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Vocally Speaking - The Cutting Edge

Vocally Speaking - The Cutting Edge

By Diana Yampolsky

vocal cartoon - figure skatingIn this column, I would like to talk about something that every singer who aspires to greatness must have: a cutting edge. This term is actually the title of an obscure movie about figure skating that I enjoyed very much and, more importantly, perfectly encapsulates exactly what I want to say in this article. In the movie, a figure skating duo from the United States are aiming to win the gold medal at the Olympics. During their practices their coach tries to find something that will give them an advantage over the competition. The turning point in their quest is when he asks them why they think they have a chance of winning? They couldn't come up with an adequate answer and he goes on to tell them that they need a cutting edge; something extraordinary that will ensure they become Olympic champions. He informs them that their competition will be doing essentially the same jumps and routines as them and, therefore, it really comes down to who has a better day instead of who the greatest skaters are. The coach then goes on to tell them about a very dangerous jump called the Deadly Spiral. It is so difficult and life-threatening that nobody else would ever dare to try it. If the duo could master this jump then they would be absolutely guaranteed the gold medal. At first they are apprehensive but he convinces them that they the technical skills necessary to safely nail it. Much of the rest of this movie is about them practicing the move, nearly killing each other and then finally succeeding in their task - becoming Olympic champions. The Deadly Spiral was obviously their "cutting edge" over the other skaters.

Similarly, I have a lot of CD's in my collection with good music, decent songs and even adequate vocals, but the majority are missing their own "cutting edge". Take a moment to ask yourself: as a singer, what makes you different? I think you would agree with me that a singer who sounds just like everyone else is pretty boring. (Nobody ever sold a million records while performing in a tribute band!) Every singer that has become a legend (Elvis, The Beatles, Celine Dion) had something original and unique that set them apart from every singer before them. Their voices were unique and original, but they also had other intangible qualities as well.

Now you are probably asking yourself what you can do to gain your own cutting edge. There are essentially two ways to do it.

The first way is to do it is as the aforementioned skaters did. Find or create something that will give you a leg up on the competition. It may be a particularly difficult or beautiful song that you learn how to sing exceptionally well. (Sort of like your own Deadly Spiral.) Or it could be the way you carry yourself on stage, what most people call stage presence. It can even be a unique look as long as it is relates well to the style of music you are performing. Most people wouldn't classify the members of KISS as being extraordinary singers and songwriters but they achieved a perfect balance between style of music, songs, vocals, image and performance.

The second way is to develop it from within your self. It is important to understand that you already possess your own unique quality that separates you from every other person on the planet: your spirit. If you wish, you can take this to mean that I am talking about your soul. At the very least you have to admit that your DNA differs in some way from every other human being. Furthermore, your experiences are not completely alike those of any other person. Either way, what you have to learn how to do is to unleash your own individuality and channel it into your vocal performances. Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty is a prime example of a singer whose cutting edge is his own inner energy, which is incredibly high and "orgasmic" and that transfers directly to the audience.

As I outlined in my book, Vocal Science - Flight to the Universe, a singer can only invest their performances with their own individual spirit when they are grounded in flawless technique, which will also prevent them from damaging their main commodity, ie. their voice. Whenever a new student starts instruction with me we first concentrate solely on the technical aspects of singing. As the student progresses and develops to the point that the technique becomes second nature to him, his individuality naturally starts to come out in his vocal performances. This is very exciting to witness and is one of the things I love most about my job. I vividly remember a student who once called me after a performance because he was very excited about what people were saying with regards to his new way of singing in light of the work we had done together. As is the case with many amateur bands, many of the same people (friends, family) usually come to all of their performances. This time, several had told him not only had his pitch and projection improved immensely but he also sounded more original and totally different. They told him that whereas before he had sounded like Bono of U2 and Michael Hutchence of INXS, now they couldn't really compare him to anyone else. He had developed his own cutting edge and was exhibiting something that was unique to him.

When a singer develops his own cutting edge it is truly a joyous experience. It's like witnessing the singer being reborn. Until next time, keep working at developing your own unique style and be sure to stay tuned for future excerpts from my new book, Vocal Science II - Flight from the Virtual Music to Reality, in upcoming issues.