By Morgan Cryar
I want to ask you a very provocative question: "Have you ever thought about re-inventing yourself, as a singer?"
I don't mean growing a mustache, or changing your clothing style, or switching from pop to opera or from opera to pop. I'm talking more about simply kicking the sides out of the boxes you find yourself confined to, as a singer.
"What boxes?" you say.
I'll tell you what boxes.
First of all, if you have limited yourself, you may not even know it.
You've certainly heard the much over-used phrase "think outside the box," haven't you? The reason for this saying is that to GET outside a particular box, you really must THINK your way out first!
So let me ask you a few questions to shake you up and get you to think:
1) How long has it been since you learned a song that was out of your comfort zone, style-wise? (Like a pop singer learning a country ballad, just for fun or to adapt as a pop song.)
One of the strangest, most controversial, but successful moves in Ray Charles' career was when he "went country." It made everyone in the record company very nervous, but it also made them very rich! That was what people called a "re-invention."
2) How long has it been since you re-arranged a familiar song so that it was LESS like the version everyone has heard on the radio?
One of stage production expert Tom Jackson's favorite things to do when he's putting together someone's live show is to make them break a very familiar song down and perform it in a totally unfamiliar way on stage.
Like doing a power-pop song quietly sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar.
3) If you don't write songs, have you ever tried? (This is my FIRST advice to any singer who wants to be taken seriously in the music field.)
If you are limited to doing "other people's songs" can you ever be thought of as anything more than just a "wanna-be" singer? AT LEAST write one song and perform it along with the songs you do now.
It may be the most original "you" that the audience gets to see.
4) If you have allowed fear to keep you from singing for others, WHY? Do you think you might catch some awful disease from being on stage?
For some, the first re-invention is to admit that you want to sing in the first place. Or more common, people who sing but can't get past the fear of being heard by anyone. Come out of the closet!
5) Do you really think of yourself as too old? too young? too unattractive? (check out Bob Dylan!) too uncool? (check out any "writer's night" in Nashville!)
I'll never forget seeing a female writer who played us her song that had been recently recorded by a VERY famous country singer. The writer was frumpy-dressed and reminded me of a female Austin Powers! But she didn't care. She sang her song proudly, knowing that next week she'd be going to the bank with fat royalty checks!
Ok, enough questions for now.
Let's look at what you might DO to help yourself venture "out of the box."
First, dare to move your limits outward, vocally. I personally found myself wading into completely new territory once I had taken the limits off my vocal range.
Thanks to Brett Manning's techniques , I kept adding notes to my range until I had the ability to sing ANY SONG I wanted to sing.
As a writer, I have to say that this changed EVERYTHING! I could sit down and write a song and when I got to the chorus, I could just soar up into the stratosphere without any concern over whether I would be able to do the song live. If I could hear it in my head, I could sing it!
There were many years, as a recording artist, that I'd be in the studio, and I'd sing a song that took me to "the edge" of my range. In a studio situation, I could try it over and over, phrase-by-phrase until I got it. The song sounding perfect. BUT...
If it was REALLY difficult, I might never venture to sing the song live. There are songs on my CDs that I NEVER sang again after the day I recorded them!
That's all changed now. I can sing any song, and most of the time, in many different keys!
So, adding extra notes to your range can give you choices. Lot's of choices. Then you can easily experiment with re-invention (without injury).
Another thing to try is to force yourself to learn a new song every month. And make these songs outside your area of expertise and comfort.
This will require you to actually listen to some music outside your present preferred tastes. I'll never forget when Brett got me to listen to some of the old master opera tenors!
I must admit that in my old way of thinking, I would have dismissed them NOT BECAUSE I DIDN'T LIKE THEM, BUT BECAUSE I COULD'T DO WHAT THEY COULD DO!
I was like the fox in Aesop's fable that said "Well, I didn't want those grapes anyway. They were probably sour!"
When you think about getting past your mental limits (kicking the sides out of the box), you should be prepared for some "ego destruction." It will be painful at first.
Only the brave try new things.
If you are familiar with the Biblical "parable of the talents" you will remember that the unfaithful servant buried his talent and said "because I was afraid."
But the master in the story didn't accept that excuse. He redefined that servant's "fear" and instead called it "laziness" and "wickedness." As a result, he had what little he'd been given...taken away.
I heard of an painting artist who had his wife hide his favorite oil paints for a month. He was forced to paint with what was left--his least favorite colors.
It was a strange discipline, but it got him out of the rut he felt his was in (or the "box").
You may want to try this: "pretend" to get amnesia and only do brand new songs for a month. Imagine that you are a rare voice among voices, but that you are a blank slate and can express your beautiful talent with any song you can learn, but it must be one you learn anew.
You can also "trick yourself" by changing chords or instrumentaion on some of your familiar songs.
I have a strange sense of humor. So many times my "jokes" are nothing more than me going around the house singing a pop song in extreme country style. Or singing an R&B song in an extreme classical style. It keeps my family laughing and me from cementing myself into another box.
Well, I hope you will try something new this week. Please take my word that it won't cause any medical emergencies!
Remember, a caterpillar never gets to be a butterfly unless he dares enter an unfamiliar region called the "cacoon." But just look at the results!
Blessings, Morgan Cryar