Saturday, August 10, 2013

Musical Theatre Audition Technique: What's In That Backpocket, Anyway?

I can give you two of my five "backpocket" songs - songs that I can sing any where at any time, upside down and inside out - "I Want To Be With You" from Golden Boy and "Go The Distance" from Hercules (movie). Now, if your response is "Everybody sings those!" well, duh, everybody sings everything -- difference is, I just KNOW I sing those songs better than anybody else.  That's why I use 'em!

Both are very positive, self-assured tunes with great finishes - one has a big F#, the other has a big G.  Both hit their emotional high points quickly because, frankly, if I need more than 32 bars to make my point, then we already have a problem...  Here's a mini-breakdown on why I keep these two songs with me always:

"I Want To Be With You"
Use for Legit Musical Theatre (meaning: big, fat round sound)
Moderate tempo
Positive, "I Want" song (check with Stephen Schwartz and son on this one!)
Unidirectional -- speaking to one person, in one direction
Utilizes a "cover" on legit high notes (a cover is where you maintain the same tone while slightly changing the vowel sound and fooling the listener into believing you just sang the actual vowel - which you didn't because you "covered" it)

"Go The Distance"
Use for Pop/Rock Musical Theatre
Moderate tempo
Positive, "I Want" song (more: Stephen Schwartz and his son don't like the obviousness of "I Want" songs and are always looking for ways to mask them)
"House" number -- omnidirectional, you sing to "the house" meaning: Left, Center, Right
Utilize a rock tone (definitely brighter, edgier, more strident, sticks out in front of the noise of a rock track)

Both songs leave the listener feeling upbeat and positive.  Both songs show off the highs and the lows of my voice really well.  Backpocket songs.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Musical Theatre Audition Technique: "Backpocket" Songs

Surefire way to completely blow a vocal audition is to learn that "perfect audition song" two days before the audition....  C'mon, people, seriously....

If the audition is about getting all the right words in the right order or hitting the high note or not falling over, then have at it.  Good luck.  Working performers - most of 'em, anyway - know better.  There's no reason for them to compete with people who "just learned a song."  Working performers are there to audition against other working performers who show up just as well prepared.  So "Let the battle begin!"

At minimum, you should have five songs in your backpocket that you know inside out, upside down and can use for virtually anything (unless it's Gilbert & Sullivan - that's kind of specific).

The five songs should represent the length and breadth of roles you can play in musical theatre; whether character or leading man, character or leading lady.  If you're a kid, have five songs that were sung by kids in shows.  Be honest about your age and type, then start hunting down uptempo songs that are positive, exciting, and full of energy.  Don't pick uptempo songs that are angry or negative or explain what a loser you are.  We're trying to put together a hit show.  We really don't want to hire angry, negative losers.

In other words, sing material that says "I can!" not "I can't!"

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Quick Fix: Clap The Beats To Get "In The Pocket"

Clapping to the beat might seem pretty "back to basics," we learn how to do it in kindergarten, but whether you're a pro or a beginner, it can be a huge help when trying to focus a vocal performance.  Had a minor tempo issue today with one of my favorite clients. He was "out of the pocket" (lagging or speeding up just slightly ahead of the track) singing Elton's uptempo "Fortune Favors The Brave" from Aida.  The strong downbeats appeared to be missing in his vocal.  So I asked him not to sing, just to clap to the track. Thankfully, he didn't take it personally and we clapped straight fours while the track played.  We continued clapping fours as I called out the accents (louder claps).  We accented the "1."  Then we accented the "1 & 3" (Country).  Then we accented the "2 & 4" (Pop/R&B). "Fortune Favors The Brave" can contain all three of these feels - it really depends on how you sing it.  When we added the vocal back to the song (sans clapping), the vocal performance ended up much stronger, more present and much more "in the pocket."    

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plant Your Technique

Technical performers bug the hell out of me; mostly because I used to be one.  Perfect technique, pitch, intonation, every note spot on...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Nothin' wrong with all of the above, but  imagine if every tree looked the same.
Like this:

Instead of this:

Great vocal technique is like the roots of a tree; deep and hidden underground.  The tree grows in its own unique way; finding energy; chasing sunlight with its limbs, branches and leaves.  Great technique is fundamental to artistic growth.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Haller Music Studio - Ramped Up And Rarin' To Go!

