Becoming the Best Version of Yourself, Not a Second Rate Version of Someone Else

Becoming the best version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.

Good afternoon all of you beautiful singers/teachers of singing, and a very happy New Year to you all. Hard to believe it’s 2019 but you know the world keeps spinning, and time keeps ticking, and that’s how the world goes round.

I was thinking of time and how quickly it passes, and this brought me to my first topic of 2019 for these posts: “Be the best version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else”. That quote by the way, is from the late, great Judy Garland, and one that I use in the opening of the vocal exercise portion of my instructional program LET YOUR VOICE SOAR which is available from my website www.voicesoaring.com.

Continuing on the topic of time, it was a year and half ago that I had the unique opportunity to co-teach a vocal masterclass with Grammy award winning tenor David Phelps, formerly of the Gaither Vocal Band. My production team, including audio engineer Ryan DeRosa and I created a video of the class which is also available from my website for purchase. This exciting and informative video has sold around the world in countries as far away as Russia, South Africa, Italy, Japan and United Arab Emirates.

As more and more people have discovered that I worked with Mr. Phelps, more and more people began writing me to ask me if I could help them achieve their dream of sounding like David Phelps. As I began to reply to the numerous emails regarding this subject, it hit me that many singers are so busy trying to sound like someone else, that they forget to cultivate their own unique, God given sound. After all, there is only one David Phelps and only one You!

Now don’t get me wrong, I do have my vocal “idols” such as Steve Perry, Luther Vandross and Luciano Pavarotti, and at various times in my life I’ve tried to imitate their sounds as closely as possible, but this was mostly before I began to embrace my own unique sound. I believe we can use our favorite singers as a guideline for sound production, but to try to imitate the sound as closely as possible will never bring out your native sound.

If you go to my YouTube channel you will see several covers I’ve done of songs by artists such as Steve Perry, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. You may notice that although I do a kind of tribute to the artists, I tried to make those songs my own by changing the arrangements, adding different instruments and more.

David Phelps voice is quite unique, and is almost “not of this world”, and definitely one to admire and study. But to try and be the next David Phelps is futile as there will never be another David Phelps, but there will be an amazing version of you with the right training and guidance from a qualified vocal coach.

 LEARNING THROUGH IMITATION

Can we learn to sing by imitating someone like David Phelps or Whitney Houston or Luciano Pavarotti? Absolutely!

DEVELOPING A VIBRATO

When I was a kid growing up in Tennessee I wanted “that shaky thing in other singer’s voices”. Growing up in southern part of the country we didn’t have a lot of exposure to vocal coaching or proper vocal technique and terminology unless you wanted to be an opera singer. I just knew that other singers that I would see on TV had a thing in their voice that caused it to shake in a very controlled manor. I would later learn this is called “vibrato”, and I wanted it so badly!

Each day I would walk home from school singing all the popular hits of the day as loudly as I could. I would even jump up and down to create that controlled “shaky thing”. One day after many failed attempts and much frustration, the vibrato came. Not perfectly but it was there. I ran home from school as fast as I could to show my mom what I had discovered. She was as surprised as I was that my voice was shaking on pitch like the pros...well sort of!

As time progressed I began listening to other singers and would try to imitate their sounds, some more successfully than others. By high school I could do a pretty decent Don Henley (lead singer for the Eagles) sound as well as a Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and even a serviceable Steve Perry imitation. The only thing lacking was a solid vocal technique and an original sound of my own.

FINDING MY OWN SOUND

When I moved to New York in the late 90’s, I was introduced to two very important songwriters, Michael O’Hara and George Lyter who would change my approach to singing all together. These two talented gentlemen had written hits for many of the biggest recording artists of the day. Michael and George offered me an original song for me to record called “If I Knew”. The song was a beautiful R&B ballad, and I learned it and fell in love with it immediately.

During the recording session for “If I Knew”, I was singing it like it was a Luther Vandross song, and with each pass of the vocal both George and Michael kept asking me to put more of my own voice in to the song. Finally, after several failed attempts, I was able to let go of any desire to sound like someone else sing the song with my voice. At the end of the day, we were all very pleased with the results. I remember crying like a baby listening to the final mix of the song because for the first time in my life, I didn’t sound like a second rate version of anyone else, but rather a first rate version of me!

