Music Connection Magazine Features Miguel

By Lis Lewis

I’m excited and so thankful to Music Connection and Dan Kimpel for including me in this interview with Miguel. I’ve had many great experiences working with Miguel and I want to thank him for such high praise. I’ve been called a lot of things, but it’s not often I get the title of ‘The Shit’.

Read the interview below to find out how Miguel warms up his voice and how he prepares to perform on Saturday Night Live, Madison Square Garden, the BET Awards, The Grammy’s and just about everywhere else.

Miguel_Cover_SideBar

Read the full interview with Miguel from Music Connection Magazine here: Miguel: Soul Ascending

A Little Music Theory For Songwriters: Understanding the Circle of Fifths

by Freelance Writer Sally Writes

If you have spent even a little time exploring the murky waters of music theory as a vocalist, you will have come across the Circle of Fifths. Yet while it is a hugely useful concept once you have got to grips with it, it is not always the simplest thing to get your head around from first principles.

So sit back, while we explain exactly what it is all about and how understanding the Circle of Fifths opens up the whole relationship between the major and minor keys in music that will help across a variety of musical techniques. From the perspective of the vocalist, it is the perfect way to get to grips with keys and melodies – give it a try!

Major and minor keys

Each major key has a relative minor, and both use the same key signature – in other words, they use the same sharps and flats when you go through their scales. When you look at a diagrammatic representation of the Circle of Fifths, you will see the major keys on the outside of the circle and the relative minor keys on the inside.

So at the top is the key of C major – as we know, this has no sharps or flats in its key signature. As you progress clockwise, each key has one more sharp than the last. And as you go anticlockwise, each has one more flat.

Using the Circle of Fifths

You can soon memorize the Circle of Fifths, or keep a picture handy, and use it to instantly work out what key any given song is in. Just count how many sharps or flats are in the key signature and move that number of steps around the circle, always starting at C.

So if, for example, there are three sharps in the key signature, go three steps clockwise and you’ll find that the song is evidently in A major or F# minor. Likewise, if there are four flats, it must be in A?major or F minor.

Using the Circle Of Fifths In Writing

As a songwriter, you have probably noticed that the most popular songs have very simple and predictable progressions. For this reason, the Circle of Fifths is a perfect tool in creating catchy, memorable melodies.

You can create a simple Circle of Fifths progression by choosing a key and identifying the seven chords that naturally exist in that key. Start your progression on the chord of your choice, build the next on the chord that is next to it and their relative minors higher or lower. So you might choose the key of G major, with the chords G, Em, D, C, Am, B minor and so on.

You will notice a sense of repetition as you play through the progression, giving you an ideal framework to construct your melody.

Once you have the Circle of Fifths committed to memory, you will feel as if the scales have been removed from your eyes, whether you are trying to get to grips with the best key for singing a particular song, or working on your own composition from scratch. So print out a copy, and have it with you wherever you go!

5 Ways for Singers to Survive Working with a Band

Originally published in Voice Council Magazine.

Here are 5 pointers to make sure you are working well with the right people – says Lis Lewis.

L.A vocal coach Lis Lewis plays a massive role in the lives of major recording artists such as Courtney Love, Miguel and Gwen Stefani.

In this wide ranging interview, she explains what keeps a band together, and what keeps a singer sane.

1. Gain Respect

Ideally you will have a strong hand on the dynamics of the band. But this is easier said than done for a young singer, particularly for a female.

One thing you can do to gain respect from your band mates is to learn the language of music. Often the singer can’t tell the players what they want them to do differently. They don’t understand the various parts of the drum kit or don’t know the difference between rhythm and lead guitar. It isn’t helpful to say ‘make it jazzier’ or ‘it doesn’t sound right’. Is the guitar part too busy? Should the bass player play down the neck of the bass instead of up the octave? Be specific.

