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Choose Your Vocal Genre Strategically! (Vocal Style for Your Goals)

Choose Your Vocal Genre Strategically! (Vocal Style For Your Goals) &Raquo; Atv%20Blog%20 Genre
???Don’t even let me get started on sub- and combined genres!!

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Choosing the vocal style you should sing can be difficult if you are a new singer and have no idea what genre you should try. It’s also difficult if you’re a veteran singer who can sing just about any style you want, and are confused about what style is best for you. In this blogpost, I’m going to give you some help to make that choice strategically. 

First, consider your vocal goals – what do you want to do with your voice?

1. Do you want to gain vocal skill, or to snap out of vocal boredom? Try singing songs in genres that are new to you.

  • When you get out of the comfort zone of singing styles you’re familiar with, you can expand your voice’s skill set in several ways, such as wider vocal range, new vocal licks and embellishments, more precision and control, different tone colors, phrasing choices and rhythmic feel. 
  • Exploring styles you’ve never sung can help you see if you’re missing another type of music you would love and could do well. Or you may find some new vocal stying you could integrate into the genre you normally sing, breathing more life, nuance and uniqueness into your singing.

2. Do you want to perform in situations that require you sing multiple genres well? Choose to get very good at singing all of the ones you’ll need.

  • If you want to get work as a studio session or road tour singer, you don’t want to limit yourself to one choice of genre. A nickname for this type of vocal career is ‘stunt singer’. You could be hired to sing on many different styles of music, and with radically different kinds of singers. If this is your goal, the more genres you can sing well, the better. You might want to get some training and/or spend quality time listening to the masters of each genre you want to ace.
  • It can help to be able to cross genres if you want to compete in talent awards shows. They want you to show extreme vocal ability, often requiring a lot more showy technique than would be authentic for the normal genre of the song. Or a contestant could excel by beginning their performance in one genre and ending in quite another, such as when Christina Ramos began a stunning performance of a classical song and suddenly morphed into the rock classic ‘Highway to Hell’, getting her awarded the golden buzzer on Spain’s Got Talent.
  • You might want to be known for extreme, genre-crossing vocal ability, such as the artist Pia Toscano who placed 10th in 2011 American idol. I saw her being featured in an Andrea Bocelli concert where she began with a stunning performance of the soulful ‘I’m Feelin Good’, then joined Bocelli for a beautiful classical duet. 
  • You might want to be able to sing formal genres such as choir music or classical art songs, then be able to change musical languages and do popular genre songs.
  • You might just want to sing some great karaoke, where you can jump styles of songs and have a lot of fun impressing your audience! 
I’d still recommend you learn to sing each genre skillfully, authentically and without strain.

3. Do you need to zero in on your artistic definition?

For the best chance of success, a music artist should launch their public career with a clearly defined  musical style. This is a major part of what’s known as artist branding. So if you’re an artist, choosing a genre that best defines you becomes vitally important. Yes, an established artist can change or explore other genres and reinvent themselves successfully, but for new artists it’s best to choose one main genre in which to create, perform, market and promote music. 
Though music is not sold in nearly as many brick and morter physical stores, the digital stores and awards shows are sorted into separate categories of music. So in a practical sense, settling on one genre helps you find and develop a fanbase that will discover and support you with tickets, streams and votes!

When you’re ready to drill down:

Again, don’t rush the process. It may not take you long, or you could experiment with singing several styles of music for a couple of years. Then when you feel ready, sit in a quiet space where you can focus and ask yourself these questions. You might consider running these questions by a trusted advisor or coach who knows you well:
  1. What does my voice love?
  2. What does my heart love?
  3. What do I want to learn?
  4. What’s commercial?
Let’s dig into each one:
  • What does my voice love? 

What style of music does your voice feel best singing? This includes such style factors as vocal licks, runs, scoops, rhythmic phrasing pocket, typical melodic complexity and vocal ranges of songs in the genre. Consider what is the most natural for your vocal ability, which includes “nature” (the size, density and other characteristics of your physical instrument) and “nurture” (the current level of vocal technique and stamina that you’ve developed).

  •  What does my heart love? 

When you sing or hear music that moves you, what genre or style is it? When something genuinely moves you, you can make a safe bet it will have a passionate audience who it would also move, and who could comprise your fanbase.

  • What do I want to learn?

What do I want to do with my voice that I don’t know how to do now? Do I want to learn to sing classical music, authentically deliver folk or country, develop some r&b riffs, find the vocal control to sing jazz or bluegrass, learn to articulate differently for or from musical theater or gospel? Do I want to power my voice for rock or wide-range pop country songs, or experiment with the rhythmic pocket and rhymes of hip-hop?

  • What’s commercial?

What kinds of music are selling? What is successful on radio and in venues I’d like to play? Where can music purchasing and ticket-buying audiences for a particular style be found? What groups of people am I already engaged with? What interests, sports or hobbies do I have that connect me with people who might be interested in my music or with organizations that hold events or sponsor entertainment?

Then combine these questions: 
  1. What genre is selling and has good fanbases that…
  2. my voice can confidently sing or that I want to learn to confidently sing and… 
  3. that satisfies and moves my heart and delivers the messages I want to share.

This is the best way to pursue the business of music. Your priority is on the music, not the business; you let the music drive the business. To do this, don’t over-think it. But don’t limit yourself if all it would take to have the vocal ability for what your heart wants to sing and that people want to hear would be some training and experimentation. Take the time to do that!