Broadway, Pop and Rock singers of all ages; whether you seek a professional career or a great hobby, we're here for you.  We are so excited at the number of talented, hard-working people coming through our doors! Everybody gets the same attention and care at Haller Music and while many of Bill's vocal students are professionals in the arts and many of Nathalie's voice students are younger, everybody still receives the same professional training to rely on for the future.  We're in Lake Balboa, the San Fernando Valley, just off the 405 at Victory.  We have new rates in the column next to this item to help you budget for your professional development, including recording needs like demos or voiceovers.  Join us!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Learning With Loaves

Failure and I go way back...  I've failed so many times at so many things, I've had no choice but to call it "friend." I've learned to embrace failure like a family member; one that I get along with, but also one that I effectively ignore, for the most part.  I'm okay with Failure, Failure's okay by me.
Like I said, we go way back.
So, this weekend, when I started working with dough and baking bread again -- something I had not done due to the success (sorry, Failure!) of The Real Drunk Housewives of the San Fernando Valley for the last eight months -- .I had to expect that my bread chops might be a little out of practice.  And they were.
It's weird how something you make from water, flour, yeast, salt, and heat can have so many things go wrong. For bread to have flavor, the process can take two to four days.  Fermentation is involved.  Yeast, water and flour have to do their part.  Fresh & Easy might bake cheap fresh bread daily, but your tastebuds have to work overtime.  Not a great trade-off for a 98 cent loaf of bread.  It's the fermented "sponge" made the day before that gives bread a particular taste.  A little salt slows down the fermentation.  Heat and water give the loaf its crust.  Five or six cups of flour are there for the ride.  It all works.  As long as you manage the time and manage the temperature.  And, to be certain, as long as you measure and manage your ingredients.
My first misstep in "How to make 2-day bread in four days," meant misreading and mis-measuring the amount of water to be was supposed to be 1 1/3 cups of water, not 1 1/2 cups.  The bread rose looking like a manta ray.  Even that little bit of extra water meant it couldn't bear its own weight and kept flattening out.  Fixed it a little bit by drying out the loaf with more flour.  Put it in the oven -- two loaves, actually, I was being ambitious -- and found the two loaves too big for the baking stone, so one hung over the side and started burning almost immediately.  Third misread was that I was supposed to put the stone on the lower middle rack of the oven, not the oven floor (which I use for pizza) and even the surviving loaf ended up with a burned bottom.  We ate both loaves anyway because burned bread still has more flavor than Fresh & Easy bread.
Instead of quitting for the night, I immediately began the new sponge of water, flour, and yeast.  Let it ferment for three hours and then put it in the refrigerator for overnight.  Next day, took it out, started the second half of the recipe, properly measured out the water and put the baking stone at the proper level in the oven.  Made just one loaf this time.  Success.  It came out gorgeous and we gave it as a gift (at nine o'clock on a Sunday night...hey, it's fresh bread!).
Baking bread always reminds me that failure isn't the same as defeat.
Failure only becomes defeat when you surrender, throw your hands up and walk away, never to return to that oven, or those mixing bowls, or that script, or that joke, or that song, that keyboard, that music program, that book, that essay, that story, that concept...
Can't do that.  Well-made bread tastes too good.
Success is worth the failure.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Sweetland Link

Seth McFarlane studied voice with my beloved and highly respected teacher, Lee Sweetland; the gentleman who, when I asked him for his blessing to teach his vocal technique to other people, said, "Well, Bill, you know everything we know.  Go ahead!"  Now, Lee and Sally, his wife and accompanist, didn't call it a technique and didn't really like it when other folks called it a technique; they preferred calling it a "natural, holistic approach" to singing -- which makes a lot of sense, but also takes more time to describe until someone responds with, " it's a 'technique?'" At which point, I would agree and then get down to the question of "why" a potential client wants or needs to study singing.  There are always going to be writers who attack the hosts of  the Academy Awards (excepting Billy Crystal's early years and also when Steve Martin solo hosted), but the most successful hosts have been scamps -- guys with loads of charm who can "get away with it."  Seth McFarlane fits that description for 2013 and beyond.  Plus, he sang great.      

