The weekend before last I went to visit family in Shropshire, and ended up getting snowed in. Significant snow fall is a rare thing in the UK, so we thought we’d make the most of it.
The result was an epic snowball fight, and thanks to the power of the smartphone, a music video! I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into our weekend and the song too. It’s a cover of Cold War Kids’ ‘Hospital Beds‘- a song that I’d wanted to cover for the past 10 years.
Its a slightly left-field choice of song (very much my taste in music!) I didn’t write the song, but I’ve always felt it was about embracing life, through its ups and downs.
‘Vietnam! Fishing trips! Italian Opera! ‘- I feel like its a call to go and have adventures. Whether your adventures involve gondolas, fishing lines or snowball fights, I hope you enjoy this video…
Often our knee jerk reaction is to ‘fix’ the problem, but of course there is an irony here- you can’t force yourself to relax. You can only allow yourself to let go. Awareness is the first and most important step. The next step is the willingness and patience to go with the process.
Often we learn when we stop trying so hard. I truly believe that learning to sing is really unlearning all of those unhelpful habits we’ve adopted. None of us came into this word all hunched up and ‘wearing our shoulders as earrings’ (as my Pilates teacher once observed!)
If you look at babies, you’ll see that they breathe freely into their abdominal area, and engage these muscles when they cry. Let’s face it, your average baby doesn’t have problems with projecting their voice!
Perhaps its our western obsession with having flat stomachs, but often we hold ourselves upright and breathe shallowly into our shoulders, which is the first thing we need to unlearn.
Being suited. booted and poker faced might be necessary in the corporate world, but it can leave us alienated from our bodies and disconnected from our voices. Psychology aside, if you’re at a computer for 8+ hours a day, chances are you’re going to suffer from some muscle tension.
So, whats the answer?
In my opinion- the answer lies, in part, with movement. I don’t mean the hardcore kind of movement, where you thrash around, overriding what your body is telling you- but the gentle, mindful kind where you listen to your body. (Think yoga rather than high intensity workouts- which might be great for weight loss but not for this!)
Try this- next time you sing, try ‘unlocking’ your body. You could walk gently or perform with your arms outstretched. You could try leaning against the wall while supporting yourself with the palm of your hands. Observe if anything feels different. Is there a change in vocal tone? Do you feel more free? Try and incorporate this exploration into your singing practice.
Today I want to talk about size. More precisely, how big your voice is. How loud it is, how powerful it is. Can you do vocal athletics? Can you shatter glass with those high notes?
Whatever the answer to those questions, I hope you will realise there is a lot more to being a singer than how loudly you can belt the high notes.
After 15 years of talent shows such as the X Factor/ Pop Idol etc, I feel that the general consensus is that bigger and louder= better. Big voice, big performance, and possibly, but not necessarily, big hair.
This opinion is totally legitimate- having a big voice, huge range and vocal agility and athleticism is impressive. These performers dedicate hours to their craft, and work really hard too.
But what about the individual with an incredible voice who doesn’t have the size? They may have beautiful tone, real artistry, honesty and vulnerability, but they would probably raise an eyebrow at the concept of a ‘sing off’ on national television.
What about these singers? Yes, they’re out there!
Laura Marling, Thom Yorke, Bjork, Birdy, Bat for lashes, the late Billie Holiday and Jeff Buckley…
Even mainstream artists like Alicia Keys are considered vocally featherweight against their big voiced counterparts ( like Beyoncé or Adele)
Rather than strain to emulate others, these artists have embraced their voices, and their power lies in their tone, communication, honesty and vulnerability.
First Aid Kit by Renee Barrera (cc)
Whether it’s the heartbreak in the voice of Sinead O’Connor, or the fragile purity of Birdy’s cover of skinny love, these voices can cut to the core of you. Not to mention the hugely emotional voice of Jeff Buckley, who often walked the tight rope- he sang with such passion and commitment that there was a certain messiness to some of his live performances, at least in terms of technique. That did nothing to blunt the beauty of his work.
Billie Holiday used her haunting vibrato to deliver possibly the most powerful protest song of all time- Strange Fruit. Vocal acrobatics were not needed, Lady Day was a natural storyteller.
