75% the singer

I have a theory that when you see a band play live, or even hear a track, it’s 75% up to the singer whether you like the sound or not. Of course, I’m talking song-based music, not sample based minimal (where I can only presume it’s the……ok you got me, I don’t own any sample based minimal albums).


I come to this theory because it’s at least 60% the singer to me, and being a keyboard/band/production nerd you would think I would be the lowest of anyone. But there you go, it hangs on the voice.

This is, of course, less than ideal for Birds in Branches. I am very comfy on the keyboard (having been doing since before I could tie shoelaces), but singing notsomuch. In an ideal world I should be getting clever others to guest the vocals, and I do have some rather singeriffic friends. But this is my own project, and I’m finding myself so very opinionated – I want the melody just the way I hear it. That is not the way you can afford to think in a band or a collaboration.

And, besides……I want to be a singer. There, I said it.

I always did. I remember since way back saying I would trade all my skills for a rad voice. Right then I should have hired a teacher and got started – but I thought I was already a lost cause. Too old, or too far gone. I’m 27 now, so way back then I may have been the youngest person ever to decide I was too old to learn to sing.

So I’m going to fight back all that and sing my songs, because that will force me to make myself a singer. And making myself a singer is something I really want to do.

So how is it going so far? Well I haven’t picked a teacher (this is the first thing everyone seems to ask), but I’m starting to decide I don’t want to. I’m not planning to make the opera rounds, I want to sound like me on my songs – so if I can get good advice on not hurting myself and how to practice well, then I’m thinking it is probablly best if the rest is up to me. This decision is also based on talking to some of the best singers I know. Truth told, they all have wildly different stories and advice, and most have less theory and tips than I expected – it seems you just have to do it and work it out.

Thus I’ve spent a few months practicing every day based on a smattering of online lessons, and mostly a ‘speech level singing’ book by Seth Riggs. I nearly breathe that ‘excercises cd’ off my iphone. It is slow work and signs of improvement are subtle and sparse, but I’m off and running and improving. And for all my flaws, once I do finally start something, I am a rather determined and presistent guy who won’t (or can’t) stop. My lovely wife is already a little sick of Seth Riggs and his excercises, but that will get worse before it gets better.

It’s true, I do think that the vocals are still the weakest link, and it’s tough to handle such a slow improvement process when it is is thing holding back the songs most. It’s also a bit of a confidence drain as I do the demos.

But what choice do I have? You play the cards in your hand. And if the freedom from one day liking your own voice is anything like the freedom I got the day I began to like my own keyboard sound then it will be worth it.

And one thing is for sure: when I’m constantly recording and hearing back my own voice, there is no danger I’ll decide I don’t need to practice.


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