The live rounds for the current season of The Voice start on the 2nd of April and the auditions for the next season of The Voice are currently underway in LA. I have worked with so many singers, contemporary and classical who are auditioning all over the country. The main challenges I see in preparing for these auditions are; selecting songs and being specific whilst staying true to your own unique voice and style. Chris Mann, who is currently enjoying success as a contestant on The Voice, was kind enough to answer some questions addressing these challenges and sharing some insight into his journey on The Voice. Let me tell you, Chris knows his stuff!
Q: Hi Chris, thanks so much for agreeing to answer these questions, I know you will inspire so many singers by doing so. In reading your bio I was interested to find out your Grandfather was a singer; and that this discovery had a profound impact on your singing career. What was your singing history before that moment and how did it change as a result?
A: I started singing when I was 15 years old in Kansas. My grandfather always wanted to hear me sing and I didn’t really understand why. It wasn’t until I found a stack of records that ended up being his singing demos, from when he was my age, that it became clear. I had no idea my grandfather came out to LA as a teenager to try his luck in show business, but he gave up that dream to start a family back in Kansas. I felt like I was carrying the torch for him, in a way. It changed the significance of my ambition since it wasn’t just about me anymore.
Q: What was your Grandfather’s name and what did he release?
A: Robert Beeler—he never released anything publicly but I consider his recordings among my prized possessions.
Q: You talk about Sinatra and Pavarotti as being inspirational to you, but also Robbie Williams. He’s so different from the style music you do, can you elaborate on why he is an inspiration? Are there other singers you are (or were) inspired by that people might not expect and why?
A: I like to describe my style as “Josh Groban meets Robbie Williams” because I want to sing beautiful, lyrical melodies like Groban…but with some rock star flare like Williams! I have a soulful voice, even though it’s classically trained, so I want to let all those influences shine through and bring something new to my genre.
Sinatra is the coolest in the world to me. I listen to him as well as tons of other artists like The Killers, Coldplay, Keith Urban, Melanie Fiona, Lady Antebellum, Adele, Pink, David Gray…I could go on and on…
Q: Couldn’t we all! Following on from the above, how important do you think it is to be genre specific in today’s music industry?
A: INCREDIBLY! I can be a vocal chameleon because I’ve made a living as a session singer for so long. It’s very easy to lose sight of your own sound when you’re constantly trying to be every voice for session. I found it was really messing me up as an artist. A while back I had to step away from a steady session gig that was really asking me to sing in ways that went against my better judgment. I got vocally centered again and rededicated myself to my “classical voice” which led me to working with David Foster, Babyface and landed me a spot on The Voice!
The industry doesn’t develop artists anymore—that’s the artists job. If you are lucky enough to get an A&R or label meeting its really important to know your voice and sound, have one strong artistic influence in your genre (as opposed to 10 from varying genres) and know exactly what you want and where you want to go. These aren’t easy questions to answer, but you honestly need to know who you are as an artist—if you don’t know how can you expect a label to know? It took me 11 years to figure this out…haha.
Q: I do think that those questions are hard to answer, but you’re right, if the artist can’t answer them, especially nowadays, nobody else will. It’s the focused that succeed, not necessarily the most talented. However, it’s obvious you are also influenced outside your genre, but I sense that these inspirations are more of an embellishment (in the way you use them), than a core factor. So, what is your advice to up and coming singers on being inspired by artists without trying to become the artist?
A: I’m hearing a lot of singers sounding EXACTLY like Adele right now. We’re all influenced and inspired by her but none of us SOUND like her! That’s what makes her Adele. The sound that naturally comes out of your mouth is your sound. You can nurture it and use it like a paintbrush to tell the songs story and that will make you unique.
Q: That is so true, and before Adele came along, I felt everyone was trying to sound like Feist, or follow that “little girl” voice that was super popular. I think the shift that happened in music when Adele came along, vocally and musically, is a testament to staying true to who you are and holding on to that. As we both know, the music industry and the “flavour of the month” can change on a dime. I feel you’ve been there before based on what you said at the blind auditions. You mentioned that you had tried many different ways of singing only to come full circle to your authentic voice; what other directions did you try and how has being authentic changed your career?
A: I started out singing classically and had my first record deal singing classical crossover. When I lost my deal, I went as far from Classical crossover as I could and made a pop record. I also got very involved in session work in LA, which needed me to sound younger and sing with less color in my voice. When I realized I was losing my own natural sound to this I stopped and went back to Classical Singing.
Once I stopped trying to sound what others wanted and needed me to sound like my career really began. I started doing shows with David Foster and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and eventually was selected for The Voice. It was a hand to forehead moment when I was like “Oh!…THIS is what I should have been doing the WHOLE time!” In my gut I knew this was my dream but I was avoiding it for a while.
Q: I get it. However, I think that is natural though, especially when you have the ability to be versatile, but kudos to you for figuring it out and following through on it! So, you’re the first classical singer on The Voice. What has been your biggest challenge as a classical singer on a show that (so far) has been driven more by contemporary music?
A: My biggest challenge has been making sure the songs I sing stay true to my artistic vision. After all this genre testing, I don’t want to get diluted by singing songs that are too pop. It’s important to fight for what you think is best for you as an artist.
Q: I worked with a classic singer via skype in Florida, who was trying to sing more contemporary genres, but when she sang opera, it was literally like the heavens opened. I managed to get her an audition with the talent producer for The Voice in Atlanta. At this audition she was talked out of doing what she had prepared and it didn’t go well. What advice would you give to classic singers (or any singers) who are auditioning for The Voice after being a part of the show?
A: Go into the audition knowing EXACTLY who you are and what you want. These are tough questions but questions you must know the answers to in this business.
Q: Good advice. Easier said than done sometimes, but so, so true. Lastly, this is a singing blog and I am a vocal coach, so I have to ask, do you have a vocal warm-up routine? Does it differ from others’ and if yes, how so?
A: Yes. I warm up every day. I use classical vocal exercises and am focusing on not singing too heavy in these high-energy pressure filled situations.
Good note. That is so important, as you know. I often tell singers to make sure not to push the voice too hard before the performance. Thanks so much for your time Chris, and I’ll be rooting for you at the live rounds. Good luck on the show and in the rest of your career.
So fans of Chris Mann, here’s the skinny on voting with The Voice’s new facebook app. Check it out – Voting Info.
Also, you can find out more about Chris through his website here – Chris Mann.