Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private lessons in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. Author of the top selling, The Rock-N-Roll Singers Survival Manual, and featured in the video, The Singers Toolbox, Marks technique is not genre specific; he views each singer as an individual and aspires to help each rise to their true potential. His client list includes Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Gary Cherone (Van Halen), Tonic, Jonny Lang, Cast members of RENT, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Jennifer Trynin (Rolling Stone Hot Debut Artist), Amiee Mann, Peter Wolf (J. Geils), The Amazing Crowns, Loudness, Gigolo Aunts, Cara Jones (Japanese New Age), Combustible Edison, Talking to Animals and on and on.
Exploring the voice and its potential since 1972, Marks value as a voice teacher is unique in that he draws equally from his experience, some 3,000 gigs and counting, and an unusually diverse training. After receiving formal training in music at Trenton State College, Mark hit the road for the next ten years with various bands and got a real education.
Theres no better motivator than poverty. When youre singing for your next meal, canceling is not an option. Since I was not born with any natural abilities, I slugged it out each night and hoped for the best. Looking back, I guess theres no better way to learn, but I sure wish I knew then what I know now.
Refusing to believe that people must be born with a gift for singing, Mark began to research the subject with a passion. He has completed hundreds of voice lessons and seminars including; Vocal Pedagogy by the Functional Voice Foundation in West Germany, neuromuscular message, nutrition, the Alexander Technique, acupressure, reflexology and various psychological and visualization techniques.
I dont think Ill ever
tire of learning about the voice. Ive read every book out
there and continuously look for related subjects. Lately, Ive
been attending symposiums at the Harvard Medical Schools
Department of Continuing Education, covering topics such as Physiology
and Acoustics of Vocal Production, Aerodynamic Assessment of Vocal
Function, Medical and Surgical Management of the Performing Artist,
Phonomicrosurgical management of Benign Lesions and Injured Vocal
Cords and Laryngopharyngeal Reflux. Many of the singers I work
with have vocal damage. The medical courses allow me to speak
freely with doctors and then translate their findings into singers
terms for my clients. As a performer myself, I know exactly
what it feels like to sing in the worst conditions. Combining
my understanding of anatomy with stage experience allows me to
help others reach their potential ... and theres nothing
Id rather be doing."
DEFINING IT Written By Mark Baxter
How long does it take? Dont
you have to be born with it? How does (fill in famous
name) do it? By far, these are the three questions I am
asked most. The attitude illustrates the reason why most of us
feel like were spinning our wheels. We say were willing
to do whatever it takes to make it, but most times
are unable to say what it is were striving for. Without
a clear target, the best intentions lead nowhere. In order to
move forward, youve got to define every it.
Picture a musical career as many parallel journeys. Vocal development, musicianship, song writing skills, band chemistry, wealth and fame all run on separate tracks. Excelling in one area does not necessarily lift the others. An artist breaks into the publics attention, or makes it, as a result of many elements. Luck and timing are factors, but yield nothing without hard work, market savvy and good old promotion dollars. Just as your popularity is built by focusing on many small, obtainable, goals, the same actions can improve your voice if youre longing for more.
When people say a singer has it, theyre usually talking about a mixture of elements. Personality traits such as presence and creativity, and physical factors like pitch, tone and phrasing combine to create an individual style. Realistically, a singer will be dominant in a few of these areas. Occasionally, people are born with them all. Ironically, what connects every popular singer has nothing to do with their sound, but rather their soul. Each has found a way to let their heart and soul, their essence, shine through every word they sing. The results are as varied as the population.
If you dont feel your true identity is reflected in your voice, dont despair. Every compromising element can be reduced by training. Pitch, tone and phrasing are dependent on physical condition and muscle coordination. Just as working-out in a gym improves overall muscle performance, vocal exercises isolate and develop target areas bypassed during routine singing. Your skills provide the avenue for creativity. What begins as a heart-felt vocal line can be detoured by physical inability or insecurity. We try too hard or think too much and lose sentiment behind a wall of pretense (the things we do to sound or look cool.) The goal of training is to develop your reflexes to create the shortest path from inspiration to microphone.
