The Professional Vocal Coach

By on 4-15-2007 in Music Clinic & Lecture Notes

by Gary Powell

Every singer, regardless of where they are in their recording careers, needs an outside ear of someone they trust who is a competent coach in the recording studio. As a vocal coach, helping to sculpt a vocal performance of a talented singer is one of the most exciting musical events in the studio.
Gary Powell Vocal Coach
After getting a feel for what the voice might be able to do, I listen for pitch accuracy, tone, weight, phrasing, color, air and any missed opportunities across all of the singer’s performance choices and gestures. That may be even the right order for my listening hierarchy. It all happens sort of at the same time though, so it’s hard to know which comes first for me.

Concurrently, while discerning the capabilities of the voice it’s a mistake to not also consider the person playing the instrument. The psychology of the artist will always be present in a recording session even if it’s unconscious. Fear, anxiety, nervousness, feelings of inadequacy, overconfidence, and arrogance are all likely to show up in the studio, especially with singers. A singer’s instrument of choice is already integrated in a physical-emotional-walking-talking-singing-human-unit. Chances are all the disparate parts of that human unit are actually not, however, very well integrated. Making conscious the unconscious in a respectful and effectual way should be the goal. Insightful observations will help any coach discover the person who is in the studio or on stage with you. Knowing when and how to actually share these observations is a skill as important as what we know about the voice itself. I strongly suggest becoming a student of the psychology of an artist and of yourself BEFORE attempting to interpret or intercede. Stepping up to the next level for a singer will not only be about their singing capability. Step lightly. There is a human being behind that voice.

Singers hoping to transition to the recording studio after having had some success in live performing present a special issue for a vocal coach. The excitement alone of a live performance can mask many vocal problems of a singer. Audiences can respond emotionally to shear bravado and volume. A $10,000 signal path of preamplifiers, tube microphones and compressors is not as easily impressed as human audiences. This electronic audience simply listens in more detail than we humans do. I’ve often said that no one learns to sing until they start recording. That said, there are some great voices out there whose recorded performances sound just terrible. Seldom is it the fault of the microphone! Usually, it is either the fault of the vocal coach or… the lack of having a vocal coach.

Most recording producers are secretly intimidated by singers. A producer’s skillful use of technology can help mask their lack of knowledge and experience.

Nashville likes the term vocal producer. The term producer has become meaningless to me, so I prefer the coaching model.

Learning to sculpt a vocal performance takes years of mindful experience especially if your goal is to have singers still enjoy their singing after you’re gone. Veteran vocal coaches work in VERY fine detail not unlike the aforementioned signal path. Some singers will fall into this experience willingly and with great joy. Others might be resistant or even confrontational. It’s our job to discern when someone’s singing is being enhanced by our presence and when it is not. Hopefully, we can ALL know that much.

In the meantime, nurturing the awakening of a person’s talent in a way that both sustains the voice and the singer should be the goal.

Specials thanks to DeSales University theatre arts student, Chris McGuiness for his great attitude and the photo above.

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3 Comments

  1. Gary, How could I not reply to this one! You are the one who gave me the inspiration that I take with me and continue to learn with! Hope to see you this year up in Buffalo for our long awaited seminar! Looking forward to it! Thanks again..
    Debbie Bello

  2. Hey there Gary!

    I know it has been quite a long time since this master class, and I am sure you remember me. I’m the shy girl with the quiet voice that sang “Once you lose your heart” and made you and I both cry the second day of the classes lol. Well I hope everything for you is grand. I’m still working hard on music, trying to strengthen my voice and work on my middle range and pitch. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten everything you taught us..I still even have the sheet music from that day!

    How have you been, what exciting adventures have you done? And are you going to come back to DeSales?

    Ali Barwick

  3. Ali, yes we had quite an intense exchange didn’t we? I count it as a wonderful memory and have thought of you often since then. Thank you for opening up to that experience. I thought your classmates were accepting, supportive and offered a safe place for us both to explore our resonant feelings. I’m glad you’ve joined the conversation here on my site and hope you’ll keep up on your progress in your acting and singing. My best. — Gary Powell

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