I was recently asked from a workshop student of mine, how did I come to find my musical identity? How did I end up with my certain style of music, or more specific, how could she work to find her own musical path and place in music? It was a really hard question for me to answer, but I think it is such an important question to dig into. For all singers. So I decided to give it a try.
For me, finding your musical identity, is about mapping your strengths and your talents. But also not letting the lack of strengths or skills, stand in the way of what makes your bacon curl. Just be prepared for that it will take a lot of energy, and work, to find, and most of all master, what you want to be and do with music. I have tried to collect some tips, that I have gotten and given, during my time of singing and teaching, on how one can work with this. Maybe some of this can be inspirational to you? And yes, please do send me notes or comments, on how you found you in your music! Remember all sharing is caring.
So – here we go. My thoughts on finding the real musical you:
- Become aware of what you are singing when no one else is around? What do you hum in the shower? What do you belt out in your car? This could be really useful information. And was actually the advice that led me to my little red accordion and my many murder ballades once upon a time.
- What is your inner guilty pleasure and what gives you goosebumps every time you listen to it? And in this prosess – please don’t think – “I will never sound like Christina Aguilera anyway” – this is when you find a really good singing teacher to help you to master your technical needs and wishes. That is what they (we…) are there for!
- One trick could be to not think about genre or style of music, but start by picking different songs where the lyrics really speak to you. For a period of time, just sing songs, which are meaningful to you, songs that moves you, songs, that you really think needs to be sung.
- Bobby McFerrin once told me that he spend a lot of years early in his career, listening to all the music he could find. He listened, he copied, he studied, he sang. And then – he cut off all music for many years. He did not listen to anything else than his own voice, to make sure it was his voice he heard. Maybe you are comparing yourself too much to others – and need a break from it all, to listen to yourself?
- Sometimes, I think people assume that the more weird your style is – the more true to yourself you are (like weirdo me, who is doing a corky mixture between balkan beats, vintage jazz, messy pop and some passionate chanson…). But remember, if you tick on singing pop covers in a party band – this is also a time worthy musical you. For me, my style of music, is more about who I really wish I could be, than who I really am. It is the one place, where I can tell all the stories in my life, I wish where actually true. And yes, it is a okay to love doing more than one thing. I still sing opera loud, and with massiv impact, every time I take a shower.
- Don’t be afraid to let go of old ambitions when you are working on this. I know that can be scary, especially if you have flagged them loud and clear. It can even feel shameful, like you have failed to fulfill. But most of the time, people will gladly walk with you on your developing journey. Like my grandmother. When I gave up my classical singing career, she told me straight to my face: “Now then, what about me? I, who just told everybody, that MY grand daughter is going to be an huge opera star – now I have to call them all up again. To tell them, that she is going to be a gipsy queen instead!”. If you think about it – nobody expects you to be the same you, you where five or ten years ago. So embrace every new, crazy idea about who you can or want to become.
- Remember to enjoy being in the process of searching for the musical you. Because it can, and will take time. It is the same thing as writing a book. I once read, that sometimes the novel is not ready to be written because you haven’t met the inspiration for your main character yet. Timing is often everything – and sometimes we just need to surrender to that.
- Never think of your age as a limitation, or use it as an excuse for not going into this prosess. A lot of people (including myself sometimes…) have this thing about only younger people belonging in the music business. Of course there is always some truth to it – but then again not. I love David Bowies quote on age: ” Aging is a extraordinary process where you become what you always should have been.”
- Stick to the story when you are singing. Don’t think about how you sing stuff – just tell the story. Let go of any pre- assumptions to how thing have to be. Just stick to the story, sing it as it was the first time, and be spontaneous, make it up as you go along. Record yourself and then listen back. Maybe you find something new you like?
- Try digging up some early childhood memories. What made you tick, before you thought about what was right or wrong to like? What made you actually fall in love with music, in the first place? This could also be a beautiful place to start.
Let me give you an personal example on the last one. My first true musical love was Les Miserable. I watched it when I was six years old, and it made such an impact on me. I ran home, ripped up all my dresses, sat in my room, swiping the floor, singing “There is I castle in the clouds” for three years. I mean, for tree whole years, I was dreaming, breathing and living Cosette. You would think that would be a pretty clear pin point about what kind of music I should have done. But I never did anything with it. Now, I am so “old” that no one would ask me to sing Cosette, at any event what so ever (even though I once saw 60 year old Edita Gruberova portraying sixteen year old Gilda in Rigoletto at the Wiener Staatsoper – and she kind of got away with it…). But still – at present time, I am actually in New York. I have, 29 years after my Les Mis love, given my self 8 weeks to learn all I can about musical theatre. It is kind of a gift to the six year old me. What I really want to be the result of my stay, is still a bit diffuse. I know, I wish to become a better composer, a better singer, and a better vocal coach. But who knows – maybe I also will dig up a totally renewed musical me?