Soon after that recording session I met the late great Leona Mathews who would help me lay the beginning foundation of a solid vocal technique. In every lesson she encouraged me to sing with my voice, not someone else’s.      

CREATING YOUR ORIGINAL, UNIQUE SOUND

Over the last 19 years I have seen hundreds of singers come through my studio door, many of them singer songwriters ready to work on their original songs and make an impact in the music business. The ones that succeed are almost always the ones who find their own true, God given voice. In lessons with these singers, we will often listen to other artists to see if there is something in a particular singer’s voice that they might barrow to enhance their own sound. This approach is using imitation as a source for growth rather than just making a carbon copy sound. It’s a bit like adding color to a painting.

During the masterclass with David Phelps, he talked about how he created his unique sound by spending hours and hours in a studio, recording himself over and over until the “Phelps sound” began to emerge. He spoke about how he was worried he was driving his wife crazy by constantly singing for hour upon hours, but that the work eventually paid off.

I would venture to say that almost every successful vocal artist has used some form of this approach to create a sound that is unlike any other. After all, this is why we gravitate to certain singers in the first place. They have that certain something in their voice that is immediately identifiable. A sound that you know from just a couple of notes, “Oh that’s Adele, or “that’s Bruno Mars”, or “I knew right away that Amy Winehouse”.

In this post I’ve mentioned “God given sound” several times. I truly believe that our own voices are a gift from God, and the Divine wants us to build what he gave us and make it something special. Definitely listen to other singers like David Phelps, and try to understand what it is about his voice, or another singer’s voice that makes it so special. Maybe it’s their powerful high notes, or their lush lower register. Maybe it’s a certain yearning in their sound that makes you want to cry when you listen to them. Judy Garland certainly had that quality in her voice. Maybe there’s an angst in their voice that makes you want to get up and do something crazy when one of their songs comes on. The most important thing is to learn what makes someone else’s voice interesting so that you can maximize your voice’s potential as well.

Keep working toward building your own unique sound and you will never be sorry you did so. Work with a vocal coach that encourages individuality and is not trying to make you sound exactly like them or anyone else. If you are searching for a vocal coach, write me at jeff@voicesoaring.com to discuss the many options we have here at Voice Soaring Studios for private voice lessons either in person or online.

Until then, keep singing and let your voice soar!

Check out this promotional video we created for the Phelps/Stanfill masterclass. Currently both FROM VOICE STUDIO TO STAGE and LET YOUR VOICE SOAR are available from our website for 20% off by adding “HAPPYHOLIDAYS” in the checkout code.


Jeffrey Stanfill
"You Have To Bake The Cake Before You Can Frost It"

    “You Have To Bake The Cake Before You Can Frost It”

Notes from a vocal masterclass

with

David Phelps/Jeff Alani Stanfill

 Good morning all you beautiful singers/teachers of singing! Do you remember the line from the Carpenters song “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down”? Well it’s Monday and it’s pouring here in the north east, and I’m not down by any means, but “Good Lawdy have mercy”, I think we’ve seen enough precipitation to get us threw a few months. Jeez!!

So I was sitting at my desk, planning and scheduling lessons, lining up studio space at the New York City location, when I decided to procrastinate for a few minutes and watch some YouTube video...always entertaining! A video popped up from the latest episode of American Idol with judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. I don’t know if you guys are watching this re-installment of the Idol franchise but I have been delighted by the level of talent they have found, and most especially by the three celebrity judges. Each of them brings their own unique judging style, and so far, not an overzealous amount of “Oh my gosh you are amazing” or “You are going to be a star” which was so prominent in the last season of Idol. 

