Cindy Shadrick Voice Studio

Voice Instructor, Vocal Coach, Music Director

For the Men: The Best Valentine's Day Gift Ever

Nothing says "I love you" like a mixtape (yes, I refuse to call it a mix CD or playlist). As someone who loves musicians (who doesn't?), I have received plenty of mixtapes, but not all of them were good. Making the perfect mixtape isn't as easy as just slapping a few songs into itunes and calling it good.  There are rules. 

As explained by Rob in one of my top-five all time favorite movies 'High Fidelity,' here are the rules for making the perfect mixtape:

Rob: To me, making a tape is like writing a letter. There's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get You Off My Mind," but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and...oh, there are loads of rules.

To add to Rob's list of rules, here are a few other pointers:

1) Let the music be your voice.  It's great to receive a mixtape of music you like, but it's even better to receive one that has music that reminds your special someone of you.  The lyrics in each song should be representative of what you really think.

2) Your mixtape should be happy, not sad and boring.  You want your loved one to feel....well....loved.

3) Don't use songs that you have used for other girlfriend's mixtapes.  You'll be listening to this too and it's just bad form to use music that reminds you of someone else.

4) Listen to the songs, in order, several times to make sure they're in the right order.  Like size, order does matter.

5) Give it with love (as in a present you actually had to spend money on ).  Hey, women love to hear the words you want to say, but we also want to listen to it while eating chocolate!


The Four Things You MUST Have to Make "It"

My husband and I were watching OWN's "Masterclass" with Lorne Michaels last night.  Among many of the interesting things he had to say, he stated that you needed three things to make it in show business: talent, discipline, and luck.  His words are extremely true, but I would also like to add a fourth: love.  Let's discuss all four.

First, talent.  This is obvious.  Some people think you're either born with it or you're not, and I don't disagree.  But I will say that even minimal talent can be trained.  Talent is more than just the ability to dance well or sing amazingly or have the ability to create characters.  It's also about having charisma, charm, and a likeable personality.

Second, discipline.  This is something you can and must control.  Discipline is about practicing everyday; honing your craft, if you will.  It is about researching your business, knowing the music, roles, etc. that work for you, and practicing until you do not do it wrong.  Think about the greatest stars in your favorite genre.  They practice....everyday.  If the biggest and the best are practicing everyday, you should definitely be practicing everyday.

Third, luck.  This is the one thing you can't control.  No matter how much talent you have, how much work you put into your job, or how much love you have for what you create, it won't happen without some luck.  So what can you do?  Put yourself in a position to make yourself lucky.  You can't win the lottery if you don't play right?  Get out there, audition, perform, gig, post a Justin Bieber youtube video if you have to (actually, don't do that) but put yourself in a place to get noticed. 

Lastly, love.  Love is the single most important thing you need to make it in show business or in any business.  What does love mean?  It's not just about "I love singing and dancing so I think I'll do musical theatre."  Love is about taking ensemble role after ensemble role because you care about the business so much that if you never have a leading role, you will still be ok.  Love is about waiting tables or temping 9-5 so that you can go to rehearsals and performances at night.  Love is about pursuing until there is nothing left to pursue.

I want to make one last point about making "it."  That word "it" has many different meanings.  Making it doesn't just mean that you become famous or have an exclusive recording contract or that People Magazine wants to take your picture.  In my life and my career, making it was/is about being able to be in the music world every single day, making a difference, and being able to come home to my husband and children every night.  And remember, you must have all four of these things to make it.  Talent and love don't just stand on their own.

Daily Practice Regimen

So often I hear from singers that they simply don't know how to use their practice time effectively.  They in turn practice less or waste time during their practice sessions.  Ideally, singers should aim for 60 minutes (or more) of practice a day but as little as 20-30 mins can still be effective if you use your time wisely.  To help you out, I've devised a daily practice regimen to enable you to have better use of your time.

1) You should spend 1/3 of your practice time on vocalization.  This includes breathing exercises (which you should absolutely be doing every single day), lip buzzing, sirens, scales, arpeggios, and exercises in flexibility.  This is the most important area of your practice so do not skimp on this and go straight into the songs.

2) The second 1/3 of your practice time should be spent on your "homework."  This would include any theory homework that your instructor has given you, or ear training and sight singing exercises.  Transcribing your music into IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and other research activities is also an appropriate use of this time.  Listening to recordings, researching characters, and discovering new music is an important part of your musical journey and absolutely counts towards your practice time.

