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.”

About James R. Wigginton

JAMES R. WIGGINTON (Jamie) was born into a touring musical family in Western Kentucky -sort of a hillbilly Partridge Family. Hundreds of artists/vocalists all over the world currently call Jamie their vocal coach. Over the past few years, Jamie has completed over 25 international tours, in 11 countries–appearing in concert and presenting Master Classes.


  1. Dan Knoch says:

    I think your website is outstanding. I plan to book some lessons with you as soon as I get done with the next 3 weeks which is going to have me really busy.

    I bought your vocal warm ups a couple of years ago and I think it alone has helped me sing better than everything else that I have done – my wife said that she noticed that in the last couple of years my voice has gotten more “professional” sounding (according to her)

    Thank you for your help

  2. Aw wow! Thanks so much for the encouragement! And yes, wives are great for giving honest feedback and keeping it real lol. I’ll be very honored to work for you.

    Blessings to you,


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