“I seem to be struggling with an identity crisis. I have spent way too much time trying to sound like everyone I cover when I sing. What’s the secret to finding ones "OWN" voice? How do I find my own sound?”
I tend to offer free advice and often do Q&A’s with singers from all over the world. This was a question I was asked not too long ago, and, in one form or another, it’s one of the most common questions I hear. Perhaps many of you reading this have asked it of yourself as well.
The voices of the singers we look up to and emulate may have a certain timbre that we really enjoy and connect with, but a large part of the reason they sound the way they do is that their voices are ANATOMICALLY and PHYSIOLOGICALLY predisposed to create that sound. So when we try and sound like our favorite singers, the result, very often, is going to sound contrived, because we oftentimes manipulate and forcibly adjust our voices to sound the way the singers we idolize sound naturally.
Not only is doing this not good for the voice from a technical standpoint (manipulating our voices into something they aren't never is), but it can also take our individuality out of the mix.
Keep this in mind: Singing and speaking are an extension of each other. Singing is MELODIC SPEAKING. Now, that may sound simple and obvious, but when you think about it, it's huge.
Our speaking voice is the primary way we communicate ourselves. Excitement, indifference, terror, fury, love...we express ourselves with our speech. And, the acts of singing & speaking use exactly the same musculature, the exact same anatomy and physiology.
Most of the time, we perceive singing as being a wholly different act, and we make all kinds of manipulated adjustments when we do it. But the fact is: Singing is MELODIC SPEAKING. Sure, there's more focus on melody and rhythm. Sure, technique is more important in getting the sound you want, holding the notes you want, hitting the tones you want to be able to hit. But barring the additional focus of the same elements that exist in both, they are one and the same.
As the great Freddy Mercury said, "Don't try so hard". Just express what you're feeling as if you were speaking. Don't worry about getting a tone like this person, or a rasp like that person, or what have you.
Now, there's nothing wrong with emulating other people's musical stylings for your own personal expression. We've been doing it since art and music were invented; nothing's original. Just know that there's a difference between acclimating something from someone else's toolbox of tricks into your own, and trying to simply impersonate someone else, or a few "someone elses”, altogether. The former is a natural and expressive part of being a singer and an artist. The latter is often unnatural, and can be, overall, harmful, and even damaging to your voice.
Once you develop that sensational connection to how YOUR voice works, once you get a handle on what your voice’s natural inclinations are; once you’ve demystified the “mystery” of making your own individual voice, with all of its nuances and idiosyncrasies, operate in the act of singing with the same comfort level as it does when you speak, you’ll find that making adjustments to acclimate other singers’ styles, tricks, and touches will be infinitely easier, and muchmore effective. Your overall goals of expression will be met much more effectively with far less effort.
The idea of singing with the same comfort level that you speak at will take a little time to get used to. You’ll try it, and find that you just don’t sound good, because you’re body is “brainwashed” into thinking that without extra pressure and effort, you just can’t sing.
Ignore the little voice echoing in your head that tells you you’re “wasting your time”, that you’ll “never get it…”, that you should just go back to the way you’re used to doing things, because at least you know you’ll get SOME results that way, even if you’re settling for what you can get away with, rather than achieve what you’d like to be able to accomplish.
Remember the mantra I pounded mercilessly into your skull in article # 3: “MECHANICS, then RESULTS”. If you work on the mechanics, the results WILL come. They really will.