“You hear a singer and it hits you,” describes singing teacher Robin Love. The Montreal-based vocal coach may be the city’s best-kept music industry secret, having worked with local talents and international artists such as Eve Parker Finley, Ada Lea, and Lucy Farrell. She gives an account of when a singer’s presence and delivery have you hanging on to every word. “We hear them sing something, you believe that they believe it.” We feel it instantly as we get caught in the moment. They are in the moment and take us with them.
But what is it exactly that is happening, and how do singers get there? According to Robin, it’s simple. “They are in their body,” she explains. Here is how you can deliver or record performances with the same effect.
Tension and Release
To help people free themselves, she uses an approach that doesn’t involve musical theory. “This is only possible when the voice is free,” states Robin Love. Her classes are designed for anyone who is curious about their voice – including people who think they can’t sing. She herself was never a professional singer. “I thought singing was something you could do or you couldn’t do, which is not true. If you have the faculties, and if you can speak, you can sing,” says the vocal trainer.
What can possibly stand in the way of singing your best? Tension is the culprit: it inhibits sound. Contrary to popular belief, singing should feel free and easy. Finding your voice is the practice of letting go of effort. In reality, the voice is already there, ready to be revealed.
Then, we must find ways to release the tension: “I help people open up sound in the body,” Robin details. Using different methods with the trainer, you investigate where the tension is, and why it is there. The lessons cover a range of different exercises, where you very well could find yourself lying down on a mat or shaking your limbs in space. Feeling these changes inside yourself can be fascinating.
Tension can come in a number of ways. A lot of the time, it is emotion-related, according to the voice teacher. For example, tension can originate from doubt, stress, self-consciousness, or overthinking. “You have to be comfortable with yourself to be able to directly connect to sound. If you’re not comfortable, there’s tension somewhere getting in the way of what’s coming out,” she points out. It’s something we can pick up on even when listening to someone’s voice. “You can tell when someone overcompensates their voice – none of us needs professionally trained ears to do so,” Robin Love notes.
This is how voice work can help you get comfortable with yourself. Learning to sing can be grounding: we can speak up when we know our voice. This is something useful to us all – singers or not. “This is a safe space where you can just feel free to play because that’s how you’re going to discover how your body makes a sound in ways that might surprise you,” explains Robin. With your coach, you just get to be, without scrutiny. There is no room for judgement because when you critique the sound coming out of your mouth, it gets restricted. Rather, you should connect with your intentions and trust what comes out.
Let’s face it, it is awkward to sing to one person or a handful, and can sometimes be even more nerve-wracking than facing a crowd on stage. One-on-one voice lessons can be particularly helpful to overcome that awkwardness for when you are in a studio setting with only a few ears listening.
Stepping into a recording booth can feel intimidating. This is where the producers and engineers can embrace their position as a counsellor to bring out the best in a singer. As an audio professional, this is easier to do if you have been working with your own voice.
In that position, you are here to facilitate the singer’s performance. Can you help make the artist feel comfortable so they can express themselves freely? What does the artist need, and how are they singing? “The voice really reveals what someone is in the midst of,” the voice coach points out. Reflecting on what emotions you are picking up on can also influence your choices when it comes to sound production.
Hearing What Comes Next
Voice work sharpens the ear and develops curiosity. It also fosters confidence, a sense of self, and self-compassion. It can make listeners more appreciative of music and of the people who make it. “It’s become inspiring to see people put themselves out there. It encourages you to be authentic,” reflects Robin Love. That is, after all, what music is there for: to enjoy listening to someone who is sharing something they’ve made.
Written by Christelle Saint-Julien
Illustration by Yihong Guo