I’ve compared song choices and vocal ability to fashion and clothing choices many times in lessons, so I thought it was worth fleshing out why I relate to it so much here.
Building your singing voice, establishing your style, fixing things you don’t like and capitalising on the things you do, and finding songs that work for you, is very very similar to trying to find a clothing approach and fashion style that suits you. Let me give you five reasons I think so, and why I think this analogy is helpful for determining what you should/shouldn’t be trying to do when singing songs.
1. Most obvious: You wouldn’t try to force yourself into clothing that really doesn’t suit you
We’ve all been sat in a coffee shop on the high street, and someone walks by the window, where that someone has crammed themselves into something that they really had no business trying to fit into. Sometimes this is something that’s too small, sometimes it’s just plain garish, sometimes it’s just someone trying too hard. Sometimes you might even be able to tell what kind of clothing would suit them, but they’ve selected something else that boggles the mind.
Picking songs for your voice is much the same. We need to recognise what works, and what doesn’t.
2. What suits you will change over time
I went to buy a waxed jacket a few years ago, and I went to try on a classic Barbour for the country gent. Whilst I didn’t look bad, the sales assistant suggested I try on a newer model aimed more at the younger man than the older country-dweller. Much to my chagrin, he was quite right. I looked MUCH better in that different cut. Why? Because I’m not the age that the country-focused model was aimed at, and something else suited me better now… but in a few years, something else will suit me again. It’s a gradual, glacial evolution based on age, preference and personality.
Picking songs and what you like to do stylistically is much the same thing. Many younger singers like being more frenetic and explosive (maybe even bombastic) with their range and style. But often these singers as they get older mellow out, and find a more relaxed and simpler way of approaching their songs, often lowering keys and excising riffs or runs that once dotted the original.
3. You can make concerted effort to change shape
We all change weight from time to time, up or down, season to season, year to year. But with focused exercise (or focused food consumption!) we can radically change shape and alter our frames and builds, sometimes to remarkable degrees. The voice is no different.
Just like changing physique to fit a new intended wardrobe, we can build the voice in much the same way to take it from NOT giving us what we want, to making songs that were once difficult, move to feeling easy. It just takes focused concentrated effort and practice, just like the body equivalent of diet and exercise.
4. Accept there are some shapes you will never be
The hardest lesson of all. No matter how much we change shape, for better or worse, there are some shapes that we each can NEVER be. Despite dramatic body changes, we must all recognise which shapes are out of our reach, lest we become the vocal equivalent of the first example – the person who forces themselves into the song they had no business trying to fit into.
This is particularly tough not just for the pride/ego reasons, but also because if you have an untrained voice, it is far too easy to dismiss a song as “not the right fit for me” when it is really just a question of building the voice right. But after some time training, it becomes more obvious what needs to happen to achieve certain material.
5. You’re not the same personality one hour/day/week/month/year to the next
I have different clothes that fit my mood. I have different songs that fit my mood. It’s OK to not have songs that are the vocal equivalent of having the same t-shirt/jeans combo for every day of the year. Diversity and variation is fun, and allows you to reflect your current mood and state of mind with the songs in your portfolio. But simultaneously, trying to force yourself into radically different clothing “just because” is not going to make you look your best. Song choice is no different.
Remember: your song choice and the key choice you sing things in should be making you look and sound good. There’s no prizes for singing a difficult or popular song in the original key and sounding bad or even mediocre: there are only prizes for sounding your best.
Learn More: Related Articles
If you want to learn more about vocal style, you may enjoy these related articles:
Style vs Hyper-style: An analysis of Modern Vocal Style
Developing Style: Expansion and Contraction
Learn to riff: why it’s easier than you think
Double check your musical diet
Styling songs: 3 versions of the same song
Why do singers resort to gimmicks to get noticed?