WHAT WILL YOU DO DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR?

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I will try to not take the cheap and cynical route by bashing New Year’s Resolutions right away.

There can be something powerful and even lasting in seeing a new year as a blank page; your decisions, actions and attitude the pen with which you write on this fresh, white space. The problem is, well…New Year’s Resolutions just don’t seem to take. Life happens.

Old habits overtake new intentions. By the end of February, all your shiny fresh ideas suddenly seem dull. Because look! Duck Dynasty is on!

intro-quoteWhile I believe this short-lived resolution phenomenon is universal, it is especially tragic for my friends that are hoping for a career in entertainment.

While the new year represents a fresh start for some, for the aspiring artist it may mark another year in which “it” didn’t happen.

Therefore, I am addressing you: the young actor, the college music major, the guy in his boxers spending 20 hours a day producing fantastic pop tracks. To you guys: what will you do differently this year?

Actually, let’s put that question off for just a moment. First, tell me: what would you have done differently last year? Where did you consistently fall short? How were your practice habits? Were you intentional with your diet/nutrition and explosive with your workouts?

Did you make the most of every moment, or did time seem to get away from you –day after day? Take a moment to identify specific areas.

Say them out loud. Or better yet, write it down. On the left side. Because when you write down your ideas on how to improve each weak point on the right side, you’ll have answered the original question. Do it. Stop reading this and do it.

OK whatever…do it later then. But get it done. And if you all were somehow able to share your lists, I’ll wager the similarities far outweigh the differences. They will include issues about time management, money allocation, body image and nutrition, and social/romantic missteps. Nailed it?

For my friends/students/clients (all one-in-the-same), here are a few things I’d like to see you work on starting now.

1. YOU BE THE “TIME BOSS”

I have petitioned for more hours in the day. Didn’t happen, not gonna happen. Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.

You don’t need more time; you need less stuff that doesn’t deserve your attention. First thing every morning, ask yourself, “What is the absolute most important thing I must get done today?”

It could be as simple as make a call, return an important email or text, something easy like that.

time-bossOn a Saturday when you have no classes and aren’t scheduled to work, it might be to get your logo designed, get your car serviced, go shopping for the right groceries for the week ahead, etc.

And yes, sometimes it’s important to just chill out and watch some Harry Potter. But no sir/ma’am, you do not get to watch Harry Potter if you’ve still not written a song in a month, still haven’t even begun to seriously think through your brand, still haven’t studied up on how to market yourself, or haven’t been to a gym since the Clinton administration.

NO. You’ve got stuff to do.

2. SHOW UP

You’ve all heard me preach this before. Part of your job is to “show up.” Where? To writer’s nights, industry gatherings, social events where you’ll meet like-minded people. Go to concerts, and show up looking damn good. Show up looking like you sound; like your image, your brand. Show up to your friend’s shows, and try to bring your posse with you. Why would you expect peeps to show up to yours if you don’t support your peers?

3. GET IN SHAPE

Nope. Shhh. There are SO many things in this life that you can’t control, but this is completely in your control. NO. Stop talking. Yes it is. You can’t make Diane Warren give you songs. You can’t make Channing Tatum fall in love with you. But you can control what you’re cramming into your pie hole. You can find time in (nearly) everyday for a workout, even if it’s a shorty.

There are literally thousands of hopeful wannabes clamoring for the spotlight every day; many are taller, better looking, more talented, and more wealthy than you. With so many strikes against you that are out of your control, why deny yourself the myriad benefits of having a rocking body?? Can you name a few of these benefits?

Yeah…thought you could. If you really have no idea how or where to begin, hire a good trainer. No money for a trainer? You’re holding an $850 phone. Whatever. I’m telling you that “the package” is a very, very important part of this career you’re dead set on. Get a trainer. Ask a fit friend for help. Get some good info from a YouTube trainer. Just make it happen.

In addition to increased energy, looking awesome in (and out of) your clothes, and feeling great about yourself, looking “the part” can get you through the door. Then your awesome talent can blow the door off the hinges. Get it?