A front person has a lot of learning to do in order to be the musical director. This is an important job that not everyone is capable of doing. Consider passing this responsibility to another band member or recruiting someone.

2. Friends or Session Players?

Lis with Tyson from The All American Rejects

The pros of working with your friends are endless. You can be creative and exploratory whilst fooling around and having great fun together.

The cons are that none of you really know what you are doing. It can be the blind leading the blind.

Your success depends on how talented you are, how easily you spot talent, and how you deal with hiring and firing people. When it becomes a business, it’s a whole lot harder to stay friends.

The pros of having a hired band are phenomenal. They practice and pay their parts well and they know what they’re supposed to do (as long as you direct them well!) They don’t fool around and they get stuff done. They can be creative and imaginative.

The cons are that they don’t have anything at stake. They get paid, then go home. I’ve seen hired musicians play a gig whilst reading music onstage – which I think is the worst! I want to see a band that’s excited and engaged, not one that’s working for a living. They also aren’t going to bring people to your gig. Your band might not be a long term goal for them.

3. Get Heard

If the drummer is a young player who loves the sounds of his/her drums and just wants to make as much noise as possible, there is not a thing you can do to be heard. Its acoustically impossible. If the drummer is hitting the ride and crash cymbals constantly, your vocal will be obliterated because both sounds occupy the same acoustic frequency band.

The only solution to being able to hear yourself is in-ear monitors. Otherwise you may not be able to resist the temptation of shouting over the band to hear yourself.

There is only so much twang you can use in your technique. Twang can add bite to your sound and add treble but you can’t do it all the time! It will end up sounding too much the same and lacking in colors, and you could still fatigue after a 2 hour gig.

4. Prevent Injury

Record your shows. You may cringe at hearing yourself trying to add as much volume and power as possible. It may feel amazing in the moment but when you listen back it might sound terrible! It doesn’t sound like emotion, it sounds like shouting.

You are most likely to blow your voice out towards the end of a gig. You’re tired but you still want to hit those high notes and sing all the big key changes. If you’re fatiguing, you will use extra muscles which can cause tension and throat constriction.

A well designed set list is important so you can space out the harder songs. Don’t put them all together at the end. Pace yourself. You don’t want to feel you have blown your voice out within the first part of the set, and be aware that it’s difficult to sing a soft ballad after a hard belt.

If there is a band on before you and you are in the audience talking to friends, you’re going to turn your voice into a mess. You need to be quiet before a gig. Besides your voice, you could do with saving your hearing. All singers should wear ear protection.

5. Nurture Your Relationship

A band is like a marriage. There are bands who have had a marriage counsellor travel with them on tour! They were each other’s family – they were on the road all the time and they needed someone to help them communicate.

All the issues that come up between two people in a relationship like bitterness or financial disagreements come up in a band of four, five or six people. A band’s skill set isn’t communicating – a band’s skill set is playing music, so sometimes help is needed.

5 Truths You Need to Know about TV ‘Reality’ Talent Shows

Originally published in Voice Council Magazine.

There are huge misconceptions about TV talent shows – says Lis Lewis.

We interviewed Lis Lewis who is a true coach-to-the-stars in L.A, with clients such as Britney Spears and Rihanna.

She has seen many of her students go through the talent show machine, so we ask her to spill…

The Fame Fades Quickly

Steve Brookstein singing
Steve Brookstein was the first ever X Factor winner. After some rows over his treatment on the show, he’s written an autobiography called Getting Over The X

Singers entering shows like The Voice, X Factor and American Idol believe they will gain tonnes of fans and become famous regardless of whether they win or not.

I have seen people come off the show after being top 5 and then go back to high school. They go back to being their regular self. No longer are they surrounded by constant activity and press attention.

For the past 6 weeks they have been under the microscope and under huge pressures. They experienced excitement and adrenaline and felt on top of the world. Then suddenly they are thrown back into their normal daily lives. It can be heart breaking.

