When starting out, developing a unique sound is something many singer-songwriters are often concerned with.
Now, your first reaction after reading the headline of this post is probably "Why the heck would I want to sound like someone else?" After all, as a singer-songwriter, you want to have a sound that sets you apart from the numerous fishes in the musical sea, right?
But it does take a while to fully discover and nail down that signature sound, doesn't it? Starting out, you may have an idea of the type of singing voice you want to have and how to keep your voice sounding great but getting there...now, that's another story. Copying established artists, whose vocals you admire, is one way to start discovering and exploring your own vocal abilities (trust us on this), plus it does come with several benefits.
For one, it might just help you to eventually find your own voice. In addition, it can also bring you listeners and fans, who may mistake you for another artist who’s more established. People hearing you for the first time at a music show audition or competition, for instance, might also be more willing to give you an ear simply because you sound like another artist they like. Whatever the case, learning to sing like another artist can be a true testament to your actual vocal ability – just check out Jimmy Fallon’s Wheel of Musical Impressions.
Besides, music business professionals such as A&Rs and music label owners often want to know who you sound like before listening to your song if they are presented with your music (whether you sent a demo to them or someone mentioned you). Moreover, many singer-songwriters of today started out by copying the singing styles of big names that came before them. Ariana Grande, for example, has been compared to Mariah Carey. More recently, Charlotte Cardin, a Canadian singer-songwriter, has received praises for her Amy Winehouse sound and style. Check her out below for a sample.
With all that said, the important thing when trying to sing like another singer is NOT to sound exactly like him or her. Your long-term goal is to eventually sound like YOU, so while copying another singer, you should focus on getting really close to their phrasing and trying to hold your notes for the same length of time, so it becomes easier to apply these to your own songs. The following are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind if you want to emulate another artist’s singing style, at least until you develop your own.
- DO try to emulate an artist who you already sound similar to, without trying. If your natural singing voice is closer to Macy Gray’s for instance, it would be close to impossible trying to sing like Christina Aguilera.
- DO select songs from your artist of choice that matches your voice type and capacity. Even if your vocal types are pretty similar, to begin with, the singer you choose might possess a wider vocal range and probably received training to hold notes that you may not be as yet comfortable to manage, so be wise when choosing songs.
- DO take on only a few bars at a time when trying to sing a particular artist’s song. If you already know the song by heart and have been commended that you sound just like him or her, then you don’t have to pay much attention to this advice. However, if you don’t know the song that well, you will need to listen and sing along with each part several times before you will be able to do it flawlessly. Patience is key, as well as paying keen attention to how you sound compared to the artist you’re trying to emulate.
- DO get voice lessons. Emulating another singer shouldn't be your sole method of developing your own voice. At some point, you might need to hire a vocal coach - or at least watch video lessons like the one below - to help you with strengthening and defining your vocals, which are important in creating your own distinct sound.
Now for the don'ts.
- DON’T become obsessed with trying to sound exactly like the singer. At the end of the day, you’re only using the other artist’s sound as a reference point to developing your own identity, not to become them. Listeners will likely start thinking you’re a fraud if you don’t evolve into your own voice, so to speak, once you start getting some recognition. Unless, of course, you want to be known for your impressions of other artists (see video below), instead of a full-fledged singer-songwriter who wants to get exposure for your own music and uncover benefits such as placements and corporate gigs.
- DON’T broadcast to the public that you sound like so and so artist. Rather, let people listen to you and draw their own conclusions about who they think you sound like. Stating that you sound like a particular artist means listeners will hold you to that expectation and probably feel underwhelmed if you fail to deliver what they are accustomed to from said singer. The exception is probably when you’re pitching your music to a record label owner or other executive and, in order to give them a quick reference point, you mention that your sound is similar to a popular artist they probably already know about.
As a singer-songwriter, when copying how other singers use their voices, you need to remember that you're doing it to make your own voice better, instead of just mimicking how they sound, which won’t do much for developing your voice at all.