Singing a Song Your Own Way

September 6, 2019

You decide you want to perform or record one of your favorite songs. 

You love the way the singer sings it; the lyrics speak to you; the groove is infectious; it really makes you feel something.

So you memorize the lyrics, learn the chords, practice along with the track and you’re ready to perform/record it.

Hold on there, Louis Vuitton knock-off, are you sure you want to do that?

I was in a band looking to build an audience (yeah, I know-bizarre idea) and our manager decided we needed to release a good cover song to attract attention for our originals. Made sense–lots of artists go this route.

We decided to record Walk Away Renee, a 60s song by the band Left Banke. We made a killer version (I thought at the time), nailing the original sound. It actually charted on Billboard’s Top 200 (made it to 180-something) and we thought “We’re on our way!”

Problem was, we didn’t do anything to put our own stamp on the track. I did my best imitation of the lead singer; we copied the feel, tempo, and string parts EXACTLY. 

Great recording (if I say so myself) but not much creativity or artistry of our own.

The desire to sing it like the record is strong. You can hear the vocals of the track in your head and that’s the “right way” to sing it. Changing it would be weird.

However, breaking free of copying the original version is where the juicy parts of singing lay waiting for you.

Using dynamics is the quickest way to do this. Change the phrasing (how the rhythm of the melody lines up with the beat), change the melody (a little goes a long way,) change the intensity, change the volume. 

Make it your own arrangement…

It’s really about learning to improvise. This is one of the scariest things for singers to tackle but the rewards are great.

You’ll have to try ideas that suck to get to the good stuff. It’s the only way you can learn to own a song. Record, listen, re-record. You’ll get there.

Color outside the lines–that’s where your heart, and your art–are waiting…

Mark Bosnian

Mark is an award-winning songwriter and professional voice coach with 30+ years of experience teaching people how to take center stage. He has toured nationally with the 80's hit band Nu Shooz and coached Grammy award nominees, American Idol semifinalists, and singers on The Tonight Show.