There is nothing set up to help them adjust to this sudden change. They try to keep track with other people who were on the show with them. They often seek connection with their peers and fans.

During their time on the show they are required to develop their social media and constantly be on Facebook and Twitter. They have the opportunity to develop a big following online. The challenge is to maintain this once the show ends. But, unfortunately, this often doesn’t develop into anything.

Reality is Manipulated

Lis with Loren Allread from The Voice

Another big misconception about these shows is that it is actual reality. TV can be very manipulative. This is done for the sake of entertainment.

The shows are governed by law so they cannot fix the outcome/winner, but they can do an awful lot to effect it.

For example, if there are two singers singing the same song, they are both going to have to sing it in the same key. The producers are the ones who choose this key, so one singer is going to benefit and the other one may not.

There are many tactics like this: the producers change the song at the last minute, they change keys, they change arrangements. They can shake up the show’s direction or a contestant’s performance.

Producers Go on the Prowl

One Direction have achieved phenomenal success, despite finishing third on The X Factor.

There are a series of auditions. The first is the giant cattle call that we see snippets of on TV. After this there are producer auditions which are like call-backs. Some people skip the cattle call and go straight to the producer audition – and then there are people who skip even that!

This doesn’t necessarily govern who is in the finals. The singers can change radically as the show develops. Some people emerge as amazing raw talent, and others who start off as strong fall by the wayside. These developments cannot be manipulated and they’re exciting to watch.

The producers are scouting all the time on Facebook and Twitter. If they see an artist with a big social media following, they want to have that person audition for their show. After all, their job is to find great talent. They also scout voice teachers to get their best talent.

Remember that they are casting. When an email goes out searching for singers, it is often from an external casting company. They may want ‘the little girl with the big voice’ or ‘the country singer with a heart of gold’. They are casting characters, not just voices. If you are a loud rock singer and they’ve just cast that character, you won’t get the part.

It’s not about you, it’s about what they are looking for, and you have no idea what they’re looking for. A successful audition for you should be one you’re proud of, whether or not you get a call back.

Don’t Become a Victim

Some shows like to accept people because they aren’t good. They think it’s funny for the audience to see someone who is out of tune or performing badly. If I am training a student who wants to audition, I want them to be realistic about how the show could affect them if it shows them in the wrong light.

If I think a student has the potential to be out of tune, or not interesting enough, I’ve got to tell them. It scares me that they could be victimised. An experience like that could scar them. They should be clear eyed about their strengths and weaknesses.

A Culture of Singing

On a positive note, these shows have encouraged people who love to sing to take their singing seriously. In the past 10-15 years since these shows have been on air, more people than ever before have started taking lessons and singing at karaoke. That’s a fabulous development.

Some people may go to the big cattle call audition and not go any further. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. They get the chance to perform, they meet other people like them and have a great time. How amazing to be in a room full of singers! They may have different backgrounds and skills, but they all have the same great love of singing. Music is a wonderful expression of our innermost feelings and experiences. Music is it’s own reward.

Since these shows have been on air, more people than ever before have started taking lessons and singing at karaoke. That’s a fabulous development.

Voice Council interview with Lis

New Vocal Coach in Residence

Originally published in Voice Council Magazine.

Lis Lewis went to Brittany Spears’ house to give her voice lessons, went to the Grammy’s to warm up Rihanna, and worked with Miguel for his Saturday Night Live performance.

We invited this true coach-to-the-stars to be our first Vocal Coach in Residence of 2017.

Vocalists who inspire:
Aretha, Ray Charles, Beyoncé, Steven Tyler, Miguel (not because I’m biased).

Your first music teacher:
Mr. Gorbetz, my choir teacher in school. We had a big choir, a small choir, an a cappella choir and madrigals. He was busy.

A favorite nerves remedy:
Singing.

Pre-performance routine:
Meditating, stretching, vocalizing, makeup, clothes, equipment in the car then listen to great performances.

