WriteGirl 2013 Disney Hall Downtown

Today I’ll be taking part in the annual WriteGirl Songwriting mentor series downtown at The Disney Hall, and I am proud! Can’t wait. I’ll blog about it later today…but here’s the info if you’re interested, see here.

Here are some pics from last year too!

Nina Gordan in mid-flight, meaning she was making up a song on the spot….oh yeah! ;-) Yours truly and Heidi Rojas and Kyler England from The Rescues to my right….amazing songwriters.

Here is the whole gang of female songwriters who gave their time as mentors.

Mark Webber’s – The End of Love

You may or may not remember me blowing up Mark Webber’s spot when we worked together on his voice for Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Mark had to learn to sing in 5 mins (well not literally, but in the world of learning to master an instrument and knowing how long that actually takes, that’s pretty much what it boiled down to) and…well, he did! He has a new film called The End Of Love, which he not only stars in, but wrote and directed. As someone who recently became a mother and struggled with the adjustment of balancing life in a new way I can say it’s poignant, raw and expertly created. Mark is not only a first class actor, but he is a craftsman…a true creative, (he’s also a sweetheart of a guy!). You can see the trailer here…THE END OF LOVE. I’d love you to go and see it. Please support this artist! Buy it here on iTunes.

Beyonce – National Anthem – Presidential Inauguration 2013


Beyonce blows my mind. Did you see her sing the US National Anthem at the Presidential Inauguration? Amazing. Now, I believe singers, especially R&B singers of her calibre, tend overdo the anthem and sing all over it. But no, she restrained herself and demonstrated solid technique, passion and true professionalism. Watch it here

Notice how she used mostly head voice and held out notes. It’s more of a classical approach than she usually brings, because she can completely belt in that range in her chest voice. I only caught a few runs and they were tastefully done. I like it when I see varying degrees of style and taste in singers, especially when they have the clout to do whatever they want. It’s cool.

I read something about her lip-synching the anthem, here. I don’t believe it. I might believe she sang to herself for support, singers do that all the time, but you can see her throat and her jaw responding to the vibrato, you can’t fake that! Let me just say, there is no way! That was live. She’s an amazing singer. Wonderful.

Congratulations President Obama and well done Beyonce!

Side note: Jason Wu needs FULL METAL props for dressing The First Lady. She looked amazing! I love the jacket she wore with the leather gloves. It reminded me of a demure Trinity from The Matrix. Completely bad ass.

1/25/13 addendum: After the week long assault of press pertaining to whether or not Beyonce lip-synched….seriously? I mean…seriously? You can hear and see the connection with her voice to the mic. At the beginning, where it is hard to hear her, you can hear her voice in the distance. It’s a live sound echo thing….big space, outdoors…etc. Listen for where she says “stripes” and kind of trips on the “p” then takes a breath. It’s live. Now can we move on with our lives….please.

Christina Aguilera – Work Ethic – The Voice Season 3.

Ok, over the holiday season I caught up on The Voice Season 3. I liked it. I thought The final 4 worthy candidates and agreed more or less with the judges this time around. Terry McDermott blew my mind. OMG. He was flawless. I loved Nicholas David…I thought he was stylistically spot on and authentic. I loved that these two contestants reflected what is cool about the show, neither of them were 18 and they weren’t necessarily oil paintings, yet their voices and their talent were the sole reason they were there.

Now, let me say that Trevin Hunt, who is UNBELIEVABLE, has a long and lovely career ahead of him. But why didn’t he beat out the others? Christina summed this up really nicely. At one point in the competition, down to the final four or three, she commented on Terry McDermott’s performance and more importantly his work ethic. Christina said to the audience something like, *you guys see the lights and the glitz, but you don’t see what happens behind the scenes. It’s the work ethic that counts. Terry has sung 3 times tonight, not to mention all day long.* (I’m not quoting, but it’s pretty close). She’s right. Around the same time (episode wise) Trevin Hunt performed The Greatest Love of All. It wasn’t his best work and if you were listening at all you’d have heard that he barely had a voice. This doesn’t mean he can’t sing…the guy is crazy talented, but he wasn’t prepared for how “often” he would need to sing during the competition. Whereas the final 3 were prepared for that, they had experience. The reason why Terry, Nicolas and Cassidy could go the distance is because they had experience “singing all the time”! It matters.