4. STEP UP YOUR GAME

Speaking of your awesome talent… I’m going to gander that most of you listening to my tirade now are what we call “singers.” Not musicians, not writers…”singers.” Do you know how many singers there are? Yeah, lots. Do you know how many singers there are that play an instrument REALLY well? Yeah, a few less.

Do you know how many singers there are that write incredible songs, can direct their own band rehearsals, can play a bunch of instruments really well, AND look rock hard sexy doing it?? Yup. Not that many. HEY! I have an idea: why not be one of those?? Too hard?? Awww…well so is being average. And yes, even if you are an incredible singer, you’re still one grain of sand on a vast beach, waiting for the sun to hit you just right so that someone will notice.

So step up your game this year. If you’re already in your teens or 20s, you’ll never play Rachmaninoff like a pro. But in a month, you’ll be able to play Wonderwall like a champ! Remember this: If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you will find an excuse.

5. THIS ONE’S UP TO YOU

Only you really know what you need to do to make it. You’re gonna have to search deep, grab the ugliest demon by the throat, drag his nasty ass into the light and look him in the face. What’s his name? How will you tell him he’s not needed anymore? If not this year, then when?

When will you get on top of your schedule, show up when you need to, get into the best shape of your life and step up your game? Yes, this one’s all on you.

“If you don’t know where you are going,
you’ll end up someplace else”.
– Yogi Berra

Now, if this little essay is just too much for you, you may want to consider another potential career. You may feel like you’ve just been yelled at, but you must know something: my own list is not so much different than yours. I hope you get some inspiration out of this, but I wrote it for me as much as I did for you. We’re all in this together; accountability is a powerful thing. You in? Good.

I may not know you personally, but I already love you. And no one this side of heaven will push for you and believe in you more than I do. I wish you peace, happiness purpose and most of all love in 2014. Be blessed.

James R. Wigginton

PS. If you’d like to download this blog, and print it out for a daily reminder, you can download a pretty PDF version here. Simply right click and ‘save-as’ to your desktop or any other location on your computer.

James R. Wigginton’s VocalEdge

With a lifetime of performance experience and over two decades of training singers, James R. Wigginton has become a trusted and celebrated name throughout the singing world. His teaching style of combining science-based methods that “just work” with an in-depth knowledge of the music industry has resulted in what we call “VocalEdge”.

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VocalEdge is much more than singing lessons—just as being a great artist is so much more that being a great singer. While the focus will always be on teaching great vocal technique, VocalEdge completing “The Package”, finding the “IT” factor and uncovering true potential.

Audition Guide

Mastering the art of auditioning can mean the difference between a great paying music gig, or a way cool job at the mall. Many singers who are fabulous entertainers simply don’t audition well. And sometimes, average singers get the gig because they know how to own the moment. In this area, I am going to give you the inside scoop on several different audition situations. Bottom line: you basically have a few seconds to show a panel of complete strangers that you rock. Hard. When I am judging an event, I typically sit through many hours of auditions in a day. Most of them, honestly, all run together after a while. But a few of them stand out. A few are so far above everyone else that it’s a no-brainer, making my choices obvious. How can you be the one that stands out? Here are 3 key elements of which you need to be aware:

Time Limit

Very often (as in pageants), there is a strict time limit enforced. 30sec, 60sec, and 90sec are common. Sometimes the limit is 8-16 measures, rather than given in seconds. You must choose songs that show what you need them to see within the time allotted. Not every song can do that.

Song Requirements & Expectations

Know what the judges are looking for. Research what kind of song does well at this particular event. At Miss Tennessee, the judges (an audience) will respond better to the girl singing about love or hope than they will to a the girl singing some sassy, brassy number. For American Idol, they definitely go for the dramatic singers that have lots of energy and personality. In a karaoke contest, you have to pick a song that gets the audience excited, as their response directly affects your score (original or obscure songs seldom do well here). It’s a game: find out what historically does well, and give it to them.

Your Current Ability

If you cannot sing the bridge in Christina Aguilera’s “I Turn to You”, then do not sing the song. Everyone knows this song, and they’re all waiting for the “money shot” at the end of the bridge. “Making it your own” as a means of DODGING that high F is lame. It’s a major buzz kill. The audience feels cheated. Do something you can do well. You’ll hear me say this a lot: “don’t show off anything that’s not great! WHY do that? You can do so many things well, so there is no need to showcase your weaknesses.” Don’t think of it as “playing it safe;” it’s “playing it ‘prepared’.”