Shure SM57 microphone Lis uses the Shure SM57 for its treble range.

Shure SM57 microphone
Lis uses the Shure SM57 for its treble range.

The perfect live mic for you/your students:
The old work horse: Shure SM58 – except I use the 57 which has more treble (no pop screen).

Hero:
My Dad. A great loving wise man.

Villain:
Between you and me and your readers – Donald Trump.

Weirdest thing you’ve ever seen happen in a singing performance:
Chaka Khan dropped her mic, picked it up and started singing again and dropped it again! Yikes.

What drains your batteries?
Anger, arguing.

What charges them?
Harmonies.

Worst singing advice you’ve ever heard:
Just push. (A favorite of producers).

Your biggest performance blunder:
Trying to remember the words to the second verse while singing the first chorus. (It never works and I wasn’t very present in that chorus).

Where most singers mess up with vocal health:
Not warming up. Too lazy or excited or preoccupied.

Top recording tip:
Don’t get in your head too much. Be willing to show your real feelings even if some of the notes aren’t perfect. The technical can be fixed, the emotional can’t.

What’s different about a vocalist vocation today compared to 20 years ago?
20 years ago you relied on a distribution company (like a record label) to get your music out for anyone to hear. Now you can do it on your own.

Bad thing to say to a venue manager:
You’re going to love my music.

Good thing to say to a venue manager:
I’m going to fill this place.

Your life philosophy in 10 words:
Try to look for the best in people – it’s there but it’s easier to see the worst.

The perfect day:
Sleep late, great students, dinner with family (that’s it – it’s much simpler now than when I was a young striving artist!)

Lip-syncing: An Unnecessary Evil

By Lis Lewis

There has been a lot of press about the fact that artists lip-synched at the BET Awards show. The fans are disappointed and other artists are disapproving. So am I. Why sing to a recorded performance when there’s an audience hoping to hear an impassioned LIVE version of your song? It’s cheating. I understand it’s risky – you might miss a note or make a sound you didn’t intend. But the audience wants to get to know you, not hear the record they already have at home. If the song is too high, change the key. If the melody is too demanding, simplify it. But at least sing. We buy your music because we love the way you sing; that’s why we go to your shows (or watch you on TV) – we want to hear you. It should feel immediate and inspired, not phony.

The performances that were live – Miguel (of course), Charlie Wilson, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, India Arie – were moving, exciting and electric. JT was playful, changing the melody and improvising with the other artists he performed with. India Arie played guitar and sang with authenticity. Miguel showed off his range and flexibility singing not once but three times with three different artists. It was so exciting to hear the great vocal variety he brings to his shows along with his sexy physicality. I’m hoping that other artists will take their cue from them and work hard to perfect a live, real vocal performance.


Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
Learn More.

The Singers Workshop Named ‘Best Voice Lessons in Los Angeles’

By Lis Lewis

cbslaI’m so grateful to CBS Los Angeles for naming The Singers Workshop ‘Best Voice Lessons’ in Los Angeles. It’s been my pleasure to provide voice lessons and vocal training to incredibly talented artists for over 30 years. 

From CBS Los Angeles:

“If you aspire to be a pop singer, Lis Lewis may be able to help you fulfill your dreams. The celebrity voice teacher coaches some of today’s popular recording artists in the music industry, including Britney Spears, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani and Colbie Caillat. The Singers Workshop provides private lessons, recorded to a study CD, that pinpoint major voice expressions – from range, pitch and tone to breath control and tension release. Lewis collaborates with record producers, bands, songwriters and major televised music competitions to help artists extract only the best from their presentations. Holder of a master’s degree in theater and music, Lewis has taught or lectured at a number of specialty schools, including Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts in England. Singing lessons via Skype are also offered.”

Find out more about taking lessons with me here.

See a list of all my wonderful past and current clients here.


Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
Learn More.