When practicing, I believe, most of you imagine yourself auditioning or on stage. Few of you imagine yourselves rehearsing for 3 hours everyday or sitting in a corner with headphones on learning lyrics to 3 songs that you’ll have to sing on national television tomorrow. Right? In these kinds of competitions, and well, in the life of a true working artists, you have to be ready to go at all times and be as good as you are. Stamina. It matters.

So, pace yourself…it might look like this; start singing a little in the morning, then check in in the afternoon, then again in the evening. Do mild vocal warm ups and then later on in the day do more stamina, endurance warm ups. Choose songs to sing that are easy to moderate – to difficult. Space them out through the day. If you feel fatigued and/or like you’re losing your voice, stop. Have a rest for a day and ease in the next day. Be smart.

Good luck and may the voice be with you. ;-)

HAPPY 2013

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Thanks for reading. My New Year’s resolution? To blog once a week…at least. Hold me to it…ok? Sorry I sucked at it in 2012….here’s to looking ahead!

All my love for a wonderful 2013!!!!

Chris Mann – New Album

Chris Mann, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this year, is finally releasing his CD. You may remember him from The Voice season II. I’ve had a little “sneaky peak” via his manager and I have to say, it’s breathtaking! Pure voice, pure spirit. LOVE IT. If you’re at all interested in hearing a sample or per-ordering it, you can do so here – iTunes.

Alexandra Starlight – Gettin’ ‘er did!

I rarely talk about my clients and our work together on my blog, and I really try to keep the obvious promo stuff to Facebook and Twitter. However, get ready for a good ole’ fashion brag. Miss Alexandra was brought to me about 4 years ago by her manager at the time, with a cool character to her voice and a whole gut full of passion. Alexandra was a self taught singer who had found herself fronting a band and was trying to navigate all the things that come with that; Singing over a mess of loud amps, working with a drummer who didn’t have much finesse or sensitivity to a vocalist, and the classic problem, songs in all the wrong keys for her voice. Suffice it to say, Alexandra would loose her voice on a regular basis.

After an introductory lesson, I sat her down and said, in no uncertain terms, that the work needed to be done would be frustrating, and more often than not she would feel like she couldn’t sing at all. To really drive the “tough love” home I added that I couldn’t give her a time frame as to when things would improve. I must say that at this point in my introductory lessons, I’ve seen grown men cry! Alexandra just said, “Are you available next week?”.

Well, here we are, 2012. She released a 7″ vinyl EP (glitter vinyl thank you very much!) which was funded entirely by her kickstarter.com campaign. Also, just this week she performed on GoodDayLA (which you can watch here – Alexandra Starlight Good Day LA). Last night she was at DimMak Studios in Hollywood performing a Miles Davis tribute show for The Miles Davis House. Then she was in my studio for a lesson this afternoon and tonight she’s in Ventura performing a show. Her voice sounds strong, full of character, she knows who she is and where she is headed.

I’m proud and impressed with Alexandra because she fully trusted the process, rolled up her sleeves and did the work. I don’t always get the satisfaction of seeing a client work right through the tough stuff. Honestly, on average many quit before they get to the finish line. Alexandra is DOING THE WORK and reaping the benefits!!! Go Alexandra Starlight!

Why Does My Voice Sound Different When It Is Recorded?

