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Sounding Like Nobody Else

Build a singing voice as distinctive as your face and you will stand out from the crowd of diva wanna-be's.
By Brett Manning
Brett Manning is one of the most sought-after vocal coaches, and has become widely recognized for improving the singing voices of some of the world's best singers. In his Nashville studio, as well as at seminars and workshops in more than three dozen cities nationwide, Brett works with artists from many major recording labels — Capitol, Columbia, Atlantic, Interscope, Dreamworks, MCA, Epic/Sony, and others — as well as countless independent record labels. He has coached the casts of various Broadway musicals, including the current Broadway touring company of Elton John's Aida.
Three years ago, I signed a distribution deal with Media Products in Barcelona, Spain, for the translating and marketing of my systematic vocal training course on 12 CDs. The man who made it happen was Paul Zamek. Paul is responsible for the overseas licensing of American recording artists. His largest client, Kenny Rogers, has sold over 100 million albums worldwide! I met Paul on a flight to Club Med in Florida, and he became intrigued with my approach to teaching the human voice. I told him that I've taken complete non-singers and built their voices into commercial successes from the ground up. When he asked me how that was possible, I explained three simple concepts to him.
First, train the voice as you would train your body. Understand that you have muscles that can be developed in the same way athletes train their muscles. Singing is fairly easy, with tiny muscles involved in coordinating the voice and subtle exercises required to develop their coordination. I have taught thousands of girls to sing as high as Mariah Carey and have safely developed a convincing commercial sound with even the most rigidly trained classical singers. Just remember that correct technique is necessary before moving toward a record deal, because you will need consistency and longevity if you really want to make it.
Second, develop your "style ear" and your vocal coordinations to sing the rapid licks, trills, and runs consistent with today's pop-singing styles. You must also develop your unique version of a commercial sound. A straight purist voice (one dominated by a heady/classical sound) has little chance of competing with Jewel, Christina, Mariah, Celine, or Gwen Stefani.
Third, do your own thing after you've learned everyone else's tricks. You have to get as close as possible to your natural talking voice and make your singing more like speech on pitch. If you change your tone quality so that you are talking in one voice and singing in another, you've lost the very qualities that make your voice distinctive. You'll also have a harder time sustaining your vocal health.
When I first explained this ideology to Paul, he freaked out, then drew a big smiley face on a yellow legal pad and said, "Your voice is as distinctive as your face." How many times do you answer the phone and hear, "Hey girl," and know exactly who it is without hearing another word? We are sometimes still amazed at this, because most of us don't have the recognizable voices of Fran Drescher (The Nanny), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jennifer Tilly, James Earl Jones, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or the late sports announcer Howard Cosell. You don't need a "character" voice like these people to be distinctive; God already took care of that when he created the equivalent to a thumbprint in your voice. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars to develop technology that can recognize a particular voice. The multiple frequencies produced by your unique voice are your ticket into the recording industry, and making the most of them is what I've spent the last 15 years of my life teaching people to do.
People e-mail me with career questions from all over the world, and many of them ask the same thing: What do I have to do to get a record deal?
Here's the answer you usually hear: "Headshot, bio, and demo." And yes, those items certainly have helped many people get started in the recording industry. Some have even added a video or showcase to the requirement, because singers also have to be performers. But other than preparing all of these self-promotions and throwing yourself into the brutally competitive music industry, what else can you do to increase your likelihood of landing that record deal you've dreamed about since you were barely old enough to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?" Here are three other important goals to reach for:
First, increase your vocal range. The greater your range, the more exciting and confident your singing will be. Find a coach who can teach you how to mix your chest voice (speaking voice) with your head voice (your softer, lighter, classical-sounding voice). This "mixed voice" is much thicker than pure head voice, but has more frequencies than a belted chest voice (which is also the leading cause of vocal nodules). The "mixed voice" has the best of both worlds, which is why so many top Grammy winners sing in this vocal register. You must learn the "mix" if you want a commercial sound, effortless vocalizing, and a healthy voice.
Second, find as many influences as possible. Influences are inescapable. The real question is, do you have enough of them to keep you from sounding exactly like your favorite artist? We don't need another Celine Dion. I have coached dozens of young women who can now sing almost exactly like Celine; but who wants a counterfeit when the real thing is already available? If you have enough diverse vocal influences, you will find a little piece of yourself in each one of them.
Third, make a decision to find your unique voice and spend the rest of your life devoted to developing it. Don't quit your day job until your career takes off, and your office gig can be replaced with a Broadway contract or record deal. But give every extra buck, hour, and emotion to this endeavor. You don't want to look back and say, "If only." You are unique and you have dreams. Dreams are visions wearing work clothes. The world advances, not through those who give up on their visions, but through those who stand until their labor and talent takes form.

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