So whether you have a ‘big’ voice or a gentle voice, be kind to it. One is not better than the other. The truth is, listeners are as diverse as singers. Whitney Houston may have made the powerhouse vocal de rigueur when she took the world by storm in the 80s-but even Whitney doesn’t do it for everyone!( even if her talent was indisputable!)
So please embrace whoever you are, because there is only one of you. There are so many different vocal tones and ‘textures’ you can experiment with- from breathy to belt-y. The key is to sing in a way that feels authentic to you. It all comes back to communicating honestly with your audience, whatever the sound and style! 🙂
So, today I want to tackle the concept of mindset and how it relates to us as singers.
I’d previously heard of the term ‘mindset’ in relation to positive thinking or being strong willed. i.e.. something you were told you should have- a kind of inner strength or resilience. So far, so good- however, what does that mean in practical terms? How does someone acquire this illusive ‘mindset’?
According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of mindset, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is where someone believes that their nature, talent and abilities are fixed. The problem with this is that it becomes far too easy to write off yourself and others. A fixed mindset is a powerless place to be. It leaves little or no room for development.
For example, if you believe you were born with a finite amount of talent, you’re probably going to take it a lot harder if you mess up on stage, than you would if you believed that you can grow your talents. Instead of being useful, mistakes will feel like a threat to your very identity as a singer, perhaps even as a person!
Generally speaking, those with a fixed mindset struggle to push themselves out of their comfort zone more than their growth mindset counterparts. If you believe you can’t grow or improve, you’ll be less likely to risk failure- because that failure will be interpreted as you being a failure.
The truth is, we all need to fail in order to grow.
According to Daniel Coyle, author of the Talent Code, ‘talent isn’t born, it’s grown’. Developing our talents takes commitment and persistence, and this is the only way to improve.
Recognising that you have a choice can be hugely liberating. You decide- do you believe your talent is fixed? Or do you believe it’s grown? Which of these beliefs would you prefer to steer your creative path?
Creating takes a great deal of humility. You have to get comfortable with operating at the edge of your ability. There really is no place for perfectionism or ego in creation. Give yourself a break from these tyrants and get to work!
The below video will give you more insight into Carol Dweck’s research into the ‘growth mindset’.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend reading the following books:
I have a confession to make. I have a book problem. A genuine book problem. at any given moment I have an audio-book on the go, and my bookshelves are always overflowing. Don’t even think about letting me loose in Foyles. In good news though, consider me your faithful music memoir reviewer. Here are 5 memoirs that have valuable lessons for every musician out there..
1)You don’t need to come from a rich background (and have piano lessons from age 2!) to be a rock star!
One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read is the hilarious, witty, and at times heartbreaking Clothes, Music, Boys by Viv Albertine. Viv grew up without any female guitarists to look up to. She was from a working class background and thought music was the domain of rich men. So what did she do? she jumped right in and became the guitarist in The Slits (one of the most influential punk bands to date!) By doing so, she paved the way for countless women after her. In my opinion, the most inspiring part of the punk movement was the ‘can do’ attitude.
Takeaway: Can you string a couple of chords together? You can make music. do it.
2) Even legends make things they hate sometimes. oh, and they’re just people!
I enjoyed reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, and I was hit by the fact that being Bob Dylan has involved quite a lot of mundanity at times. Yes Dylan had a meteoric rise, but he’s also had years of plugging away at music since, and he’s no stranger to the daily grind. He’s also put time and money into projects he ended up hating and scrapping.
Takeaway:Bob Dylan is a genius. If he gets stuck sometimes, perhaps we can be a bit more patient with ourselves?
3) Singing is a job. It’s not always glamorous!
Want to understand the reality of being a singer? Read Tracey Thorn’s Naked at The Albert Hall. Tracey fronted Everything but the Girl but was a reluctant pop star. Tracey discusses the wide spread fantasy people have about singers. It’s easy to assume singers are born talented, like angels that fell out of heaven with perfect voices. This is not so. Yes talent is a big factor, but hard work is a much bigger part of the puzzle.
Takeaway: Singers are made not born. So keep practising!
4) You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a performer!