CRUISE SHIP AUDITIONS

All production companies that I’ve worked with have their requirements posted very clearly online. On their sites you can find exactly what voice types (and even body types) they’re looking for. Cruise ship shows usually have a more “upscale” feel. The girls’ costumes are extravagant and often skimpy and sexy (“fitting the costume” is crucial). You will have your vocal audition, and then you’ll do a dance audition where you will learn a simple routine.

How To Prepare

  • Prepare songs that are recognizable crowd pleasers
  • Have your sheet music in the correct keys
  • Have your cuts clearly marked for the pianist
  • If you use CD accompaniment, have it edited so there is no fiddling with trying to find where you want to start
  • Present yourself at your best. Be in shape and looking stage-ready
  • Take a dance class. You WILL have to learn some choreography
  • ENTERTAIN. The idea is to show the judges that you can easily offer what they need

AMERICAN IDOL AUDITIONS

Since it’s very beginning, I’ve coached scores of hopefuls through the A.I. process. It has evolved into a very efficient machine, even though the actual details change constantly. Your first audition is definitely a cattle call. You have literally seconds to impress. And you must do this while dozens are audition at the same time and while thousands are practicing. A.I. is the perfect example of how music is not an art; it is a business. So you’ve got to bring so much more than a great voice. Now I am going to assume you want to get through on actual skill rather than schtick. So here’s the best advice I can give you.

How To Prepare

  • Get on the A.I. site and read over the song list and time limits (they constantly change)
  • Prepare 30 second cuts of two heart-stopping songs
  • Have about 7-10 additional songs on reserve! They may ask you to sing more
  • Work with a great vocal performance coach
  • Record and listen back to your cuts
  • Video your cuts. This is TV, people. It’s not a talent show; it’s television entertainment. You better look as good as you sound. Some of you need to look significantly better than you sound.

MUSIC SCHOOL (COLLEGE) AUDITIONS

Again, be sure to review the song requirements on the school’s website. I sit through many hours of these auditions at Belmont University every year. Many music schools let nominally talented singers in, as long as they have the money to attend. World-class institutions like Belmont–not so much. Because I judge and train mainly the commercial majors, I will tilt my advice here in that direction.

Requirements

  • Learn (2) commercial songs that truly show what you’ve got
  • Learn (1) classical song that shows strong technique vocal beauty
  • Prepare an Activities List that shows your involvement in music as well as civic event
  • Prepare a repertoire list of all songs you’ve studied with your vocal coach. NOTE: if you’ve never worked with a voice teacher, thats OK! Just make a list of songs you’ve performed

How To Impress

  • Choose songs that showcase what you do very well. Do not choose something that’s going to make you terrified of not hitting a high note
  • Be original. Unlike the cruise ship and theme park settings, here we want you to show originality
  • Know the difference between a Musical Theater audition and a Commercial Music audition. For the latter, don’t act out the lyrics like you’re in “Wicked.”
  • Present yourself as confident and fun. A bright, secure personality goes further that you know.
  • SHOW YOUR SPARK! I have seen many great singers turned away because there was no spark! No life, no energy, no vibe!

FOR ANY AUDITION

Remember, the idea is to stand out. So in case I didn’t cover your particular area, here’s a checklist that will hold true for any audition setting.

  • Know the Expectations (number of songs, the desired styles, and time limits)
  • Choose ONLY Winning Songs
  • Look Amazing. That’s different from saying “Look Your Best” because your current “best” might not cut it. Get in shape, work on your image, get your hair right, wear the right outfit and LOOK AMAZING. No excuses.
  • Be Confident and Fun. People are drawn to those attributes, and repulsed by “insecure or cocky.” Who would you rather work with?
  • Treat Your Accompanist Well. Always have your music in the correct key and your cuts clearly marked.
  • Be Professional. Have all paperwork neat and ready to go. No “I left my forms with my mom can I go get them”…get it together.
  • Kill It. With a strong a relaxed stance, sing the crap out of your sings. Own that moment. No awkward body twitches, no insecure and vacant eyes. You must kill it.