What prompted me to write this article was when the youngest singer of the top 24 contestants sang a moving rendition of “Run To You”, a very difficult song made famous by the late Whitney Houston. In previous episodes this young singer had shown her rocker side with raw vocals, hair flips and lots of movement, which was quite different from this more toned down version she was presenting with the Whitney song. All three judges were very complimentary of the young singer, but Katy Perry’s comments really struck a chord with me. She praised her for taking a more laid back approach to the song and showing her real voice without all the bells and whistles, and stating that this really let America know who she was. Katy then said “You have to bake the cake before you can frost it”.  

That line took me right back to September 23rd, 2017, the day of the vocal masterclass I taught with internationally acclaimed gospel singer David Phelps. Towards the end of the class there was a question and answer section, and one of the participants asked David Phelps how he was able to produce his unique, sometimes breathy tone in many of his songs without damaging his voice? David replied that he had worked with voice teachers that encouraged him to develop his voice in a classical style because he had a natural facility for it, but he wanted to develop a sound, especially in the middle voice, that was more conversational and less classical sounding. He made it clear that the classical training gave him a solid foundation to build a more contemporary, commercial sound on, and without it, he would likely have damaged his voice. He said “You have to know the rules before you can break them”.

I love that line! To me it says everything about the necessity of building a solid vocal technique while you are developing your own vocal style. I truly believe every singer has a unique sound that can be enhanced with a solid, technical approach to their voice.

I think some singers are afraid of vocal training, especially if they have a really good natural sound. They may be worried that a vocal coach will make them sound like an opera singer or worse, a carbon copy of the teacher (I’ve had both!). But an experienced vocal coach will give the singer the tools that will allow the singer to:
A. Increase breath capacity and the ability to support the voice

B. Increase the range both on the top and the bottom of the voice

C. Smooth register transitions so there are no noticeable breaks

D. Develop a tone that is pleasing to the ear no matter what the     style

E. Be able to get out of vocal trouble when they are not able to see their coach

F. Sing with power and conviction without losing the voice

G. Sing for long periods of time without vocal fatigue

I.  Develop a voice that will last a lifetime

 Everyday that I walk into one of my studios to teach singers from all walks of life, I realize how lucky I am to get to do this job. Singers are some of the most interesting people on the planet in my opinion. Every singer has an innate need to express themselves with this amazing instrument called the voice, and it’s a desire that is unbelievably strong in most vocalists. Personally I don’t know what I would do without my voice. Sure there are days when it doesn’t seem to want to do what I need it to do, but solid vocal technique has given me the ability to get my voice up and running well enough so that no one throws tomatoes at me, even on the worst days. My teachers, especially Maestro David L. Jones and the late Leona Mathews gave me the tools to develop a long lasting voice.

 My mission in life began on April 16th, 1999 in the very last lesson I had with Leona Mathews. In that lesson she said to me “You are going to be a voice teacher. You must carry these things that I have taught you into the world. You must share this information with every singer you meet. The world needs good voice teacher and you are going to be one of them”.

 I must admit that I wasn’t so sure about Leona’s prophecy regarding my future career as a voice teacher. At the time I was still busy trying to be a successful singer, and teaching voice was only something I gave a passing thought to. But after her death my life would change even more when I met my next voice teacher Maestro Jones. I was only a few lessons in with the maestro when he said to me “I bet you make a really good voice teacher!” I had not mentioned to David that Leona told me the exact same thing only a few months earlier but I knew at this point that God was speaking to me loud and clear!

 I never regretted for even one single minute the decision to become a full time vocal coach. It is a job that gives me much joy and fulfilment, and every lesson with every singer is a new, challenging and rewarding experience.

 By the way, today is World Voice Day! How appropriate for this post.

 For lessons please contact me at jeff@voicesoaring.com

 Keep singing and let your voice soar!


 

 

Jeffrey Stanfill
Why Do Some Singers Seem to Last Forever

Why Do Some Singers Seem to Last Forever?

A very good Monday morning to all of you gorgeous singers/teachers of singing. Can you guys believe how fast this summer has flown by? I'm not quite ready to face the idea of Fall yet, so I'm going to continue to bask in the beautiful sun whenever possible!