3) The final 1/3 of your practice time is devoted to your music.  It is important to note, however, that this is not just singing through your music.  It is correcting past mistakes,exploring different styles and tonalities, and really working on diction.  Having your music memorized does not equal it being learned.  Keep improving until there is nothing left to improve.

One important note: your practicing does not need to be done all at once.  If you only have 30 minutes a day to practice, take 10 minutes in the morning to do your vocalizing.  Maybe after work, before dinner, you have 10 minutes to listen to some recordings.  And ten minutes before your turn in for the night you can practice your music.  Whatever you must do, be sure to PRACTICE!

Read this blog post, then go get a massage

As both a singer and a teacher, the one thing I find true of 99% of singers is that we use too much facial and jaw tension when we sing.  As you already know, when the larynx is down, the breath is allowed to not only support, but to create sound by allowing the focal folds to vibrate properly.  In contrast, when the larynx is up, the breath is not allowed to flow and the vocal folds are forced to slap together to produce sound.  But how are the vocal folds slapping together? Because the breath isn't being allowed in, extra muscles and tissues are forcing the folds together.  This is caused by using your jaw, face, neck, and other body tension to support your sound.  Take a look in the mirror.  Do you see your upper body being raised?  Do you notice your head shaking or your jaw locked? 

So now that we know the problem, how can we begin to address fixing it?  Your teacher will give you plenty of exercises, all addressing the big issue: use the breath to support the sound.  Each exercise is a good one and you should do them often.  The only way to get rid of the bad habit is to create a good habit.  But here's the problem: How do I know if my jaw and facial muscles are being used?  I struggled with this a lot as a young singer (who am I kidding, I still struggle with it.....).  I never knew what it felt like to be completely released in my jaw and face, so I didn't know when I was using the extra muscles to support my sound.  It wasn't until I began getting massages regularly that I discoverd what the released sensations felt like.  A massage therapist works the muscles in your body to release tightness and tension.  The therapist also massages your facial muscles for the same reason.  We carry a lot of stress and tension in our facial muscles which inhibit us from making supported sound with our breath. 

My suggestion to you is to go see a massage therapist and ask for a facial massage (if you have the time and money, go for the full body).  As the therapist is working out the tension, pay attention to the newly released sensations you are feeling.  Your jaw is no longer clenched, your cheekbones aren't going through your eyebrows, and your neck isn't pushing through your larynx.  Take this new released feeling to your practice room and see what happens when you sing.  You will likely notice a lack of support.  This is due to the usual lack of breath support and the now lacking extra-support you were receiving from your facial muscles and jaw.  Take deeper breaths, make that air spin faster, use your breath to create the sound and leave those tension building muscles alone!  (On a side note, your body is highly toxic after a massage.  You will likely notice your voice sounding lower and may even have a headache from the toxins flowing through your body.  Be sure to drink plenty of water to flush away those nasty toxins.)

As always, practice in a mirror.  It's a dead giveaway for many of our mistakes.  Happy practicing!!!

A Review: Renée Fleming's "Dark Hope"

For two months, Renée Fleming’s “Dark Hope” has been in my CD player.  I don’t listen to it every day, but I come back to it every few days just to check.  Yep, I like it.  I actually like it a lot.   If you don’t know who Renée Fleming is, shame on you!  She is currently the leading soprano in many Metropolitan Opera productions and is one of the most recognizable American sopranos in the world.  Her new CD, “Dark Hope” is not an opera recording.  It is not a classical recording.  It is, in fact, a pop/rock recording.  From recent hits like Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” to classics like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes," this album is unlike any other Fleming album.

Let’s start with the voice.  I don’t need to tell you what an amazing, luscious, rich voice Renée Fleming has.  Click here to see her doing her “day” job!  And even in this musical setting, her tone does not lose it’s luster.  Fleming made a very smart decision by keeping her pitches either on or below the staff.  Anything above the staff would have put her right back into a classical style sound, but her deep chest voice makes a big impact on these songs.  Often, her voice is unrecognizable in these tracks, but not in a bad way.  If I were to be able to pick up on any heavy vibrato or a big resonating sound, I wouldn’t have been able to listen to this.  In fact, once I forgot for a moment who was singing, and I liked it even more!

