Often, I see us voice teachers describing a good artist as someone who exists at the intersection of good vocal technique and good expression/storytelling/etc.
I have absolutely been on this thought train in the past, but I’m seriously questioning it.
Here’s why: I work with a lot of voice teachers who are exploring popular musics in their own voices. A common fear most of them experience is that they’re not ready, even when they’re totally effective as artists. They’re often so hyper-focused on their idea of “good” vocal technique that they struggle to believe it’s possible to be effective without a “technically ideal” sound.
To me, these teachers are evidence of the psychological damage I think we’re doing to our students by hyper-focusing on technique and neglecting other elements that go into being an effective artist.
I believe there are a ton of singers in our studios right now who are totally ready to be effective as artists, but who aren’t stepping into performances, feeling inadequate and discouraged based solely on the idea that they have “bad” vocal technique. In case we might be perpetuating that belief, I’d like to reframe the idea of good technique and being a good artist.
The Good Artist
Here’s the reframe:
Being a good artist is being effective at having the desired effect on your audience.
Not someone who has “good” technique. Not even someone whose expression is “good.” Just someone who is effective.
“Being a good artist is being effective at having the desired effect on your audience.” – Jess Baldwin, True Colors Voice & Artist CoachingTweet
Having an Effect
The kinds of effects that artists may want to have can include…
- comforting people
- motivating people
- providing hope
- letting people know they’re not alone
- providing balance
- helping people appreciate something
- Anything else!
These are general starting places. Artists will get more specific over time about the effect they want to have, and the audience they want to have it on.
For example, with my music, I want to help people…
- Appreciate the surreal magic of being alive
- Balance the cruelty of life with comfort, warmth, and beauty
- Feel less alone when working through developmental and religious trauma
And my audience? Artists, nerds, weirdos, and dreamers who love an intimate venue where we can wonder and laugh and cry at the beauty and weirdness of life over good bourbon and music.
Creating an Effect
The effect an artist wants to create will require a combination of musical and non-musical elements.
To use my music as an example again, here are just a few of the things I use to create the effects I want:
- warm, dreamy, etherial instrumental sounds
- lush chords
- playful melodies and rhythms
- intimate vocal sounds, often softer and breathier
- a calm, warm, inviting, bubbly, and slightly cynical personality
- pinks and purples, jewel tones
- florals and celestial bodies
- intimate venues
- personal stories
- poetic lyrics
- social media that features visual elements listed above, plus posts that feature poetry, dreamy film scenes, and quotes about healing from developmental and religious trauma
It’s up to the artist and their audience to gradually find a balance of the elements they need. The artist and audience decide together whether the effect happened in the way they wanted.
As you can see above, vocal technique is just one of many elements an artist will use.
Technique is simply how the artist makes a sound.
Every singer has a technique, because they are all making sound.
To reach their audience and have the effect they want to have, a good artist needs effective vocal technique. That technique may or may not be “good” in the way some believe.
What every artist wants is the singing technique that will allow them to create the effect they want. It’s our job to help them find that.
“What every artist wants is the singing technique that will allow them to create the effect they want. It’s our job to help them find that.” – Jess Baldwin, True Colors Voice & Artist CoachingTweet
Shifting My Approach
As a voice teacher, I had started from a place of thinking that “good” technique was a universal, generic canvas on which the singer’s artistry would be painted later down the road. At one point in my CCM pedagogy journey, I thought there was perhaps an ideal technique in each genre or style that I needed to understand, but it was still a relatively generic canvas for that genre/style.
The more people I worked with, the more I realized that the idea of a single, foundational “good” technique, even in each style, was a myth. Every individual singer needed to create their own sound rooted in their identity and their desired effect, and they needed their own individual technique to make all of that happen.
The students who were focusing first and foremost on “good” technique often experienced that as a limiting force on their journey to their authentic artistry. We had to let go of the idea that there was a best way to sing in order for them to fully release into self-expression.
As I have watched students discover their identity and style and desired effects, I’ve watched them adjust their technique to accommodate it. What works for one student is counterproductive for another.
We absolutely still talk about vocal anatomy, voice science, vocal health, etc. But we make sure all of that serves the artist…not the other way around.
The technique is not the point. The effect is.
Jess Baldwin is a voice teacher and creativity coach at True Colors Voice and Artist Coaching, where she helps singers transform into Shameless Artists.