Tribute Band Singers – How To Sound Like Your Favorite Singing Artist
By Jeremy Fisher
You want to be a tribute band singer, and you want to sound like your favourite singing artist. But you don’t know how they do it, and you can’t ask them. Where do you start?
I train professional singers and their teachers, and I work with a number of tribute band singers who need to sound like someone else. I use a combination of imitation, listening and feel to help them find the “feel-sound” of their chosen artist. So here are some exercises I use every day with my students.
First, I need to know whether my cover band singer has all the notes in their voice that they are going to need for the song. Remember that songs are always recorded in a key that suits the individual recording artist. Your favorite artist may not be your age (or even your sex) – and the key that suits them might not be right for you. It does make a difference which key you are in, whether a tune sits well in your voice.
I start with an easy exercise, getting my singer to hum the melody, using an “mm” or “ng” sound (you probably do this already). The humming lets me know whether the actual notes are easy to hit, without getting too worried about the sound or style. It also tells me whether we need to change the key of the song for that singer.
All good recording artists have their own signature sounds, making them instantly recognizable. It’s what the artist does with their physical structure (their body and throat) that makes the sound itself unique. Your favorite recording artist probably uses a singing sound close to their speaking voice.
Here’s an exercise to help you feel what it’s like to speak with your chosen artist’s vocal “setup”, the shapes they make with their throat and mouth:
Imagine how your chosen artist would speak. You don’t even need to hear them speak (it’s actually better if you don’t know). Just listen to the way they sing and imitate what you think their speaking voice would sound like if they spoke like they sang. Listen to the way they pronounce words, the volume of the sound (soft and breathy, loud and straight), and how direct or gentle they are. Imagine them talking to you, telling you (for example) what they had for breakfast that morning. Feel the way they talk, and then speak, matching the sounds you think they would make.
Keeping the same feel in your voice, start to speak higher and lower. Singing usually goes higher and lower than speaking, so experiment with speaking “up” and “down” more than you would normally do. You might feel ridiculous, but it really helps to get into someone’s vocal habits
Of course, your chosen singing star may use more than one sound or ‘voice quality’. That’s fine. Choose another sound (louder or softer) that they use in their singing, and imagine how they would speak with that sound. Again, experiment with speaking higher and lower using the new sound.
When you feel comfortable with using their vocal setup in your speaking voice, you can start to use it in singing. Sing the song you were humming earlier and add the words, using the same shapes and sounds you’ve been experimenting with.
You’ll be surprised how close to your chosen artist you sound. Go back and listen again to the recording, and notice how much more you understand the feel and flavor of the performance. Capturing the essence of an artist’s voice is simple when you know how!
© 2014 Jeremy Fisher