Next, onto the songs.  I’m not going to lie, if you are a hardcore fan of any of the original bands, you aren’t going to like this.  But, if you are an open minded listener who often appreciates remakes, I really suggest you give it a try.  “Dark Hope” is not a karaoke remake CD.  With producer David Kahne, Fleming reworks each of these songs to give them a new life of their own.  One great example of this is the last track on the CD, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  We have all heard plenty of remakes of this song, but I really do like Fleming’s version much more than the rest.

Finally, the look.  Yes, I  care about the look and pictures on the CD cover and liner notes.  If you can get past the extensions on the front cover, I promise you’ll like the rest.  I get it.  She needs to look edgier than her traditional CD covers (which, by the way, are GORGEOUS).  She’s got a bit of a Stevie Nicks vibe happening on the front cover, but turn the CD over and there is a beautiful femme fatal.  Yes, I do have a bit of a girl crush on Renée Fleming.

In closing, I really enjoyed this CD, if nothing more than for the fact that it proves what I have been saying all along.  Versatile singing is good singing.  There is no reason to limit yourself to one style of singing if you are able to address more than one style of music.  So long as you are singing in healthy technique, as Fleming obviously is, you can literally sing any style of music, and should. 

Also, I did not write this review as a shameless ploy to meet Renée Fleming.  I tried that in 2006 and failed miserably.  I attended a recital she put on in Iowa City and stood in line after the concert to get her autograph and say hello.  This is how it went down:  It was my turn to meet Renée.  I stood in front of her table and handed her the CD I brought along for her to sign.  Then, my voice turned off, my knees started to shake and I was, for the first time in my life, completely star struck.  She looked at me like I had one eye, obviously confused as to why this girl standing in front of her couldn’t seem to open her mouth.  “What’s your name?” she asked.  Somehow I mustered up the courage to say, “Cindy.”  In a daycare sort of voice she continue, “And are you a singer?”  She said it in slow motion just in case I had the brain capacity of a five year old (which at that moment, I did).  “Uh huh,” was my response.  I know, pathetic.  That was my moment to tell her what an inspiration she has been to me.  How I strive to train my voice like hers, to sing the literature she sings, to learn the roles, even how her early years in jazz influenced my teaching of versatile singing.  But no.  The only words I could say to her were Cindy and uh huh.  Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity to meet her again.  I think I’ll put on a pair of Depends just in case!

Please check out the CD soon and let me know your thoughts!

What I Learned From My Hair Stylist

If you know me, you know that I have had terrible hair for most of my life.  I was recently reminded of this a couple months ago when a friend from high school posted a picture of a drag queen and tagged me.  Sure, he meant it in jest, but the fact of the matter is that he was right.  I started wondering why my hair always looked so terrible (I promise I'll get to how this ties in with music soon).  I never told my hair stylists what I wanted-I just told them to do whatever they thought would look good.  Although I do admit, I have an addiction to bleach and big hair.  After moving to Cedar Rapids, I began the search of finding a hairstylist and was amazed to find a great one right away.  She has done amazing things with my hair, even if I do require bleach and back combing.  The last time I was in she said, "Cindy, I have spent the last few weeks researching the perfect fall color for your hair.  I'm still working on it, but the next time you come in I'm going to have the perfect color and style for you."  Obviously, I'm psyched!

Ok, enough about hair.  What does this have to do with music?  I was thinking to myself as I left the salon that day how awesome it was to have someone I trusted make the time in her schedule (which, of course I am not paying her for) to research my hair so that I would be really happy with it and make me look the best I can. I doing this for my students?  I mean, sure, if a student doesn't know what they want to sing, I give suggestions, but they are always off the top of my head and during the lesson time that they have paid me for.  That's not to say that I'm not invested or uninterested outside of their lesson time; it's just that I'm really busy.  Or so I thought.  I have spent the last two weeks taking the time to research music for my students.  To really give some time and thought to the music that would really help them to learn the techniques we're working on or pieces to nail their auditions.  And guess what?  Taking a few minutes out of my schedule to research each student's needs has really paid off.  Not only are my students getting more attention from me, but I am also enjoying our lessons a lot more (maybe because I'm picking the music.....???). 

