When (and How) to Sing Your Own Songs

There’s a real art to singing your own songs; any songwriter will tell you that. One would think that a person would sound the best singing something which they’ve written themselves; something which comes from the HEART. This is not always the case. Also consider: many people record their songs first, and then happily pass them on to other singers (can you say, “Residuals”?) For instance, think of where John Hiatt’s career would be, had he not let Emmy Lou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton record them!

Many songwriters simply refuse to let anyone else sing their songs, because they feel that no other person could sing their songs with the same amount of feeling.

But this can be a misconception. In order to get the most people to hear the message of your song, some honesty is required, up front (prior to the recording).

 

Am I The Best Singer For This Song?

The songwriter needs to first ask themselves some serious questions. Immediate issues which come up, when recording include:

1. Is the song in a good range for me to sing?

2. Should it be a male or female that sings this song?

3. Is my tone the right kind of tone for this song? (Too soft? Too harsh?)

4. Do I sing out of tune (this is the most dreaded question to answer honestly!)?

5. Do I enunciate well enough for people to get what I'm saying in my lyrics?

When mixing your own voice on your own projects, you must ask yourself another set of questions:

1. Is my voice too far back in the mix, because I don't like my sound?

2. Is my voice too wet (too much reverb), because I'm trying to disguise a sound I don't like?

3. Am I trying to fix something in the mix that might not be fixable, due to the fact that it was not sung well, in the first place?

If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, then you have two logical paths:

1. Find another singer.

2. Learn how to sing my song differently, so that I'm happy with my sound.

 

Vocalist's Viewpoint

I don't have all the answers for you. But I CAN tell you something which I know to be true. Often, when I first sing my own songs, because I'm so immersed in my emotions, I forget to treat my songs like I do everyone elses: from the standpoint of a professional singer.

Once I realize that might need to revisit my songs; not from a songwriter's viewpoint, but from a VOCALIST's viewpoint, I re-address how I sing the song. Here are the most crucial areas that will need to be reworked:

1. Prepare each song for a week before recording: Write in breath marks and phrases, and work on one section a day, until, by the end of the week, you have breaths and phrases memorized.

2. Breaths: Deep into diaphragm. Practice preparing each breath as soon as a phrase is finished, instead of right before the next phrase!! (Shallow breathing into the throat produces a throaty, stressed tone; prepared slow breaths produce rich tones.)

3. Consonants/Vowels: Employ a vocal recording artist's approach: Consonants crisp; hard consonants placed behind top front teeth, using the tip of the tongue. Vowels, enriched; elongated, with a relaxed jaw.

4. Re-record your vocals (last step!!)

5. Mix your new vocal "up front", so that everyone can HEAR your beautiful lyrics.

Questions? Email me through this site or by posting a question on the vocals forum.

Discuss this article in our Music Forum.

About Cheryl Hodge

Cheryl HodgeCheryl Hodge has been in the music and songwriting business for well over 30 years; recording on several labels; among them Atco Records (Raindogs, 1990), and has released 4 CDs of her own; on her own label: Jazzboulevard.com Records.

She has performed her music for the last 10 years with noted jazz guitarist John Stowell (amongst many others), and they are about to release a CD of co-written originals. She has been private instructor to many; including the gifted Paula Cole. She is also the author of "A Singer's Guide to the Well-Trained and Powerful Voice", and is a published vocal arranger.

Cheryl is currently the head of the vocal dept. at Nelson, BC's: Selkirk College Music Program. There, she teaches Songwriting and Advanced Songwriting, Business of Music, Arranging and Vocals.

She continues to write and produce her original materials, and has just released "Cheryl Hodge: Original Article" - a compilation of her favourites.

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