Back in the days where I wrote my first songs, I hated my voice. I saw myself as a songwriter and guitarist but never a singer! I tried working together with a male singer for a short period in Scotland before moving to Germany. I had to record my voice with my song-arrangements, so as to give him an idea of the vocals I was looking for. It ended up as an embarrassingly thin, unconfident and out of tune sound to my ears. He told me I should stick to playing the guitar and I agreed promptly. Any singing career was seemingly buried for ever in that moment!
Once in Germany, I continued to write songs and embarked upon an endless search for the perfect singer. I heard many styles and levels of accomplishment along the way, from both female and male voices, but I was never satisfied. I knew what I wanted – a clear, highish pop voice – but nothing fitted the bill entirely and sometimes there was a chemistry problem.
After a few years I did discover a singer with a voice that came about as close to my expectations as was acceptable. She was easy to get on with, too, and we seemed to have a large amount of common musical ground. So we started a project together which began with a covers programme (she believed in that strategy of slowly introducing original material into the repertoire in order to be able to get gigs – I didn’t agree particularly but saw no other option than to follow this plan).
We did a few concerts and put a lot of work into it, both being perfectionist, and I had a lot of optimism for the future regarding our project. She forced me to sing some songs at gigs myself, which in turn showed me how with practice I actually could produce a reasonable sound, at least for a few numbers! I began to think I might be able to pull off singing one or 2 of my own pieces myself, so I started going to an open mic to practice these songs even though I was pretty nervous about it. This was my first, small breakthrough.
Then one day we were due to rehearse for a gig the next week at the same bar that also held the open mic. Quite a number of friends were enthusiastic about coming. She came round to my flat and informed me that she could no longer work with me due to a number of reasons including not having enough time for her own band. Also, she said that the bar owner at the open mic venue had replaced us at short notice because some New York jazz star happened to be in town and available on that evening to perform himself. The first bit of news made me very sad and disappointed. I saw the loss of a great opportunity and waste of hard effort committed to our duo. The other news angered me greatly: Even if we were an “unknown” act it was totally disrespectful to simply discard us and so late in the day.
However, that same evening the open mic was happening, and with as much determination as I could muster, I resolved to play 3 new songs there as I had planned before the bad news. I felt abysmal: severely let down, disrespected with that selfish business practice, low in energy and still hyper-nervous about singing on stage! But I dragged myself down to the bar and sang those pieces! I amazed myself like never before, I don’t think I had ever felt so liberated. I can’t remember if I sang particularly well, technically, but I didn’t care about that aspect. At night, in bed, I couldn’t get to sleep for ages. I was simply astounded, hardly believing that I was that person who acted so courageously. It felt completely alien to me. It took me about a day to come to terms with my new-found strength. And then I had a realisation in the typical fashion of a light being switched on: I was able to sing all of my songs myself and that’s exactly what I do now with joy and a great amount of satisfaction!
I have often since encouraged others to adopt a similar approach when they feel imprisoned by a fear of embarking upon a dream, or aren’t able to see their own potential. One example was an amateur fiddler who went to a celtic session almost weekly but put herself down amongst the “much better” professionals so much that she barely lifted her instrument to play herself. I forced her to ignore her voice of fear, and simply get on with it. Only 1-2 years later she was already a passionate, happy performer in front of any crowd!
Once you start the ball rolling in yourself you can inspire those around you to break free.
Photo by Kevin Klöcker
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10 thoughts on “How I Became a Singer”
Very interesting example of how our negative perceptions of ourselves can limit our experience in life. I remember reading something similar about Eric Clapton doubting his own voice.
Thanks for sharing this and encouraging people to go for it.
you’re welcome. Hope it helps you on your path!
Great article! It speaks to me because both of your examples apply to me, as I am a singer/songwriter/guitar player as well as a fiddle player. I have had a terrible struggle with stage fright, which is awful because it causes me to mess up while on stage and that has led to more stage fright, terrible cycle… I know I need to just get out there and do it more and not worry so much. I’ve heard the phrase “Do it scared” and while that’s difficult, it’s the antidote (that and a lot of practice)! That’s how you work thru the fear, by facing it. Thanks for the inspiration and motivation! I’ll be looking for an open mic night soon. :)
thanks – one thing I should have mentioned: focusing on giving happiness to others before and whilst performing is a superb remedy. Once you know you are good enough – and I mean rationally, because you don’t have to be a vituousi – you free yourself considerably from perfectionism, at least that helped me a lot. You cease to have to prove, instead you are a human moving other humans for their enjoyment (as well as your own!). Good luck!
This was inspiring for me. I love to write music, but the singing has been the barrier. Goal is to improve the voice enough to at least demo for a demo singer. :)
you’ll get there! Be yourself, practice and have fun. Nothing to lose!
that’s an inspiring story Matthew
thank you for sharing it :)
thanks farouk, whenever I can help…
Good for you mate! I love to sing but not public. I watch shows like The X Factor and am always amazed by comments sometimes blurted out by the judges. “you cannot sing” is phrase often heard but the thing is does it really matter if you can sing ot not? Surely it is about the pleasure you get from getting lost in the song, not what other people think.
Go for it yourself! Yes – that’s the bottom line. While professionally speaking you have more chance of getting work if you have a well-trained voice, it is a different world to just be yourself and do what you enjoy for no other reason than that. If you have serious aspirations to live from music or want to improve your voice, that takes work but can be very enriching in itself. However, there are quite a number of successful singers who sing out of tune and haven’t mastered their breathing technique at all, that is more about genre image or personality anyway. Shows like the X Factor want mainstream commercial sounds (from what I gather – hardly watched it myself) – that is a rather abstract notion of what good singing is. I personally find a lot of singers focus on that style and lose their individuality completely for the sake of perfection.
Otherwise, just do it and enjoy!