Finding Your Moneymaker
Michael finds that one of the biggest issues with singers is that they have learned to sing in one basic color, usually what they consider their natural voice. "So many singers have done the work and spent the money, but they're still not making money," she says. "Your natural instinct with your voice may not be the sound that will get you hired." Michael has found this in her own career: "Nine times out of 10, I won't be asked to sound like me. I'm asked to sound like one of my alter egos, because I've learned how to manipulate my voice."
To stretch her students, Michael takes them through a series of exercises designed to explore parts of the voice they may not have considered. "This is the part I love the most: voice exploration beyond a technical voice lesson," she says. She will have singers do exercises that utilize not only extreme range but also sounds they are not used to making. "Many people don't realize they have these character voices," Michael points out.
Placement becomes the next area to undergo analysis. "It's about exploring different places in their face, the back of their throat," she says. "Placing the voice other than where you naturally go to."
Being a backup singer requires specialized vocal skills, including the ability to adjust your sound to the singers and styles you are working with. "You need to have a breakdown of what typical genres sound like," Michael advises. "A ballad will tend to be softer and airier—warmer textures—rather than thin or punchy. Rock is more big and in your face." Being prepared is key, she insists. "Whatever the producer asks for, you have to know how to produce that sound."
Singing backup also means learning how to blend with the other backup singers. "It depends on how many singers you're blending with and who's in charge," she notes. "There will be someone—a producer or music director—who dictates what they want the blend to sound like. At that point it's all about taking direction, listening, and matching the vocal sound they're going for."
Being the Star
Singers who wish to become solo artists need to find something that makes their voice stand out from the crowd. "What I teach them is that their natural voice is not always going to be the one to sell the song and make them money," says Michael.
She takes her students on an artistic search, to find what will ultimately make them standout singers. "I find two or three artists the student listens to on a regular basis and introduce elements of each," she says. "We morph that into something that becomes their own, so they don't sound like a knockoff of any one artist." Having the singer trust the new sound is crucial: "They really have to want to become that sound, because they're going to have to sell that. In the end, it has to be something they connect with and that resonates with them."
Working with great artists helps Michael find inspiration to develop new vocal sounds. "Rod Stewart is a perfect example of a unique singer," she says. "He has his own rock sound going on, but he is able to cross that over to the jazz world."
Touring with Lambert was another career high for Michael: "There are a lot of great singers out there, but very few are able to stand out and hold their own artistically. Adam Lambert stands out not just for his voice but as an artist and entertainer."
The talent and work ethic that these artists have is what Michael imparts to her students. "A lot of people have a gold mine within them that they will never unlock, because they don't know that they should or that they can," she says. This is why she counsels students to work as hard as possible. "You cannot ride on your talent. You need to work and invest in your gift."
If You Don't Have Your Health…
Although she tests the limits of each student's voice, Michael still places vocal health above all else. "Although I take the voice and put it in weird places," she says, "I am always careful to make sure it's healthy, because I never want to wreck my own voice." She reserves her lessons for singers who already have solid technique: "I use their technique as building blocks. I'm not taking away from what they've learned, but rather we use these skills to their advantage."
Michael can be reached at www.angelamichael.com.