Often it’s the introverted, quiet types that long for the stage. Take Carrie Brownstein, guitarist in Sleater-Kinney. Carrie might have looked cool rocking out on stage, but she’s suffered from anxiety along the way. Sleater-Kinney broke the rules when it came to music. Lead Singer Corin Tucker would often tune the guitar to her voice, rather than to the other instruments, which gave Sleater-Kinney a discordant sound. Talk about doing things your own way.
Takeaway: Don’t be scared to be yourself!
5) Follow your dreams, at the very least you’ll have an adventure!
Last but by no means least, I can’t recommend Just Kids enough!This is Patti Smith’s memoir, and at it’s heart is a book about daring to be an artist. I don’t think Patti knew what she was going to end up doing (becoming the ‘Godmother of Punk’ couldn’t have been predicted!) but she knew it was going to be special.
Takeaway: whatever you need to do to support your dream, do it. Have faith in your purpose and hustle, hustle, hustle!
Is there an amazing memoir I’ve missed? drop me a comment and let me know!
A few months ago, I discovered an article on the Voice Council website- How a choir inspired my Solo Artistry by Anil Sebastian. I was blown away by the video of Anil and London Contemporary Voices performing. Their talent, beautiful arrangements and interesting song choices left me seriously impressed. I hadn’t come across a choir like this one before. Then I found out a friend of mine ( the talented musician Billy Boguard ) was in the choir too, AND LCV were auditioning new singers. I’ve since joined the choir, and recently performed with them at Oval Space.
LCV at Oval Space, London, 6 April 2017. Photo by Carsten Windhorst / FRPAP.com
Our ‘Guilty Pleasures’ set included Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, and One Direction- all while dressed in our most fabulous clothes. I can honestly say it was a great night- uplifting and full of dancing! Several of my friends left wanting to join a choir, and I would definitely encourage them to. Here’s why:
Being in a choir is good for your health
According to the British Voice Association, Choirs have been shown to synchronise their heart and breathing rates, increasing and decreasing them in response to the music. It can also help to reduce high blood pressure, and improve breath control.
It’s a great way to make connections
Whether you want to make friends with like-minded people, or are looking for other singers to collaborate with, a choir is a great opportunity for this.
You develop your musicianship
Depending on your vocal range, you will be assigned a voice part (Bass, Baritone, Tenor, Alto, Mezzo or Soprano). More often than not, you will be singing harmonic lines that differ from the main melody. You may even be using your voice in a rhythmic way or singing a guitar riff! This all helps to “train your ear.”
You can be part of something amazing without being centre stage
Not all singers want to be the ‘lead singer’ and that’s OK! You still need to ‘perform’ as a member of a choir, but the focus is less on you as an individual, and more on your role within the group.
Its a lot of fun
This doesn’t need much explanation- there’s just something so joyful about singing with others, whether its with friends at the end of night out, over karaoke or onstage in a choir.
Our next gig is Beneath The Tracks at Omeara on May 8th- Come along!
If you’re inspired to join a choir yourself, why not check out www.choirs.org.uk to find a choir near you.
LCV at Oval Space, London, 6 April 2017. Photo by Carsten Windhorst / FRPAP.com
My first singing tip video is here! I hope you will find them useful- I keep them short and sweet, so leave a comment or message me if you would like more information. This exercise helps balance the air above and below the vocal folds- which helps them function efficiently and easily. This ultimately results in increased stamina, co-ordination and vocal range. Not a bad result for making silly sounds into a plastic tube!
With her smokey vocals and otherworldly lyrics, Laura Marling is one of my favourite artists- so I was delighted to hear that her new project is a podcast!
The series entitled Reversal Of The Muse started as a result of Laura’s conversations with friends about female creativity. In her own words,- ‘It occurred to me that in ten years of making records I had only come across two female engineers working in studios… I began to ask myself what difference it might have made had I had more women around, if any. I wanted to know why progress has been so slow in this area and what effect it would have on music.’
It is certainly true that the production side of the industry is still dominated by men- but in the era of DIY music projects, more and more singer- songwriters and artists will need some production skills in order to progress.
In her first podcast, Laura speaks to Vanessa Parr, an engineer who has worked with the likes of Elton John, John Mayer and Melody Bardot, followed by her second podcast with the incredible (female fronted) band HAIM.