Preparation for the Recording Studio Series: Part 2 "Finding The Right Song To Record"

Preparation for the Recording Studio Series: Part 2 "Finding The Right Song To Record" Good morning everyone. Several weeks ago when vocal coach Wendy Martelli and I decided on a specific date for the 4 day Vocal Recording Masterclass I would be teaching to her students, we both knew that the real challenge would be finding songs that each singer could take into the recording studio and not only sing and record well, but make their own. If you are a fan of reality singing competitions like "American Idol" or "The Voice" like me, you will notice that the judges will often tell the contestants something like "That sounded like a karaoke version of the song" or "you are doing an exact copy of Kelly Clarkson" or something to that effect. Although singers like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson or Chris Daughtry are undeniably fantastic singers, there can only be one of them. No one wants a carbon copy of these singers. It just doesn't work. I often quote a famous singer in lessons when I hear a student trying to do an exact version of another singer by stating "Always be a first rate version of yourself, never a second rate version of someone else". That quote by the way, is attributed to the late great Judy Garland who was a true original. No one ever sounded or looked like her before she came along. From what I've read about Garland, the studio heads at MGM wanted her to dye her hair blonde, lose more weight than was healthy for her body type, and sing like every other singer on the studio lot in those days. Fortunately, Judy had a great vocal coach by the name of Kay Thompson who fought for her to be able to sing with her own unique voice, and thus the legendary Judy Garland sound was born. One of the challenges of singing cover songs is that we always have the original singer's version in our ear. It's mighty difficult to not imitate the original singer's licks, tone and style. Humans by nature are creatures of imitation. We learn to walk, talk, sing, laugh and cry by watching our parents. So naturally, when we hear a great song by one of our favorite artists, we tend to copy it exactly as we hear it. Making a cover song your own can be very challenging to say the least, but in recent years a phenomenon started in pop music that made singing covers a little less challenging. More and more singers began covering songs made famous by singers of the opposite sex. There's a really great version of Megan Trainor's "All About That Bass" on YouTube by a young artist named Tanner Patrick. While staying true to the original version in terms of melody and rhythm, he made the song his own in every other way possible. To date his version of "All About That Bass" has over 2 million views on YouTube. Way to go Tanner! One of the golden rules of covering famous songs is sticking to the melody as much as possible without turning it into another song. We always need to give credit to the composer by staying as close to original vocal line as possible, but it is certainly fine to change a phrase here or there, adding a high note, or even changing the tempo of a song. Many famous uptempo dance songs started out as slow ballads, just as many famous ballads were turned into rock songs. One of the most famous cover songs of all time is Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You". Whitney apparently had much to do with the arrangement of this song written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton. Dolly's original version is a sweet ballad with none of the bravado or power notes as Whitney's version. But her's is the version that many artist wanted to cover including the late Elvis Presley. Whitney, alongs with her producers, took that sweet, beautiful melody and turned it into one of the most powerful, iconic ballads of all time. Most people were shocked to find out that it was originally a country song composed by Ms. Parton. When searching for a song to cover, find a song that you can fall in love with. Make it your own with your original voice and style and you may just have a hit on youtube, or at least one that all your friends and family will enjoy! Have a great day everyone!


Jeffrey Stanfill