Copying what others do is a fundamental way to learn. Babies and young children do this all the time. So how do you copy and learn from singers you admire without becoming a clone? The keyword is “knowingly” copying your favorite singers.
When you sing a song, a phrase or even just a riff like a singer you admire, do it to learn how they do it. Don’t copy it to try to be like them. This is a subtle distinction, but very important. Once you learn how to do it, incorporate it into your vocal skill set and then use it as your own to express music the way you want to.
Here is a story that illustrates the wrong way to go about this.
Some time ago I was working with a songwriter who considered he wasn't a good singer. His negative opinion of his voice drove him to subconsciously imitate certain singers he admired. His word pronunciation sounded pretentious because it wasn't the way he would talk and though his song writing was fabulous, his performance masked the beauty of his material. I spent time with him working on how he would say each line if he was just conversing with someone.
While doing so, I urged him to notice how he would naturally pronounce words. As we continued to work in this manner, first talking through and then singing each song, he began to recognize each artist he was subconsciously mimicking in an attempt to hide behind their identities. These realizations freed him up and he found he could begin to perform the songs as himself.
Subconsciously mimicking other singers is not the only reason for unnatural articulation, but whatever the cause, it will sound insincere to your audience. Practicing lyrics the way you normally speak will uncover unnatural pronunciation and will help you find your interpretation of a particular song so you can perform it in your own unique style.
on December 15, 2014 at 6:24 PM said:I am so happy to read this blog. One of the reason I stopped watching the singing contest shows on TV was the fact that these wanna-bes were aping the singer who made the particular song popular. I know that imitation can be interpreted a compliment, but we all hear music differently and interpret individually, otherwise we are robots. I just turned 80 this past November, and to celebrate this achievement, I made a 13 track CD with the aid and guidance of a professional singer. The result has been received by family and friends with many warm and beautiful sentiments. The comment that seems to be most prevalent is the I sang each song with my own interpretation and made it my own. In fact this past weekend I was interviewed on a radio station in Kitchener, Ontario, and some of my tracks were played and the reaction was very favourable. I am not selling this commercially, but using the proceeds for charity. If you wish to hear this, it is available as a podcast at www.barryshainbaum.com, click on radio and the December 14th broadcast. I am not imitating anyone, but feeling each song with sincere emotion as the CD was made in loving memory of my husband. I enjoy reading your blogs, and even at 80, I feel I can learn something new every day!
on December 15, 2014 at 7:09 PM said:YES! This is fascinating !! Admiration is one thing... But to really feel and be through passionate expression and just breathing into the character intuitvely brings life into what would have been a lifeless dull clone! Your insight and guidance is so very validating and priceless!! Luv & Peace xo Viper
on December 15, 2014 at 10:49 PM said:I remember some years back, we were recording an album and I had envisioned the tune as being somewhat beatle-esque as I wrote it. Well, I didn't realize that apparently I even wanted it to sound that way as during one of the takes my brother said, "You're singing with an accent." It dawned on me that he was right! I ditched the accent and the song went to new levels when I sang it as me :)
on December 16, 2014 at 8:03 AM said:Regarding your example, that's great advice for Americans, not so great for the rest of us. Some accents just don't cut it for certain genres. I'm English and have what is called a 'received English' or BBC accent which sounds hopelessly uncool or 'posh' when singing anything but musical theatre, so I always sing with modified vowel sounds (leaning towards American) for all pop genres. Had a long singing career off the back of it. Same goes for all my singer friends here.
on December 16, 2014 at 8:39 AM said:I always admire the smart and helpful comments from Jeannie. I work in the dance music, Jazz and swing business and need to sing very different types of music styles. I profit very much from "aping" the original singer,but I always come to a point, where I find myself getting stuck. I could not develop the song any further. I realized, I had to make the song my own,rather than cling to the original version. Thank you Jeannie