A Singer is Injured

Recently a very famous singer had to cancel the last few nights of her sold out world tour due to a vocal injury. As many of you may have already figured out, I am speaking of Adele. 
This is the second time she's had to cancel a portion of a tour due to an injury and it made headlines around the world. If you type in "Adele's vocal injury" on Google you will find no less than 328,000 search results, and in those results you find hundreds of vocal coaches speculating on why this happened, and how she could've had prevented the injury from happening in the first place. It seems every vocal coach has the "answer" to all vocal issues.

So I am NOT going to speculate on why Adele injured her voice. I have said it from the moment I heard the news that "this is between her, her vocal coach and her laryngologist Dr. Steven Zeitels". Dr. Zeitels by the way was my voice doctor when I was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston eons ago, and I can tell you this guy is a genius. So our dear Adele is in good hands and I am sure she will be back in fighting shape in no time!

What I do want to discuss in this post is why some singers seem to last forever (I like to keep things on the positive side if you have not already figured that out).

Singers That Last Forever

Recently I read an interview with the great Franki Valli of the Four Seasons. Anyone who has ever heard or tried to sing any of the songs of the Four Seasons like "Sherri", "Walks Like A Man" or "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" knows how difficult these songs are. They sit at the very top of the male falsetto range, and and hardly ever come down from the stratosphere. Mr Valli at the time of this writing is 83 years old and is still touring constantly, singing all of those stratospheric hits nights after night, year after year. Some of the keys of the songs have been dropped a little, but even in a slightly lower key they are still very high. How does Mr Valli manage to keep singing these songs so beautifully (by all accounts) at the age of 83?

In an interview with The Telegraph last year, they asked Mr. Valli how he managed to keep his voice in such pristine shape so far into his career. He said:

"“I go through scales, maybe some Sinatra, some standards for 35 or 40 minutes, sometimes an hour. I take very long showers. You have to sing every day, a little bit, to keep the voice in shape. It’s like lifting weights.”
I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t play golf, I don’t play tennis, I don’t hike, I don’t ski. I like to sing. I’ve been doing it my whole life".

Dr. Evelyn Reynolds

I have mentioned my voice teacher Maestro David L. Jones on many occasions in these posts. The Maestro has been my primary voice teacher for 18 years. In that 18 years I am sure I have added a few decades onto the lifespan of my voice due to the wonderful concepts and vocal exercises of the Swedish/Italian school of singing. Maestro Jones has been working with his own wonderful vocal coach, Dr Evelyn Reynolds for decades. Dr. Reynolds recently turned 100 and is still singing beautifully.

A few years ago Dr. Reynolds sang on one of Jones' masterclasses, and to this day those who attended that class will tell you that Dr. Reynolds voice sounded as young and fresh as someone in their 30's. Obviously being a vocal coach who teaches healthy vocal concepts has been a big contributing factor to Dr. Reynolds vocal longevity, but I think simply singing on daily basis is the key to her being able maintain a healthy voice.

There are many more examples of singers who have lasted five, six decades or more such as the great Tony Bennett, who at the age of 91 is still recording and giving concerts.

I think the simple lesson her is to "use it or lose it". The human voice is a miraculous piece of machinery capable of making more varied sounds than any other non-computerized instrument in the world. It is designed to last and serve us until our final breath. The voice needs to be nurtured through hydration, nutrition, rest and plenty of daily exercise.

Final Thoughts

Sing often and sing well. Study with a voice teacher who can give you the tools to keep your voice healthy for a lifetime.

If you don't have a coach and you are in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, I offer voice lessons to singers of all genres and ages 11 to 100! If you are not in the NY/NJ area I offer lessons online via Skype to singers throughout the world.

If you are looking for some fantastic vocal exercises, check out my instructional DVD/CD called "Let Your Voice Soar". We are currently offering the digital download (only) for 15% off from my website www.voicesoaring.com by adding "voicesoaring" in the checkout code.

Until next time, "Keep singing, and let your voice soar!"

 

Let your voice soar!

Jeff Alani Stanfill - Voice Teacher & Vocal Coach for Pop, Rock, and Broadway singers. Voice Lessons in West Orange, New York, & Online.

VOICESOARING.COM

Jeffrey Stanfill