So, as a teacher I've learned a lot.  But what can you as a singer take away from this?  First, you have to trust your teacher.  I will admit that I am naive and have trusted a lot of hair stylists I shouldn't have, but I also didn't listen to the ones I should have.  Second, ask your teacher's advice on what music would be good for you.  Trust me, no one wants you to sound better than your teacher.  She/he is not going to pick music for you (hopefully) just because they like the music.  It's because it is best suited for you.  And lastly, take the initiative to invest some time into yourself.  What kind of music do you want to sing?  What do you like?  What do you want to learn?  Take it to your teacher.  We need your help.  It's hard for us to always choose music for you just to have you turn it down because you don't like it.  Take that first step yourself and then allow your teacher to guide you.

I've learned a lot from my hair stylist (and not just that bleached-out big hair is out).  I hope you learned something today too!


Why You Don't Need a Plan B

Smart people have been advising artists, musicians, dancers, actors, etc. to be smart and have a back up plan "incase that whole music thing doesn't work out."  And I don't necessarily disagree.  It's never a bad idea to have a Plan B.  I mean, I have a Plan B incase the grocery store doesn't carry my brand of cookies!  It is my opinion, however, that you do not require a Plan B if you just have a better Plan A.

So, why make a better Plan A instead of having a back up plan?  I can think of two good reasons. First, as artists, people are always going to knock us down, say we're not good enough or that we need a back up plan because there is no way we're going to make it.  I think by having a backup plan, we are sort of setting ourselves up to fail.  Sometimes having a backup plan puts the idea in our minds that our dreams won't happen.  We owe it to ourselves to follow our dreams.  Remember, you must have a job.  You must work to make money and to support yourself.  Don't you want to do a job you love?  Second, you don't want to fail at pursuing your dreams because you didn't come up with a good enough plan.

How do we make a better Plan A?  Great question!  The first step, and this is the most important one, is to aknowledge that your plan has, and needs, evolution.  Your goals will change and your plans will vary.  Evolving Plan A does not mean you failed; it means the plan is progressing to fit you.  The second step is to write down your dream jobs.  These are the shoot for the moon type dreams.  You want to be a rock star?  On Broadway?  In Nashville?  Write them down.  Next, write down a list of things you can't live without doing; the things you need to do everyday to survive mentally and emotionally in your job.  For example, I like performing, but I can live without it.  I NEED to sing everyday.  I NEED to teach everyday.  Step three, write down a list of jobs that could take the place of your dream job.  Example: maybe your dream job is to perform at the Metropolitan Opera but in it's place you could perform at the Kansas City Lyric Opera instead.  Next, write down a list of jobs you would be willing to do, that are not necessarily related to your dream job, but will support you financially.  This is not a Plan B.  This is just a way to support Plan A financially until you reach your dream job.

Great, now make yourself a plan that will help you succeed.  A bad Plan A would be: Graduate High School, move to New York, get discovered, become famous.  You will fail at that plan.  A better Plan A looks more like: junior year of high school-apply to 5 colleges in New York, audition and get accepted into at least 1 college in New York, while in college I will get an education, audition, and work at Barnes and Noble, after college I will continue on the audition circuit for 5 years.....etc.  Be specific and lay out a firm ground work that includes education, training, and financial support.  And don't be afraid to make changes to this plan, or to let the plan evolve.

Having a back up plan is not a bad thing, but do not let that deter you from following your dreams.  Remember, no one is going to keep your dreams alive for you.  So if you want to be on stage rather than behind a desk, don't be afraid.  Just make a great Plan A and you won't need a Plan B.

Tips: Sing With Emotion, Never While Emotional

I once had a teacher tell me to sing with emotion, but never while emotional. She had lots of exercises and techniques to help me with this.  I never really understood.  I'm not sure what was inhibiting me (probably fear) and it took several years after the fact for me to really "get it." Years later, having finally accomplished this feat, I'm passing the good advice on.  The one variable that makes vocal music different from instrumental music is the emotional impact of lyrics.  Even people who don't consider themselves to be "music people" will tell you they relate to one song or another.  (You ever wonder why country music is so popular?)  The singer's job is to create emotion in their singing so the listener will have an emotional response to the song.  The first step for the singer is triggering an emotional response within themselves to the piece of music.  So how do you accomplish this?

I would love to tell you to begin with choosing songs with which you relate.  If you are a pop singer (or country, blues, jazz, etc) this is really the best first step.  The problem in the musical theatre or operatic world is that you don't always have that choice.  I doubt most people performing in Miss Saigon have killed someone (or themselves).  In this case, find something within your character with which you can relate.  Sick mom?  Dumb boyfriend?  You get the idea.

