Every day in my Portland vocal studio, a student will want to sing a song by one of their favorite artists. They may have chosen to sing this song for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the message in the lyrics moved them or perhaps the melody caught their ears. As a vocal coach, I strongly believe that as a vocalist, you should try to find a connection with the material you are singing if you wish to present an authentic emotional rendering of the song. However, many singers get caught up in trying to sound like the singer of the song they have chosen to sing. I tell my students that this can be a slippery slope. When Adele first hit the charts, I had a lot of young girls who idolized her and wanted to sing her songs. I couldn’t believe how all of a sudden these girls were sounding like they were from across the pond with their British accents! I appreciate that they were inspired by Adele and her music, but as their vocal coach, I had to step in and tell them to sing in their own accents and voices.
I am a huge fan of Adele as well as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and have enjoyed singing their songs over the years. But the enjoyment only happened after I first released the idea of trying to sound like these world famous singers, and then when I tailored the songs to my own unique voice by changing the keys, perhaps changing the arrangements, and firmly making the song an interpretation rather than an exact copy. I’ve sung in cover bands where it was important to sound similar to the singer, but unless one is being paid to be in a tribute band, each singer should try to make the song fit their own voice, not the other way around.
When I first began singing jazz, I immersed myself in the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and other great jazz singers to really ‘feel’ the style. At the same time, I listened to as much instrumental jazz as possible to really hear the horn lines and other improvised instrumentals to get the feel of where I could go within a jazz song. Although I have never copied any of these singers or instrumentalists, I have used their original work as inspiration and as a template for finding my own original style. This is what I do for my students as their vocal coach at my vocal studio.