I’ll leave you with one last reality slap (you know that’s how I roll): If you do not bring it in your auditions by sounding and looking incredible, look behind you–then get out of the way. Because there’s several hundred aspiring artists who are wishing you’d hurry up and finish so that they can bring it. You can do this. Don’t be afraid of being told “no.” In fact, get used to it. All that is is fuel for your rocket, baby.

Watch Jamie Do His Thing!

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What’s Your Message?

I recently saw Lady Gaga on Ellen. Ellen was kidding her about her outrageous outfits. She asked her , “So what’s this all about?” This was her reply:

“The whole point of what I do–the monster mall, the music, the performance art aspect…I wanna create a space for my fans where they can feel free and they can celebrate, because I didn’t fit in in high school and I felt like a freak. So I like to create this atmosphere for my fans where they feel like they have a “freak in me” to hang out with–and they don’t feel alone. This is really who I am. And it took a long time to be OK with that, because [I felt] discriminated against…Sometimes in life you don’t always feel like a winner, but that doesn’t mean that your not a winner.”

Standing ovation. Thunderous applause. I got a little weepy as I watched her talk. This is one of the best examples of an artist’s message that I know of. With her quirky performance style, risque and even funny lyrics, ridiculous hats and rubber dresses, Lady Gaga has created her own world that she can safely exist in. And anyone who wants to can visit her there. It is generous and brilliant.

OK I’ll stop gushing about Lady Gaga. Who else in the music industry has a strong and evident message? How about Kenny Chesney? The Nashville Scene did a feature article on Chesney entitled “Why This Guy?” In a very respectful manner, the entertainment publication discussed how a 5’6”, very average-looking, average-sounding guy could be one of this biggest-selling artists in the world. The key: his message.

Think about it. Many of his big hits mention the names of epic songs (“‘Jack and Diane’ painted a picture of my life and my dream” from his hit “I Go Back”). Most of his hits talk about sand, toes, margaritas, tropical destinations…places that his target listener will not be going any time soon. His albums are produced with an Island feel, and the artwork drives the message home. Another one of my favorites: Dolly Parton. I’ve never heard Dolly say what her message is, but I bet I can guess: “I doesn’t matter where you come from, what you have, or what you don’t have. Life is there for the living. God gave you the ability to choose your destiny.” I hope she doesn’t mind me putting those words in her mouth, but her unspoken message has been major influence on my life and my music.

What’s YOUR message? What do you want to say with your music? This is going to be one of your toughest challenges as an aspiring artist. Here is your homework. Print this section out and work through it.

  1. Make a list of landmark events in your life that have shaped you and made you who you are. How can you use these past hurts, failures, bad breakups, as well as your triumphs to shape your art/music? (Ex: 1987 house burned to the ground/lost everything; 1991 my son was born; 1996 graduated college; 2000 saw Bekka Bramlette perform for the first time; etc…)
  2. What do you want your audiences to take away with them from your shows? (i.e. do you want them to feel like partying all night? Go be alone with their significant others? Go home and cry?)
  3. Write down 3 artists that you love, and describe each one’s message.
  4. Write down a list of 10 songs from different artists that you wish were yours to record. Have fun with it. Put them in the order you think they should go. Now, find the common thread in these songs. NOTE: If your choices are all over the map, then you chose poorly. Focus your style better, and try again.
  5. If the above list was actually the track list to your new album, what would the name of it be? If you’re really getting into this, sketch out or describe the album cover, too! Do it right here:

You will hear me say this many times: If you are serious about being an artist, then figuring out your message is not optional. You must figure it out. Your audience will not try to see it. You must show them. Many years ago, my childhood idol was the great Christian artist Steve Green. I remember how my arms would go numb from adrenaline when seeing him live in concert. When I finally got to meet him, I was a nervous, hot mess (I was 12). I shook his hand and blurted out something like, “I want to do what you’re doing!” His reply burned a whole in my heart, so that I’ve never forgotten it. He said, “Well, that’s good. But don’t be in a hurry to get on stage, and then have nothing to say.”

