Learn – Don’t Clone
Copying what others do is a fundamental way to learn. Babies and young children do this all the time. So how do you copy and learn from singers you admire without becoming a clone? The keyword is “knowingly” copying your favorite singers.
When you sing a song, a phrase or even just a riff like a singer you admire, do it to learn how they do it. Don’t copy it to try to be like them. This is a subtle distinction, but very important. Once you learn how to do it, incorporate it into your vocal skill set and then use it as your own to express music the way you want to.
Here is a story that illustrates the wrong way to go about this.
Some time ago I was working with a songwriter who considered he wasn’t a good singer. His negative opinion of his voice drove him to subconsciously imitate certain singers he admired. His word pronunciation sounded pretentious because it wasn’t the way he would talk and though his song writing was fabulous, his performance masked the beauty of his material. I spent time with him working on how he would say each line if he was just conversing with someone.
While doing so, I urged him to notice how he would naturally pronounce words. As we continued to work in this manner, first talking through and then singing each song, he began to recognize each artist he was subconsciously mimicking in an attempt to hide behind their identities. These realizations freed him up and he found he could begin to perform the songs as himself.
Subconsciously mimicking other singers is not the only reason for unnatural articulation, but whatever the cause, it will sound insincere to your audience. Practicing lyrics the way you normally speak will uncover unnatural pronunciation and will help you find your interpretation of a particular song so you can perform it in your own unique style.