A Love Letter to the Struggling Singer
Firstly I want to say that I see you and I know how you feel. You're not alone and there's nothing to feel embarrassed or silly about.
I don't know how many tears I've shed on my singing journey over the years and I can't count how many have been shared with me in the studio.
I'm lucky enough to hear from so many of you with your stories about what singing means to you and the battles it wages inside your head. So I know how common this is.
Singing is a very vulnerable practice.
It asks a lot of us and it cracks us open (sometimes for the world to see).
There's so much that can go "wrong" that send us into a self loathing spiral. One slightly flat note can set us off on a path of questioning our worth and value, not just as as vocalist, but as a person.
When we sing for someone and their response is neither excited praise nor criticism, we decide that we're not talented enough to share it. We shrink, make ourselves smaller, stop telling people that we sing.
Don't even get me started on what happens after negative feedback.
It feels as though our entire identity is threatened. We either throw ourselves into hours and hours of practice, bullying ourselves ruthlessly until we fix what we perceive to be broken. Or we give up. For a week, a month, years.
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Sometimes we're brave enough to dip our toe in the water. To take a risk. To put our hand up for the solo, audition for that show, sign up for that competition, put up a song on YouTube.
And then we wait.
We wait for permission.
For someone or someones to tell us we're allowed to do this. That we're talented enough to continue. That we have something valuable to contribute.
Do you see how dangerous that is?
I did this for years. Put all of my self worth into my voice, into what people thought about it. Decided it was the only thing I had to offer that might be worth something.
That led to three years of misery studying music at university. Three years of competing against other singers, getting graded on my "abilities" and being boxed into one voice type and genre.
I almost quit after the first year. After seeing the "real singers" (the ones with "genuine talent"), I decided I didn't belong there. I had no right to be there and I must have been accepted by accident.
I hung up my dreams of being a singer for years. Did it part time wearing a few different hats, but I "wasn't taking it seriously".
I was simply dabbling. And that gave me some wiggle room. It was harder to get hurt when I'd convinced myself I didn't really want it.
But then I started to itch. I started to get restless in my corporate job. I started to crave singing again.
You probably feel it too. It's probably the reason that despite wanting to throw in the towel completely, you keep coming back.
That feeling that this is something you can't live without. It fuels you in its own frustrating way.
You remember the romantic moments when everything just worked and it felt euphoric. You remember the joy you experienced when you first started learning to navigate this tumultuous, organic instrument.
And you wonder if you can ever capture that again.
I wish I had a roadmap for you. To lead you back to a place of wonder, of curiosity. To show you exactly how to enjoy learning and performing again. But I don't. The recipe is different for everyone.
What I do know is that it can be done. What I also know is that singers often don't have that as their main goal (despite knowing deep down that it's their core desire).
It's about intention. Permission. Open-heartedness. Compassion. Patience.
All the words that probably make your squirm or sweat a little.
But what would a practice session, a singing lesson or a performance look like if those ideas and emotions were the focus?
If perfectionism was out and enjoyment was in? If connecting, sharing and being truly seen trumped bang on technique?
Learning, growing and improving are all important parts of the journey, but they're not the be all and end all. And there's a beautiful way of doing it and a harsh way of doing it.
You've probably spent enough time struggling with the latter, so isn't it time you tried something new? Something that ignites the passion rather than draining it?
Change your expectations and your intention. Replace perfection with curiosity and expression.
Give yourself permission to learn. None of us know everything about our voice, so why do we expect to be a master? Embrace being an eternal student.
Open-heartenedness. Opening your mouth to sing and not assuming something horrible will fall out. Be open to possibilities - great ones. Collaborate and encourage other singers - let's stop this BS competitive cycle shall we?
Approach mistakes, slips and embarrassments with compassion. We're all human, we're all going to screw up at some point. Why not focus on the getting up afterwards? The resilience. The courage. The lessons.
And patience. Building a great voice takes time. Building a great voice and a strong, resilient, humble artist takes even longer.
Soak up every delicious morsel and buckle up for the ride.
If you ever need to reach out, you know where to find me (firstname.lastname@example.org).