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The singer’s relationship with a coach is a potentially life changing one. It’s not just about getting better at hitting your high notes. A good voice coach works with a singer on their most intimate fears and deepest challenges, digging down into the places we are scared to go to on our own, so it’s very important that we be able to put our absolute trust in our coach.  

Where Do I Find A Vocal Coach?

The best approach is to ask other singers who they have benefitted most from working with, keeping in mind that not all singers are looking for the same thing from a coach. Sometimes the most established or well-known coach isn’t necessarily the perfect coach for your needs. I would stay away from coaches who promise immediate results and start by reaching out to the coaches whose reputations are rock solid within the music industry.

How Will I Know If A Coach Is Right For Me?

Ask them a ton of questions! There are just as many different kinds of coaches as there are singers! I highly recommend “shopping” for the right coach for your needs. There are some coaches who teach a specific vocal technique, or who are more knowledgable about a certain style of music. Although reputable coaches can usually handle most issues that singers need support on, every coach has a speciality or two. You’ll want to know if it’s a good fit before booking a batch of sessions in advance!  It’s always best that you start by having a real conversation, either on the phone or in person, so you can get a feel for their personality and get a sense of what their focus is, and then I would recommend booking a single session and seeing how it goes.    

When Should I Actually Be Working with a Coach?

The answer is long before you think you need to! 🙂 The challenging thing about being a voice coach is that we usually meet a new singer when they are crazily stressed about an upcoming performance or recording session, vocally exhausted from singing with bad technique, or under a lot of pressure from their manager, agent, label or financial backers to make some kind of change in their vocal approach. Any experienced coach worth the money should be able to make a noticeable difference in a short period of time, however the best coaching (and learning) happens slowly and over a stretch of time, so this kind of “emergency” is not the ideal circumstance to make a lasting change to a singer’s technique. In my experience it’s the singers who come to work with a coach many months in advance of a new tour or recording or showcase opportunity that are able to go the deepest and benefit the most. Besides most of us learn best when there is a little bit of breathing room in the schedule. 

What Should I Be Working On With A Coach?

If you are experiencing vocal exhaustion, then more than likely your technique is not supporting you properly. Working with a coach to bring your technique into sharper focus is usually the first order of business. Proper breathing, voice production, vocal placement, physical tension,  proper warm-up, there is no end to what we can be working on when it comes to deepening our singing technique. Sometimes we need support on our live performances and want to work on our material selection, finding the right keys and the songs that suit our voice best. Some coaches have more experience dealing with the issues of the “working professional singer” than others. The key is to be sure that your coach has a good grasp of the area of music that you are looking to specialize in. Many singing students end up trying to please the coach by working on material that is outside of their area of interest. Always keep your own instincts alive as you work towards a clearer understanding of what suits you and your style best!

What Do I Do If It’s Not Working Out?

Sometimes a singer and a coach don’t click personality wise, sometimes we don’t feel comfortable with a coach’s teaching methods, and sometimes we simply aren’t seeing the results that we were hoping for. Before automatically blaming the coach, I would suggest that every singer take a look at whether they have been actually following the suggestions and doing the daily work that it takes to change one’s vocal technique. Sometimes we just don’t have the time or ability to properly focus on the work we are being asked to do, but usually we end up procrastinating out of fear. (In my experience many singers who find they aren’t able to focus on daily exercises end up blaming the coach’s methods when they don’t see enough results.)   I recommend an honest conversation with your coach about “how it’s going” whenever possible. If you honestly don’t feel that things are working, find a way to gracefully move on and try working with someone new.  Keep in mind that coaches are used to singers moving on. It happens all the time and you don’t have to feel guilty or bad about it. Just make sure you don’t repeat the same work habits with the next one! 🙂

I hope these “5 Things to Think About” have helped you in terms of what to be thinking about when looking for a coach. The right coach is out there for every singer! Good Luck!  

–  Micah is the founder of Singers Playground (www.singersplayground.com) which has supported the next generation of artists with vocal, performance and career strategy in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto since 1996. Micah’s masterclass and private sessions have brought a deeper command of their craft to thousands of artists across all areas of the industry and genres of music. His special interest is in coaching singer-songwriters, having travelled the world as a member of A Capella act The Nylons and as a chart topping solo recording artist himself.

Micah Barnes Coaching Highlights:

  • Created and taught curriculum for the Seneca College “Performing Singer-Songwriter” program, Toronto 2015
  • Vocal and Performance coach for Ana Kakagiannis, current finalist on upcoming “The Voice of Greece”, based on the hit NBC show “The Voice”, 2015
  • Worked extensively as voice coach Golden Globe-nominated Tatiana Maslany on hit BBC America TV series “Orphan Black”, 2014.
  • Vocal coach for cast members of the Tony Award winning Broadway productions of “Matilda”, Pippin”, and “Pricilla Queen Of The Desert” 2012-13, New York.
  • Vocal Coach for Universal Recording artist and “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” star Blake McGrath for his national tour, Toronto.
  • Created and taught curriculum as head of Voice Faculty for Aboriginal Voices Program at the Banff Centre for the Fine Arts, 2010-12, Banff, Canada.
  • Vocal and Performance Coach on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit CBC TV show “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” CBC. 2011, Canadian TV.
  • Assistant Vocal Coach at Elaine Overholt’s Big Voice Studio (Award-winning movie musicals “Chicago” and “Hairspray”). 2010-2011, Toronto 
  • Vocal Coach for Nina Dobrov ( NBC’s “Vampire Diaries”) for her work on the MTV Feature Film “American Mall” 2009, Los Angeles.
  • 2007-2010 Micah designed the  curriculum and served as Voice faculty at The Centre For Indigenous Theatre, Toronto
  • 1998-2006 Micah served as faculty for The Highways Performing Arts University developing and teaching performance workshops for musical and theatrical artists, Los Angeles.   

Micah travels between Toronto, New York and Los Angeles on a regular basis to work with clients as well as coaching private sessions online. His Singers Playground performance workshops which he developed at The Highways Performing Arts University in Santa Monica have helped thousands of artists deepen their skill set as performers on both sides of the border.

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"Working with Mark has been a great experience. He makes the creative process simple and easy. With Mark's help, I successfully acquired a FACTOR grant for the development of my second song. He is positive, professional and has helped put me on the path to becoming the artist that I want to become."

Connor Vincent Award Winning Singer/Songwriter

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