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Electronic Age: It Doesn't Appear To Be Going Away Any Time Soon

"Back in the day" when I was first doing song and dance commercials (1979), performers needed to hire a phone service to catch every phone call on a 24 hour basis.  Personal answering machines were on the verge of hitting the marketplace, but not just yet.  We had to hire a "service" with a service number that took messages from our agents.  It was kind of a Flintstones approach with real live humans/dinosaurs supplying the "beep."  But what was interesting was that you'd have to call IN to your "service" several times a day to make sure you didn't miss any calls.  They didn't call you to leave a message that you had a message...that would have made them instantly irrelevant.  So, the game went on.  Daily.
No need to review the number of communications options we now have, but communication is now a skill to be cultivated.  Who knew that answering the phone and making a call would now serve as the cornerstone of our business as celebrities, entertainers, producers and content providers?  Funny thing is, we need to communicate WITH our fans or our base almost as often as we had to check in with our phone services 30 years ago.  If you're an entertainer to any degree and still avoiding Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and any others that crop up in the next 15 minutes, it only means you really like being left alone.  And your art, your talent, is private.  And not for sale.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Navigating The Waters

Each one of us is the captain of our own ship.  We set sail at birth.  And if we have good parents, teachers, mentors and friends in our crew, we are more than likely to navigate a course through life utilizing the wisdom of their experience combined with our own best instincts, education and desire.  If we only experience rough waters in our youth, then dangerous seas can become difficult to determine in our adulthood; after all, the eye of the storm is placid, but an inexperienced sailor might still try getting out through hurricane gusts and 30-foot waves.  Fooled again.  Now that I'm 55, "navigating the waters" has become my mantra.  If, for fear of sinking, I leave my ship moored in the bay; I go nowhere.  My sails are never filled with the wind energy of life and the potential of my very being remains untested.  If, in lieu of all outward signs of danger, I set sail during a storm, my chances for success become extremely limited.  Not that I won't be able to successfully get through the storm, that's always a possibility, but upon that one success, the odds are that I'll continue to launch in storms only to learn too late that patience can be a virtue.
Launching a show or a career is like sailing from port to port.  The ideal situation is to leave your berth with clear maps, clear weather and the right course.  Then, as is usually the case, after a few days, the sea begins to have its own ideas -- which don't include you.  This is why we shouldn't take storms personally.  They're storms, get over it.  If you can navigate those waters, stay upright, keep the crew from mutiny, maintain the integrity of the vessel, keep your eye on the horizon and still get to your destination port; whatever treasure you claim at the end will still not be nearly as rewarding as the minute-to-minute experience of living life as a creative being "navigating the waters."

Monday, January 14, 2013

6 Months And Counting....

This weekend will mark the start of our sixth month of Real Drunk Housewives shows in Hollywood.  CBS2 came out to cover us last Friday -- due to the presence of our newest member; Big Brother and Amazing Race reality superstar Rachel Reilly (who has worked her ass off to be in this show) -- and we will be hitting it hard through February -- at least.  I came up with the idea for Real Drunk Housewives a year ago.  In January.  I was watching a friend perform standup at Oh My Ribs (the theatre-that's-not-a-restaurant and the place where we've actually been doing our show) and one of female comedians did a set where she was inebriated to the point where I'm sure she could have blown a .16 into a breathalizer.  The comedian, Amy, was really cute, funny and everything, but had had one too many glasses of boxed wine and I remember thinking that she was "really drunk" which led me to think about "real drunk comedians" which then led me to ponder my wife's obsession with "real housewives" who are usually filmed after drinking a few glasses of pinot, so they're basically "really drunk housewives" which led to the basic truth/parody of the Bravo franchise which is "These are Real Drunk Housewives..."  That's how it started.