Vocalists: Do You Have These 8 Essential Qualities?
Many people can sing, but how many of them can be called great vocalists?
People too often conflate one with the other, when they are not the same thing. Someone who can sing is…well, just that. They’re able to carry a tune, hit certain notes, and entertain others with their voice. A great vocalist is someone who is devoted to their craft, who works incredibly hard, and who is willing to sacrifice and do what it takes to become the best they can be.
To become an undeniably great vocalist, you need the following:
- Passion for the craft
- Voice care & health
- A desire to improve
- Time commitment
- Controlled breathing
- Your own signature style
Passion for the Craft
Singing isn’t like a regular desk job where you can simply show up and do what you’re supposed to and you’ll earn a paycheck — it takes an incredible amount of time, work, and dedication, and you’re only going to be successful at it if you really love what you’re doing. You’ll only be able to invest the effort into learning how to sing, practicing, warming up, learning new skills and how to improve your craft, and searching for jobs and opportunities if you are truly in love with the act of singing.
You can be a good vocalist, but you’ll never be a truly successful, great Singer if you don’t have a deep love for it, first and foremost. Sure, there will be times when your passion wanes, as is the case with everything in life, but at your core, you have to love singing to not only make it work but to be fantastic.
Voice Care & Health
Many people who aren’t Singers, or who don’t do so for a living, might not realize how much a voice needs to be cared for to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for any performance. It’s not enough to simply warm up and go out on stage and sing! A great vocalist preps for their shows days, and sometimes weeks in advance, by doing everything they can to ensure their throat, chest, mouth, and their full body will be in the best shape possible.
Sometimes, this means giving up alcohol, certain foods, sticking to water and tea, getting plenty of sleep, and so on. There are a lot of rules vocalists can adhere to, and after consulting with a Teacher and perhaps a Doctor, a plan must be made and held to. Like an athlete training for a game, there’s a lot of physicality in singing, and it can have a noticeable impact on every part of a vocalist’s life.
Learning the rules of what to eat and drink and what to do or not to do is just part of the struggle — a great vocalist also has to make sure they actually hold to these best practices! Giving up certain treats, especially alcohol, can be very tough for some, but sometimes it is what separates those who are good from those who are the best.
A Desire to Improve
Making it big as a vocalist — or even just making it to a point where singing is a full-time job that pays the bills — is very tough, and chances for even the best are slim. If you are one of the lucky few who is able to get to this point in your singing career, it doesn’t mean you can rest on your success and simply coast, performing the same way you always have. You need to not only continuously improve, but you need to want to improve.
The best of the best in any field are always learning, reading, listening, and trying to become the greatest version of themselves possible. Whether they’re athletes, Writers, Actors, or vocalists, the drive to become great and gain new skills and further hone old ones is key to becoming one of the greats. This ties back in with having a real love for what you do. If you truly do love being a vocalist, practicing and working on being better all the time won’t feel like work, it will feel like fun.
As a vocalist, you’ll be spending a fair amount of time on stage or in the studio actually singing, which is obvious…but that will only be a fraction of the time you must devote to your job and your craft to be a great vocalist. This is something many people who think they want to get into music (especially as performers) might not realize when they start down this path: the amount of time required to be the best is astounding, and it’s one of the many reasons why some end up leaving this profession.
In addition to both performing on stage and recording songs in a studio for albums, a million and one other things will take up your time, and you can’t skip any of them. You must learn your songs backward and sideways, making sure you understand everything from your breathing to your timing and so on (but more on this later). You then have to practice, practice, practice. Even when you feel you have a good hold on the tune, more practice is always a good idea. You must then warm up and rehearse before every performance, even if it’s only in front of a few people or in a studio, where things can be corrected. Add to this the need to travel while on tour, do promotional appearances and publicity from time to time, greet fans, and meetings with everyone and anyone who may be connected to the work you do, and it’s easy to see how much time must be devoted to being a fantastic vocalist.
You may be a superstar in the making and your voice may be a truly powerful one, but that’s not enough to be a great vocalist. Sure, those qualities are excellent to have, and they will help you become successful, no question, but when you get to a certain point in your career, especially if you want to sing certain genres of music like classical or opera, you need to focus on some of the more technical aspects of singing, including enunciation.
Enunciation is the act of pronouncing words, and while this sounds simple enough, it can become complex and difficult very quickly when you’re singing. A great example of someone who has made it big, but who still has issues with enunciation, is Ariana Grande (not being shady, but it’s true). She has an undeniably powerful and beautiful singing voice, but she has always had issues with enunciating some words while she sings, and it’s easy to hear on her recordings. This hasn’t stopped her from becoming a superstar, but it is one area she could work on to improve.
Forget the lyrics, breathing is perhaps the most important part of singing. If you don’t properly pace your breathing, you could mess up the song, running out of air mid-note, or maybe even miss a cue because you’re busy taking a breath. This can be an issue for all vocalists, even those who aren’t belting ballads. Singing for any real length of time is physically taxing, and you need to be smart about expending your energy and breathing properly…otherwise, you might not make it to the end!
Working with a Vocal Coach is a fantastic way to learn how to breathe while you perform. It may take some time to get the hang of not only doing it correctly but being able to think about it while you’re singing. You’ll need to figure out your breathing before you record any song, and finding the right pace is part of the reason why rehearsing is such an important part of any live show.
Like enunciation and breathing, restraint is a technical aspect of being a vocalist that amateurs often don’t consider, and this is usually to their eventual detriment. Being able to belt a track with your powerful vocals is a wonderful gift! But, it is one that should be used sparingly, which is a concept lost on too many young vocalists.
As a vocalist, you need to know when to deploy certain tricks, from belting notes to hitting the whistle register to screaming. These things can all damage your vocal cords, so they must only be doled out from time to time, but beyond that, it makes a lot of sense not to rely too heavily on them. If you’re singing every note as loudly as possible, it takes away from the entire performance. Restraint can be tough to learn, as chances are if you’re a vocalist you have incredible capabilities, but if you learn to hold back and only give it one hundred percent when the time is right, you’ll create an unforgettable moment…and that’s what great vocalists do.
Your Own Signature Style
As you’re learning to become a vocalist, you’ll spend a lot of time listening critically to those who have come before you. Learning by listening to the best Singers of all time is a wonderful idea, but you need to make sure you’re focusing on their technique, breathing, enunciation, timing, pacing, pronunciation and so on. These are tips and tricks you can pick up on…but you shouldn’t copy them. Being able to mimic someone else is fun, and it can be part of a learning exercise, but if all you do when you perform is attempt to sound exactly like someone else, you’ll never become a great vocalist on your own.
As you’re learning and practicing, find out who you are as a vocalist. What does your voice really sound like, and what makes it stand out from the crowd? Some of the most successful Singers have gotten to where they are by holding true to what some might call a distinct (or, in other words, potentially odd) sound — but they made it their own and they weren’t afraid to be different. This confidence is a must if you want to become a great vocalist, as opposed to simply someone who can sing.
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