I’m doing vocals for the song I’m working on. Vocals are always a bit of struggle for me. I love to sing but what I hear in my head and what comes out are two different things.
Vocal is one example of where the concept of “discovering who you are and changing what you do with life” applies. No one voice is capable of singing everything. What I mean is that the sound of our individual voices has certain characteristics to them. Some singers command bigger range in terms of tonal variations, but ultimately it’s a finite thing. A voice that’s well-suited for opera may not sound good singing punk rock. Some voices are great for sad songs, while others sound youthful.
Richie Sambora, formerly of Bon Jovi, was one of my early heroes. He’s an awesome rock guitarist but when he opens his mouth to sing, you also go “wow!” That’s what I wanted to be — a guitarist and an able backing vocalist in a rock band.
But right now I’m working on a solo project, so I’m also the lead singer. When you’re singing lead, your voice has to embody the spirit of the song. All the greatest arrangements and performance by the rest of the band are for naught if the lead singer doesn’t offer the clearest, strongest feeling.
Showing your feeling, though, doesn’t always come naturally. First, you have to have the feeling to begin with. Second, you have to have the proper means (technique) to convey or express the feelings. Third, you have to fully commit to expressing those feelings and actually do it.
The feelings I got ample amount of, but the means and the commitment are where I am still challenged. I stand in front of the mic and try to sing my heart out, then I listen to it and feels that it falls short. Why isn’t all the feelings I’m pouring out coming through? It can feel as if there’s wall between what I’m projecting and the target, and the feelings I’m throwing at it are not reaching the destination.
So there are two ways of looking at the issue.
First: am I singing the right song for my voice? Knowing your own strength can be hard sometimes, it’s so easy to just focus on where you fall short. But many times in life you have to focus on what you do well and design your approach around it. I’m a big fan of high, light voices like Thom Yorke of Radiohead or Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, but I needed to come to terms with the fact that I must be a baritone. My voice simply sounds richer and stronger in the lower register, while the higher range sounds thin and juvenile. Steven Wilson is not a particularly expressive/emotive singer, but he makes it work by creating rich arrangements around his singing so the songs don’t have to rely on him being overtly emotional. Maybe I need to adapt his approach more. I like leaner arrangements but then the lead vocal needs to carry more of the weight.
Second: am I holding back? I may think I’m giving it all but that may be an illusion coming from a mind that’s used to hiding and not wearing its heart on sleeves. Your conscious mind may think one thing but if your subconscious holds conflicting beliefs, then you may be getting in your own way.
I am a work in-progress, I don’t necessarily have all the answers. I am simply sharing these questions because they are applicable to life in so many ways. We have to learn who we are, figure out (and accept) our strength, and give ourselves full permission (including our subconscious) to go for it. When any of these pieces are missing it prevents you from realizing what you envision. It doesn’t matter if your pursuit is a career, wealth, or a relationship. There is a fundamental principle that applies to all of them.
So if you ever find yourself struggling on the way to somewhere, it’s worth asking these three questions:
- Do you know what you really want? (Who are you? And what are your heart’s true desires?)
- Do you have an idea of how the thing you want and you fit together? (What strength can you utilize? What connection/path/common grounds lay between you and the thing you’re trying to create?)
- Do you give yourself 100% permission to create what you want?
The second question may need more clarification. It’s easy to get stuck on the question of how to make something happen, but here it’s less specific than that. It’s the easiest to explain using relationship as an example. Let’s say you’re looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend. You can probably describe what s/he is like, what you’re looking for. What you may not think about it, though, is what you and your partner have in common. What ties the two of you together? Common religious beliefs? Sharing same interests? Thinking about that may suggest how to go about looking for the person, but the “how” flows out of your knowing how you and the thing you desire connect. Back to my singing, if my desire is to do justice to my song as its lead singer, then I have to know what strengths my voice has and write/arrange my songs to get the most out of my singing. If your desire is wealth, then you’ll want to figure out what may be the most valuable thing you can offer.
It’s tricky stuff, particularly if you’re trying to self-diagnose yourself. But knowing the right questions definitely help. I’m learning that I shouldn’t try too hard to figure this out through thinking. I need to sit with the questions and let the answers come to me.
As far as my music is concerned, ultimately I’m not worried. I’m still improving and getting better as a musician and I always manage to create something that I can accept as the best of my abilities at that particular moment. But that confidence also comes from knowing what questions to ask. The quality of the answers you receive depends on the quality of questions.
So I hope you ask yourselves great questions in your pursuits.