you have to realize your performance is not about you. It’s about unity and synergy. Less ‘what do they think of me?’ and more ‘how can I make you feel what I feel?’
Our job as artists is to connect with genuine emotions, and then share those emotions. You can only do this if you are courageous and willing enough to be authentically and uniquely yourself.
Besides that, the icons that we all love have something else in common: they stand for something. Whether it’s female empowerment, spread kindness, or glitter every day, there is usually a clear theme. Think about what that could be for you!
Yes, my darling, you too can develop their voice and your artist experience, much more than you think. Let us show you how to become a better singer!