Of all the top questions I get asked as a vocal coach, this is #2.
(“Am I any good?” is number one.*)
First off, let’s agree on one thing: there is no one voice that’s best. Originality is invaluable, especially when it comes to artistry, otherwise the world would have an overabundance of Whitney Houston and Freddie Mercury copycats—legendary voices, sure, but think about it: only two vocal flavors? (#Boring.)
Think about what draws you to a voice and I’ll bet it’s something uniquely them.
Here’s the cool part: every voice is unique. And no one on the planet sounds like you! You’re unique in your DNA and so too is your voice and its resonating chambers (ie. your vocal cords, throat and face, where much of tone or sound quality is created). Yes, you may find similar vocal traits among your family, but I promise you you’re one of a kind. (Twins included—no two identical twins are exactly the same, nor are their voices.)
So basically, the goal is this: we need you to sound like YOU.
Because the alternative would be depriving the world of a one of a kind.
Here are 7 steps on how to achieve your original sound, in both your singing and speaking voice, if you haven’t yet already.
1) Open up to the process—and to possibility.
Your voice, quite literally, is inside of you right now. So relinquish frustration, expectation and judgment for patience, ease and play and allow it to bloom. Stay open to the journey. Adopt a growth mindset and for goodness sake bench the critic! I’ll say it again: stay open.
Growth mindset: the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.Dr. Carol Dweck
2) Be objective.
Treat your search like a news anchor might: report only the facts. Not judgments or opinions, just cold hard facts. When addressing sounds you don’t particularly care for, be constructive and address only the sound— versus questioning your entire self worth over a sour note. Pinpoint what exactly in its quality you don’t like. Deal?
3) Ensure your instrument is working efficiently.
Your instrument, as it was designed by nature, is resonant, clear and effortless. Are you experiencing this in both your singing and speaking voice (save for technique you’re currently working on)?
Tension—whether physical, mental or emotional—is a sure sign that things are not working at 100%. With that, how does your speaking and singing feel? Ease off those big notes, and instead let them pop. Use your face for volume as opposed to pushing your sound out the mouth. And check in with your thoughts and feelings to be sure they’re on board with the task at hand.
How does your voice sound? One of the best tools is recording your voice—speaking and singing—and listening back objectively. A recording is the most reliable gauge, as the voice you hear when you talk or sing out loud is skewed by internal bodily vibrations. Listen to the recording for vocal qualities that signify a healthy working voice: aim for warm or bright, resonant & supported, whereby the right amount of air meets right amount of cord, instead of squeaky, gravelly, breathy, nasal, monotonous, brassy, shouty, too soft, stuck or muscled up, strained or squeezed. You know you’ve hit the sweet spot when your voice feels (a) effortless, (b) has a balanced tone (color, timbre, quality) and (c) sounds like you.
Be sure to listen to the recording and decipher whether your speaking and singing “voices” sound somewhat similar in their qualities. For example, is your singing voice loud and brassy but your speaking voice is soft and breathy? Vice versa? Both sounds are coming from your one instrument, so it’s likely they’d share similar base qualities. The one with the most ease is likely closer to your true sound.
Tips to make the recording process less painful:
- Refer to #1 and #2 and put these into practice. Stay open and stay objective—as in, just the facts, no self-critique or judgments. (Bench the inner critic!)
- If you don’t like your voice you’ll be less likely to share it with others, so this is a necessary step in your vocal development. Remember that. #micdrop
- Keep old recordings on file to listen back to at a later date. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come—and it can be a real confidence booster!
4) Use your speaking voice to unblock your singing voice
Think of your “natural” voice like your “phone voice”: this voice, which is likely less blocked than even our in-person speaking voice, is often more resonant, melodic, and free of tension—especially if we’re making a very important call. Calls like these often lend a sing-song quality to our speaking voice (aka. more breath!) and that’s a very, very good thing.
Most importantly, this voice is uniquely yours. That is to say, if you spoke to someone on the phone, or even sang to them through the phone, that someone would know it was you.
The human voice is capable of making oodles of sounds, all of which have their place. In this step, however, we’re looking to find your unblocked voice, your birthright, your voice save from bad habits—your youness (a.k.a. the voice you found in #3) —and apply its qualities to both your speaking and singing voice. It’s from this space that we’ll play and create a world of other sounds on purpose, not by accident—that’s the key!
A good piece of advice: Speak like you sing, or like you’re on the phone (often this gives us better breath support). And then of course, sing like you speak.
For a recap on the singing & speaking connection, visit these blog posts: Snap judgment, Lip Service, Help My Voice is Stuck.
5) Garner a musical vocabulary.
The next step to finding your original singing voice is to garner a musical vocabulary—so listen to the greats, gobble up their tricks and techniques, do impressions, get goofy with it, try on the sounds you like (and equally beneficial, the sounds you don’t). Just see what happens.
And if you’re game try this self-inventory: if you had to become an impersonator and you were ONLY allowed to sing one, maybe two, artists songs for the rest of your life, who would it be? Your answer will point you in your desired direction. (Mine: Alanis Morissette and Mariah Carey, hands down.)
What if Lauryn Hill sang a Joni Mitchell song—what would that be like? Or if U2 covered an Ariana Grande song? Great things come from experimentation. How would you sing some of your favorite songs—what would you do differently? Throw on some karaoke, or accompany yourself with an instrument, and sing your jams as if you wrote them. Or better yet, try out #7.
7) Write your own songs!
Writing your own songs enables you to tell your story your way. Don’t forget to flip on the ol’ recording device to capture the magic.
Eventually, with enough patience, ease and play, you can unblock your beautiful resonant instrument, along with a palette of colors to play with. And that, singer, is one cool combo of Y-O-U-ness.
And one more thing, please remember — don’t let anyone tell you who you are; that part’s up to you. xo
*I’m as far from Simon Cowell as they get but I do understand why singers might as a vocal coach this question, so I answer in a way that actually gets the singer to answer for themselves. (Cheeky, huh?)