This column originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Canadian Musician magazine.
By Carson Richmond
In 2017, I attended a Shawn Mendes concert in Vancouver. It blew my mind and my heart wide open. That night, I knew there was nothing I wanted more than to perform on stage, and have fans sing along to my music. What an amazing life that would be!
Until that point, I enjoyed singing cover songs and fiddling around on the piano. But after watching Shawn, I realized having passion is not enough. You also need discipline to learn your craft. To grow as an artist, you must align yourself with the right people and commit yourself, even when it’s difficult.
Calling all Coaches!
My first goal was to find a vocal coach who could help me build on the raw skill I had. I met with a number of incredibly talented coaches in Vancouver, and I have no doubt that any one of them would have helped me improve. But for me, the key was to find the one who I had a spark with. Singing is such a personal experience, and I wanted to find someone who could not only teach me the technical side, but who could connect with me in a way that would help me reach my full potential. This was a key point for me, and one I would encourage anyone looking for a vocal coach to do. It’s about skill and talent, but it’s also very much about comfort and fit.
How do you know which coach is right for you?
Don’t just focus on the coach’s background, think about your own. How do you like to learn? Do you want someone who is very hands-on and technical or someone who is comfortable with following your creative lead? Are there specific techniques you want to work on or are you open to what a coach might present?
What’s your end goal – Broadway, opera, or singing in a rock band?
In my case, as someone in his early teens, I needed a vocal coach who could help me get through the challenges of puberty, including voice cracks and working on exercises that would allow me to extend my upper range.
You will be spending countless hours with this person, so think carefully about what you want to accomplish. I would recommend interviewing with four or five coaches before deciding. It’s important to surround yourself with the right people, but even more important to surround yourself with the right people… for you.
My first vocal coach and I worked together for two years. We would meet once or twice a week, and she became like family. During that time, I developed my voice in ways I never thought possible. I developed the range and vocal control I have today due to the countless hours of vocal exercises, warmups, and range progression exercises. But an important part of developing as an artist is knowing when to step away so that you can keep growing.
After two years, I made the difficult decision to leave my amazing first coach in the hopes of finding someone who would challenge me in different ways. I was beginning to record music and wanted to find someone who could help me in that area. I’ll admit, this was exceedingly difficult for me. My first coach was an incredible teacher. So much so that she, too, knew that her student needed to challenge himself in new ways. This meant finding someone who understood what I wanted to achieve technically, as well as from a performance perspective. Ultimately, the coach you choose needs to create a balance between the right learning environment for you and your end goals.
As I was transitioning to a new coach, COVID-19 hit. Lessons and performances were first cancelled and then moved online. Through some trial and error, I found my current coach, who I have never actually met in person. Being online made it difficult to build an easy connection, but after a few practices and patience from the both of us, we started to find that important spark. Although this virtual approach has been a new way of learning, and the level of engagement is different, I can definitely say that I was learning more than I thought I could.
I am now singing with riffs to enhance my performance along with vocal exercises targeting the higher range in my voice. This coach focuses more on what I need at the moment instead of building from one lesson to the next. It’s a different way of doing things, yet through the process I see that I am improving and growing my higher range, which has allowed my recordings to be more diverse than I believed they could be.
I see my career in music as a life-long journey that includes always trying to better myself, no matter the performance level I have mastered. This is a challenging and competitive industry. Achieving more takes commitment and dedication. You can love something and even have natural talent, but you still need to put in the hard work. My best advice is to connect yourself with talented and like-minded people who understand your dream and who are committed to helping you. This might mean performing melodies you are not normally drawn to. This might include going through several teachers until you find the right fit. This might have you connecting with new musicians so you can explore a different side of yourself. This might also be as simple as singing in the shower and loving every minute of it.
Carson Richmond is a young singer, songwriter, and pianist from Vancouver who is currently recording his first official release with two-time Grammy-nominated producer Emile Ghantous. You can find out more at www.carsonrichmond.com.