Do you dream about a magical thing… to sing on a stage to an enthusiastic audience?
I had the same dream. I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t tell a single soul.
“A dream is a goal with a deadline.” (Napoleon Hill)
I didn’t know that at seventeen. I confessed my secret dream to a friend in a rare moment of truthfulness. She encouraged me to take singing lessons. After one year, I had booked quite some progress and my teacher Jack asked me: “Why don’t you become a singer?”
If you ask yourself what skills you need to be a (professional) singer, here’s a list of qualities I think that come in handy for you.
Quite obvious, you’d think. It’s wonderful when your voice is flexible and colorful. You can train your range and expand the possibilities.
Where once techniques were merely classically based – think belcanto – nowadays there are many ways to get to know your personal likings and strong points. Your vocal colors depend upon the style you wish to sing – in jazz, you would not very often use a metallic sound (known as ‘twang’) or very high volume (known as ‘belting’ or ‘edge’), but in soul/gospel or pop you might want to use them.
Then again, in pop and jazz you can also choose for a more mellow approach; sing soft, breezy (‘whisper’) or ‘speech’ like.
You can get coaching in techniques like: Complete Vocal Technique, Estill Voice Training, Universal Voice, Belcanto, Speech Level Singing, Lichtenberger, Resonance technique and even more.
Get to know your voice, exercise daily and you will reap the benefits of your work.
A feel for rhythm, a feel for melody, a feel for tensions. To some, this comes naturally. To others, it’s a thing that can be developed.
How? By listening to great records. By learning to play an instrument. By being coached by a wonderful teacher. Learning how to listen is like learning how to look, when you want to be a photographer.
3. Million Dollar Ears
Learn how to listen, and what to listen for specifically – you will develop so called Million Dollar Ears. You will be able to detect slight alterations in tempo, in the harmony, in dynamics and you’ll be able to respond to the changes you hear.
Imagine a big orchestra dropping down on the dynamics and you – still singing in full volume. Hmmmm….
4. Good With Languages
In most songs we express emotions that are brought to us through words. A profound understanding of your lines really helps. You will be able to dive deeper into the meaning of what you are trying to express. You will exactly know WHY you sing a line with a certain emotion. In acting, this is called knowing your subtexts. I love that!
5. Good Memory
Knowing your lyrics by heart is the number one requirement in order to personalize a song. You’re telling a story! You’re living a story! Not reading it from a piece of paper!
I always say: I want to be able to call you in the middle of the night for this.
A good memory for arrangements also comes in handy. You want to be free from sight reading and open for communication between your musicians and your audience. Yes, it takes time to learn these things, but it is sooooo rewarding!
Personalizing your song makes it interesting for your audience. Develop a personal style. Don’t be a copycat. Unless you want to be an Elvis or Frank Sinatra impersonator.
How to develop a personal style? Know your strengths and weaknesses, know which songs make your clock tick, record yourself, and get into the process. Your sound, approach, phrasing, variations, choice of material will develop in time.
To have a complete understanding of the lyrics you are trying to convey. Sometimes you may be singing about things you did not experience yourself. But you can imagine how it feels. A talent or love for acting is a quality many singers share.
Know yourself. I know… it takes a lifetime. And yes, we always change… Who are you as a person, what are your key values?
The X Factor. Your personal balance between strength and vulnerability. Being likeable and/or admirable. Are you approachable or mystic? What kind of person are you on stage?
10. Being coachable
Whenever you work with a musical director, a band, a coach – it’s good when you can cooperate in a constructive way to get the best results. Be open minded. If you disagree, keep it to yourself. Think about what they said – maybe it makes some sense after all. Work with people you admire. Work with the best you can afford.
11. Discipline and drive
Always nurture your talent, nurture your skills, nurture your body and your mind. Drink water. Exercise. Think good thoughts. Keep developing, get yourself out there, keep the faith.
12. Being dependable
Always be on time, have your stuff organized, dress sharply, brush your teeth, get your act together, smell great. (For men: wear Hugo Boss, Dior or Guerlain – and be sure that I follow you the whole day. For women: I’m notorious for paying attention to your latest perfumes…)
By the way, being on time can’t be underestimated in my opinion. It’s a beautiful way to show people they matter. And you care.
I hope this will help to shed some lights on the talents you need to have or ones you need to develop when you want to be a professional singer. Enjoy the ride!
With love, Ilse Huizinga