Next I like to find recordings (not video, just sound) of other singers performing the role.  Why no video?  Because most audience members are not going to be able to get all of the emotion from your face.  They are sitting too far back or at the wrong angle or whatever.  They may only be able to have emotional responses from the music.  So by listening to several recordings of the music you will be singing, you will be able to have those emotional responses triggered within yourself.  Now, write it down.  What moments did you feel something?  Did you shiver?  Cry?  Laugh?  Which parts were moving and which weren't?  Write them down.  Make notes for yourself.  These will help you to make creative choices in your versions of the songs. (As a side note, I do eventually watch video recordings.  But be careful not to unintentionally copy the performance you're watching.  Make each performance your own.) 

Next, take your script (or if you don't have a script, use the lyrics to make one up) and do a soap opera scene with yourself and the mirror.  Yes, I'm serious.  Stop laughing!!  You've seen a soap opera once right?  Even if it was a bad one, they probably cried at least once during the show.  Start with making this scene you have created into something very real for you.  Keep building it up.  Look into your own eyes.  Use your body.  Keeping doing this until you have triggered an unscripted emotional response within yourself. 

Great-now you have created emotion!  Now, step back.  Why?  Because while you need to create the emotion within yourself to trigger the response in someone else, you cannot sing while you are so emotional.  Have you ever tried singing while you were break-down, sobbing, snotty nosed, need my mommy sort of crying?  I have, and it was AWFUL.  While it is important to be emotionally connected to the character you are creating, you cannot use your instrument effectively if you have impaired it by becoming too physically emotional.  So what can you do?  Here are some tricks.  

During your soap opera scene practicing, set up your video recorder to record your facial and body movements.  When you review the recording, write down particular moments in your music where you really like what you've done with your body physically.  Do this when you are singing the music as well.  When you listen to the recording, pay attention to any specific word or color treatments that created a response.  Memorize these and add them to your practicing.  Memorizing facial features, bodily responses, etc, helps to take away the unexpected physical emotions while keeping you connected mentally.

A final thought.  Why is this so important?  I sincerely believe that no musical performance, whether its a full scale musical production, concert, recital or backyard barbecue should have meaningless music.  And I also don't want singers to hurt themselves vocally by being too involved emotionally.  As with most things in life, singing and believing should be a perfect blend.

At what age can my child begin voice lessons?

A question appeared in my inbox that I thought should really be shared with everyone.  It is a question I am asked at least once a week.  "At what age can my child begin voice lessons?"  This really is a hard question to answer and each teacher will give you a different answer.  Many teachers prefer not to work with a child until his or her voice has developed to a certain level of maturity.  Others may not want to work with children under 10 or work with children at all.  This may be a personal preference or the teachers may not feel that their skill set is best matched with a child.  Either way, there is nothing wrong with this.  I choose to teach singers of all ages, regardless of vocal maturity.  The question for me is whether or not they can handle a 30 minute lesson.  Many children under the age of 5 are not capable of handling a 30 minute voice lesson, even if they are capable of handling a 30 minute piano or violin lesson.  It's simply because I don't have a toy (instrument) to hand them that they can play with.  While I do use many tools, exercise balls, plastic bands, etc. during my lessons, this generally isn't enough to hold a 3 year olds attention for more than 15 minutes.  So if you're wondering how old your child should be before they start studying with me, ask yourself how long their attention span may be.  If they can handle 30 minutes, let's get started!

Now to back up.  Why do I teach children who have not reached vocal maturity?  There are several reasons.  One, there is not a set age that a person reaches vocal maturity (and voices change all the time as they age).  Two, no one is too young to learn about and enjoy music.  While my 5 year old student may not be ready to handle the challenging vocal demands of Puccini, he certainly can learn to read music.  Let us not forget that the voice is an instrument and during instrumental lessons, the student is not playing his or her instrument throughout the entire duration of the lesson.  The student is also learning how to read music, music theory, how the instrument works, some musical history, etc.  These are also essential lessons to studying the voice.  I always include musicianship skills (sight reading, ear training, music theory, etc) in my voice lessons.  We also do a lot of dancing, running around, and imagination exercises to add to each lesson.  I truly believe that if the student can sing the ABC's and are able to do some reading, than they are able to begin music lessons.  And remember, you are also never too OLD to take voice lessons!!!!

I hope this helps to answer your question.  Please keep those questions coming!