If you are brave enough, or work hard enough, you can strip away the physical and mental barriers and tap into your soul. This is the it other singers possess, and it comes naturally when you do nothing. This may sound easy, but most of us began conforming ourselves from day one, so there are quite a few layers to break through. Singing without adding anything artificial highlights individuality. You automatically stand out from the pack. That is the it the industry drools over.
How do they do it? Many performers rely on drugs and alcohol to break down the barriers. Others, develop the physical act of singing to the point that their bodies perform without thinking -- bypassing doubt. The second way requires time and practice, but produces much more consistent results. To speed things along, keep your targets clear. When working on your voice, the it is physical form. When performing, the it is exploring whats in your soul. The combination of the two will be the best damn singing youve ever done.
Mentor: Mark Baxter Mentor Page: Mark Baxter
Q1: I am a developing singer who has all sorts of problems controlling my "S" sounds. When I sing, I sound like a snake. Is there an exercise I can do to help control this?
A1: Uncontrollable sibilance comes
from driving the air too hard with your abdominal muscles. Your
tongue is rigid from bracing against the pressure and
therefore less able to maneuver with any subtlety. Place a hand on your belly button. Inhale and feel the area beneath your hand expand. Now release the air in a very low volume hiss. Don't push. Your goal is to sustain the hiss for at least 5 seconds before you feel any movement beneath your hand, and then continue hissing for 60 seconds. Think of a balloon. When inflated, the air inside is a higher pressure than outside (same as your lungs). When you let it leak, the air will leave the center first. The walls will have a delayed collapse. The same should be true for your abdomen. There is no need to squeeze a balloon or your body -- tone, pitch, volume and the dreaded S's will all be rewarded.
Q2: I saw on an Amy Grant video where she suggested eating potato chips continually while singing in the studio, and she says all her friends in the industry now do that as well. Is this true? And why?
A2: Potato chips are salty, so they stimulate saliva. That's good for singing. Chewing and swallowing activates and then releases many muscles of the jaw tongue and throat. That's good for singing. Potato chips are concentrated, which means they will subtract water from your system when digested. That's bad for singing. The inevitable I-can't-believe-I-finished-the-bag lump in your stomach will interfere with breath control. That's bad for singing. Two points for, two against. Looks like a draw.
Every successful singer has a routine they swear by. They are all placebos. If you have yet to sell a million albums, look more towards your writing, your attitude and your business team -- chips are not the answer.
Mark Baxter's do's and don'ts when first singing in the studio:
1. Do make sure you have plenty of potato chips!
2. Don't make your first trip into a studio the first time you hear your voice on tape. Get your hands on a 4-track, a cassette or a micro recorder.
3. Do rehearse. Know your lyrics cold.
4. Don't think you have to nail the song in the first take. Get comfortable, take your time.
5. Do have someone acting as a producer. It's too hard
to judge your own
6. Don't listen to your producer. If there is something you're not happy with, stand your ground.
7. Do take chances. The best takes are always ad-libs.
8. Don't feel bad if you aren't comfortable enough to take chances. You'll be back.
9. Do warm up your voice. Vocalize instead of singing songs lightly.
10. Don't forget the reason your in the studio . . . you love to sing!
My toast to tomorrow:
It is my firm belief that you cannot plan a career in the arts. Some artists are fortunate enough to be recognized, others are not. Neither is more valid. Every single one of us has a gift. It's up to us to share it -- for no other reason than to say thank you. If anyone ever told me twenty years ago that my vocal advice would be sought by talented singers I would have asked them for a hit of whatever they were on. I was an absolutely horrendous singer, with nothing more than a desire. Since no one else could hear my inner voice, I was advised, no begged, not to sing. So for years I was a closet singer -- literally. Fast forward to today and I find myself in some pretty amazing company. Had I listened to all that "well intended" advice, I would be . . . well I have no idea what I would be doing, but I wouldn't be as happy. It's one thing to pay lip service to the artist's journey but it's another to be on the front line each day. I am thankful to my students for reminding me of the importance of blind faith.
So raise a glass and let's toast to artistic courage. I sincerely hope that we all find the courage each day to cultivate our gift regardless of support from others. That we are wise enough to listen to criticism but ultimately obey our heart. That we do not abuse our spirit by comparing it to others. And that we remember to always appreciate our gift because, whether it pays your bills or not, our lives are still enriched.