Case Studies of genre-choice outliers:

  • Rejecting Genre Limitation: Eva Cassidy Story: 
For a great example of music driving the business, discover the amazing story of Eva Cassidy. She chose not to limit the genres she sang; instead to perform the music that satisfied her own heart. In her case, no label would sign her because they couldn’t define her. However, Eva had dedicated and passionate fans and the way she sang every song- her voice itself – became her artist brand. By all accounts from those who knew her, she was more than satisfied during her lifetime with her choice to keep her voice aligned with her heart. Then after cancer took her life, she became a music legend. Her music lives on in demo and live performances that have been sold in over 4 million albums and have been placed in many movie soundtracks. I would say she chose well!

  • Combining Genres: Julia Loewen Story: 
If you look at the Wikapedia page for music genres, you’ll see a virtual TON of catagories and subcatagories, and you’ll notice that many are genre combinations. Julia Loewen‘s story illustrates this. Julia is a classical music teacher and vocalist in Eastern Canada whose CDs have been
distributed in over 120 countries.. She shares a dramatic personal story of trauma and healing, and many years ago, she felt the need to expand her reach. She enlisted Kayla Morrison to help her with her dream, and Kayla contacted me. I suggested a cross-genre approach, combining her vocal skill, heart and messaging into a style we termed ‘Celtic Christian Rock’. I cowrote the songs with Julia and Kayla and was honored to produce the album, using top session players in Nashville including Sam Levine who played authentic Celtic instruments. This inter-genre project, titled “Into The Light” successfully extended her audience for the messages she wanted to share, now including her ministry to prison inmates.

  • Crossing Genres: Songs that jump styles:

If you’re a songwriter, your dream scenario is for one of your songs to be successful in wildly different genres. For instance, the song “I Swear”, written by Frank Myers and Gary Baker, was a hit country single for John Michael Montgomery and also a hit pop/r&b single for the band
‘All-4-One’. The song written by Dolly Parton ,‘I Will Always Love You’, was a
hit country single for Dolly and an R&B hit by Whitney Houston. The genre
is determined by the singer’s vocal style and recording production choices. If
you’re a singer, it can be a successful strategy to take a hit song and change
its genre to fit your voice and your audience!

  • Shifting Genres: My Story: 
Mastering genres and changing them drove the music business for me. As a child I learned to sing country, folk, and gospel with my amateur family band. As a teenager I added a love of rock and pop. At 17, I started session work at a local studio in Jacksonville, Florida. I also took a course in classical music in Jacksonville University, learning some Italian Art songs which became instrumental in recovering my voice from endotracheal tube damage. Continuing my studio singing in Memphis, Tennessee I found myself immersed in R&B music, which to this day is one of biggest influences on my voice. I also joined a top-40 cover band, singing songs of such diverse artists as Carol King, Karen Carpenter, Chaka Khan, Grace Slick, Tina Turner, the 5th Dimension and Brazil 66 singers. I also sang backgrounds for R&B artists at Hi Records, country artists at Lyn Lou Studio, and on black gospel music recorded in many small studios. Then I moved to Nashville, continued my session singing on records which included many traditional country stars, a few rock sessions and even some international pop sessions. It was important that I could sing just about any genre you put before me.
But then came the record deal and I had to drill down. My country artist career covered some songs that were considered progressive country at the time, flavored by all those other genres of my early career. After that season ended, I did another record, this time with my husband, that we catagorized as Americana. Full circle… that catagory allowed us to combine genres for the music that our hearts wanted to make!

Bottom line:

So as you see, strategically choosing your vocal genre to sing is both important and also something that may change over time. My advice is to start by deciding what you want and need to do with your voice. Once you zero in on that, then you can choose the musical genre or style that will help you reach your artistic goals. When your vocal goals change, your vocal genre choice can, too!

Need Help?

If you’d like some help getting your voice to do what your heart loves, hit me up for a vocal lesson or get a Power, Path & Performance vocal training course. I’d love to help you do it! Please leave me a comment… I’d love to know your thoughts!

Originally Published on

Judy Rodman Vocal Coach

I'm an award-winning vocal coach, recording artist, live performer, public speaker, published author, songwriter, musician, studio producer, blogger, podcaster and vocal consultant with over 50 years of success in the music and voice industry.

As vocal coach online globally, I help develop, maximize and protect voices of singers & speakers who seek to make the world better with their messages and artistic influence. My students and recording clients have appeared on The Today Show, Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, The Voice, American Idol, America's Got Talent, Grammys, CMA, ACM & MTV Awards Shows, New York Times Best Seller list. They include major and indie recording artists and labels, artist development companies, touring and studio background singers, national public speakers, radio & TV personnel, teachers and voiceover actors.

My career credits include being voted ‘Best Vocal Coach' by Nashville Music Pros, 'Vocal Coach in Residence' by TC Helicon's VoiceCouncil Magazine, #1 and other top-10 Billboard singles as artist on MTM Records, winner of Billboard's and ACM's 'New Female Vocalist' award, BMI 'Million Air' award.

I'm a published author with several vocal training packages on disc and as online video courses. My blog and podcast ‘All Things Vocal’ have received over 2 million views and plays.

With thousands of studio credits, I produce country, pop, rock, singer/songwriter and r&b projects, working in the studio online and in-person. I also specialize as vocal producer on teams headed by other studio producers, and create arrangements and sing background vocals.
Member of SAG-AFTRA, BMI, AFM Local 257, ACM, NATS, I'm based in Nashville, Tennessee.

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