 

Why I Say ‘Yes’

By Lis Lewis

I don’t like to say ‘no’. I just cleared my entire calendar for the whole week in order to get on a flight that just landed (12:00 AM EST). I’m here in New York City to work with Miguel for his performance this weekend on SNL. I didn’t actually know I was going until just three days ago.

The entertainment business operates at the last minute; nothing gets done until it’s on fire. For example, I actually have no idea what my schedule is going to be for the next three days. However, I do know where I’ll be from 11:30 PM to 1:00 AM on Saturday night.

This business runs on a last-minute basis and that’s true for the artist too. There is a six hour rehearsal tomorrow, but even Miguel doesn’t know when he’ll be onstage. He only knows that he’ll have to leave 30 Rock by 5:30 because he has a show at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. And I don’t know if I’m supposed to go with him to the show or not. But I will say ‘yes’ whenever I’m asked to do something and so should you.

Sing at someone’s party this weekend? Yes. Learn to dance by Friday? Yes. I’m not saying you should ever give up your character or become a person that someone else wants you to be. It’s your uniqueness that is the most compelling thing about you. But be flexible too. It’s okay to not know what’s coming next. It’s okay to take a risk. If they ask you to co-write with someone you don’t know, say yes. If the recording studio offers you free time, realize they might have to bump you for a paying client. In my experience, things don’t always happen the way you plan; sometimes it’s even better.

My Five Favorite Grammy Moments 2013

Miguel and me at 2013 Grammy Awards

Miguel and me at 2013 Grammy Awards

I watched last weekend’s Grammy Awards twice through, if you can believe it – all three and a half hours of it. Here are my favorite performances.

1. Miguel, of course, (not just because he’s my client). His vocal was smooth and silky and he was completely comfortable and assured.

2. Justin Timberlake – sepia suave with Jaye Z as a guest on the verse in front of a hot big band

3. Alicia Keyes playing drums, throwing her head back and wailing. I wouldn’t call it a duet; I didn’t even look at Adam Levine.

4. Black Keys, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Dr. John in full Margi Gras regalia

5. Bruno Mars and Sting. Sting should have gotten a writing credit on Locked Out of Heaven, it sounds so much like Message in A Bottle.

And if I can just add one more
6. Jack White and the all female band and then the all male band

And a non musical event that was so much fun
JLo read the memo: CBS had sent a letter to all participants demanding no breasts, no buttocks, nothing transparent. And she still looked provocative.

Five Touring Tips

By Lis Lewis twitter-logo-square-webtreatsetc@elislewis mail-square-webtreatsetclis@thesingersworkshop.com

almostfamous

Cameron Crowe’s tour digest film Almost Famous

Beyoncé just announced she’s doing a world tour. Miguel just returned from one. Some singers tour the country in a van and some fly from city to city; however you travel, touring is essential to a successful music career. But how do you keep your voice in shape during a tour?

It’s exhausting. Not only are you traveling all the time, you’re singing almost every night and sometimes doing radio or Internet interviews during the day. Here are five tips to getting the most out of your voice.

  1. Drink water. You need to stay hydrated. Travel, especially plane travel, is dehydrating. Try to limit your salt and alcohol intake and drink lots of water. The rule of thumb is divide your body weight in half and drink that many ounces of water a day. You should drink even more if you’re sick.
  2. Sleep. It’s not easy to get enough rest when you’re sleeping in a different bed every night and playing shows till 2AM. But when you’re sleep deprived, you use more external muscles to control your voice, which wears it down.
  3. Rest your voice. Talking is almost as tiring as singing. If you’re talking all day, or shouting over the band playing before you in the club, you are wearing out your voice.
  4. Warm up. You are an athlete. Don’t even think about singing without stretching out your voice first.
  5. Don’t shout over the band. If you can, invest in in-ear monitors. If you can hear yourself, you won’t be tempted to yell. Shouting is your enemy.

Happy travels!


Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
Learn More.

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