Hello all. No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I’ve been very busy working on a book project with masterful Kuk Harrell (who BTW had an amazing article in the NY Times recently – read here.), plus a recording project with my new group, teaching, school and a 2 year old (yikes!). Anyway, I have a few posts in the works that I’ll be posting between now and the end of the U.S. summer. I’m going on holidays this summer for the first time in years, and I finally purchased an iPad, which I still haven’t unpacked from the box, (I’m a bit scared!), so I’m sure this will give me ample time to respond to questions and post some new stuff.

In the meantime I thought I’d share this article with you that I read in Scientific American™. I often hear singers (especially the newbies) remark on how their voice sounds completely different on a microphone, or when they record in the studio and hear it back in the headphones etc. I always say quite simply that it doesn’t sound different to anyone else but you as our experience of our own voice is different inside our own head in comparison to how other people hear it. When I work with students I veer them towards the microphone as soon as they’re comfortable, as this is the only way to get used to it. Anyway, Scientific American posted a lovely article explaining this phenomenon in more scientific terms. Happy reading! See you soon!


Chris Mann – The Voice – Exclusive Interview

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.

Choosing Audition Songs

In working with people via skype and here in LA, the biggest issue for singers who are auditioning seems to be choosing the right songs. There are many factors to consider and spending as much time as it takes to find the most perfect songs for you and your voice is key.

1) Genre. If you are a country singer, do a country song. If you’re a rock singer, do a rock song. It sounds so obvious, but it seems to confuse a lot of singers. Then, be specific about “WHO” you are and consider that there are different genres within a genre. For example, if you are a country artist, are you a Miranda Lambert style, Townes Van Zant style, Shania Twain rock pop crossover style or perhaps Merle Haggard style? Be specific about who you are 100%.

2) Key. If the song works for you throughout the song except for that low note that occurs in the verse. Change the key or change that note. Don’t skimp on this. If you go in to the audition thinking, “well, it’s just one note and most of the time, I can hit it”, change it. Make sure the song is in a range that is accessible for you 100% of the time so you can be free to just perform and not worry about trouble spots. The melody has to sing well when it’s all you have to carry your voice. Then, when you have the key that’s right for you, use a pitch pipe to find your note before you start singing or if you’re keeping the original key, listen to the beginning of the song on your headphones before you start to sing. Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll sing the song in the wrong key and once you start you can’t stop.

3) Arrangement. Find the best part of the song for you. For example, perhaps you sing the 2nd verse better than 1st, in which case, start with the 2nd verse. Perhaps the chorus immediately gets you in a zone where you can emote or feel comfortable, then start with the chorus. There are no rules (unless given) when they only allow you to sing 30 seconds of a song a cappella, so find the best parts of the song and fuse them. However, make sure you know the rest of the song and if the judges don’t stop you keep going!

4) Diversity. Have other songs ready that are in the same genre. I suggest having 8 to 10 songs ready. For example, if you’re singing an Adele song, have other soulful diva songs ready to go. If you’re doing a Green Day song, again, pick other songs in the same genre.

5) Creativity. You’ll probably be singing a cappella which gives you more freedom with your choices. Try choosing a female song if you’re a guy or male song if you’re a girl and make it your own. On Adele’s first album she did a version of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love and if you compare this with Bob Dylan’s version it’s completely different. This is also a great example of taking a song in one genre and making it work in another.

6) Appropriate. Choose songs you can personally connect with. I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables does not suit a 16 year old girl. It suits an older woman who is reflecting on her life, whereas, Sittin’ Up In My Room by Brandy doesn’t suit an older woman. Make sure the subject matter is age appropriate and that you can connect with it. Find a personal experience to draw from that you can loose yourself in. If you are able to “perform” for the judges then you will have a better chance of getting attention.

Once you’ve got a handful of songs you’re pleased with, record yourself and play it back. Often the song sounds different from how it feels when you sing. If you’re happy with the selection, the key, the arrangement and feel you’re ready to go, find some people you trust and sing your songs for them and ask for feedback. Selecting songs should take a good deal of time but the good news is, once you have a repertoire of songs then this task becomes easier.

Good luck!