An artist who has nothing to say is of no use to anyone. Word.

Oh, and by the way, here’s that Lady Gaga interview:

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What’s Your EDGE?

Being a great singer doesn’t make you a great artist. It certainly helps, but it’s not a deal-maker. If the music industry was a singing competition, would Johnny Cash be a household name today? What about Britney Spears? Madonna? Cher?! If the industry was really a “who’s the best singer in the world” search, then all of these artists would be PWNED by perfect singers. Flawless singers. Perfect. Flawless. Boring, cookie-cutter, carbon-copy, high-note-screaming, no-story-to-tell singers that couldn’t move an audience with a forklift and a flatbed truck. Great vocals will get you attention, but you won’t hold it for long.

Let’s talk about American Idol for a minute. Forget about all the atrocities that they let get through during the first week; vocal train wrecks that entertain through pure sadism and shock value. I’m talking about the top ten. I’ve got at least ten singers in my performance seminars on any given Monday that would vocally obliterate the A.I. top ten. But America is not necessarily voting for “singers.” They want back-story and drama. Girls will vote for who they think is cute, even if the guy’s not very good …and defend him to the death. People vote for whomever they feel an emotional connection to. Same with your target audience: if they feel a connection, then they think you’re a good artist.

I recently had a very sobering experience at a karaoke bar in Dallas. I got up and sang Gavin DeGraw’s “I’m In Love with a Girl”—I killed it. I was totally awesome. After I sang, people came to where I was sitting and said, “Man you can really sing!” “Nobody’s gonna wanna sing after that.” Just as I was getting full of myself and thinking about how hard I rock, a guy got up on the stage and did “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns-N-Roses. Vocally, he was aweful; just screamed it. He was pitchy, completely untrained, and …awesome. Not a hint of shyness. He knew all the words from hearing it a thousand times at frat parties, no doubt. He had all of Axl’s moves down. It also helped that he looked like an underwear model with a million-dollar smile. The audience went insane. Everyone was on their feet. Women of all ages were acting like monkeys in heat. Now I ask you: who owned the club that night–the “professional singer,” or the guy with no inhabitions that made an emotional connection with the guys and had sexual appeal to the ladies? Hmm…life just ain’t fair, now is it?

If it’s not about sheer vocal prowess, then what’s the deal? It’s about “edge.” What is your market? Your target audience? Your “thing?” Your message? Your groove? Your EDGE? Many great artists had early bouts with failure before they found their edge. Read Trisha Yearwood’s Get Hot or Go Home: The Making of a Nashville Star. Some singers find they have to change the sound of their voice completely to stand out: Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon (from clean pop to gruff rock), Britney Spears (from belter to a near-childish, breathy tone), Alanis Morissette (from pop to crazy awesomeness), to name just a few. Others had to get crazy with their live performances to set themselves apart (Lada Gaga, anyone? ….amazing!!). What about Ke$ha (the “Tik Tok” chick)? Everyone who meets her says, “She’s so weird!” YEAH! Well, it’s working for her.

OK, consider that your butt-woopin’ for the day. NOW, time for action. How will you find your edge? Here is your homework:

  1. What is your MESSAGE as an artist? (If you don’t know what any of this means, then go read the articles about message and image, then come back to this later.)
  2. How does your voice need to SOUND to best convey your message? (i.e. if your message is all about getting’ rowdy at the rodeo, then your vocals should not sound like Michael Bublé—get it?)
  3. What should your IMAGE be like to match both your SOUND and your MESSAGE? (If you’re singing sexy pop songs, don’t dress like a 3rd grade teacher…FAIL.)

If you are serious about being an artist, then none of this is optional. Do you hear what I’m saying? This is not optional. You have to figure it out. For the next few days (or weeks), focus on your message, your sound, and your image. And I mean focus. A scattered image is worthless. Your audience will NOT TRY to “see” it. You have to show them. A record label will absolutely not try to guess what you’re trying to say with your music. You must wrap it up in a neat box and hand it to them—a complete package, ready to go. OK, now stop reading and go practice. Or better yet, go find your edge. If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go learn “Welcome to the Jungle.”