I was asked to answer a singing question on Quora today by a follower. In the question, he had a friend who was a great pop musician that told him “do not emulate the original singer closely, but sing it in your style regardless [of] whether people will like it or not.”
He wanted to know how true the statement was. My answer was simple.
There are actually two statements here, both of which are bogus. I’ll tell you why shortly.
Those statements are essentially, 1. don’t emulate the singer closely and 2. don’t care whether people like it or not.
First off, yes it is OK to emulate the original singer. It is also OK to sing it in your style. As a matter of fact, you can sing it like friggin’ Bart Simpson if you want to. It depends on why you are singing, who you are singing it too, and what you are trying to artistically communicate overall.
Emulation of voices can do nothing but expand your vocal capabilities. It forces you to stretch and reach for resonances, shapes, and resonance modulations you wouldn’t normally strive for or even think to attempt.
There are obvious physical limitations as to how close you can get, but by all means emulate away.
The ‘why’ can be several different reasons, like expanding vocal capabilities as mentioned, or you are paid to be in a tribute band or gig, or you simply want to establish a market position close a to famous group or artist with your own original material. Nobody knew who Madonna was until she emulated Cyndi Lauper. Then she gradually established her own brand. There are numerous examples of this.
If you are simply expressing your artistic style (whether original material or cover), then change it up with your stamp.
The ‘who’ is your audience. This actually ties back to the why. If you are the only audience, say in practice, then yeah, emulate the heck out of it. If you are in the tribute band or gig and the audience expects it, same answer. If you are establishing market position with your own material, and your target audience is the audience of the original artist, same answer.
If you are already established in the industry and have your own following and are expanding your brand, then put your own twist on it. Or, If there is an audience that likes and expects artistic originality (which obviously there is) then change it up and sing like ‘You’.
The ‘what’ ties up both the the ‘why’ and ‘who’. What do you want to communicate? That is the whole point anyway. Communication. Artistic communication yes, but communication nonetheless. If you are supposed to communicate the original artists performance, do so. If you are aligning your communication (original) with the established artists communication, do so. If you are communicating your own message in your own way (whether original or cover), do so.
Secondly, whether you care or not if the audience likes it depends on whether you want to have an audience or not. If people don’t like it, you won’t be listened to for very long. Simple fact.
Generally audiences are listening because they like what they hear, whether its a song, a poem, a speech, or a simple conversation. If they like it, they will listen, ergo audience. If they don’t, they won’t, ergo no audience.
So if you want an audience, what you sing better be likable by somebody whether emulated or not.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the reason the statements are bogus is because they are narrow minded and artistically limiting.
An artists greatest weapon is his or her own creative flexibility. The more flexible you are, the more you are able to create. Conversely, the more you create the more flexible you get.
So any ‘fact’ or ‘advice’ that limits your creative boundaries should be discarded and kicked to the side of the road on your artistic journey, along with all the other lies and limitations.