Beware of Snake Oil

Beware of Snake Oil

 With the advent of shows like American Idol and The Voice, there has been a resurgence of interest in voice training.  At the same time, a booming industry of people catering to aspiring singers has emerged.  While it’s crucial that you find the right mentors to improve as a singer and performer, how do you avoid the hucksters who are trying to make a quick buck, but whose services are of questionable value?   Here are a few rules of thumb that apply.


  • Beware of “quick” fixes and “easy” results.  Music is a discipline that takes many years and long hours of practice to master.  Yes, you can get there more directly with the right teacher or coach, but no one can give you results if you do not dedicate time and consistent effort.  Reality TV shows like those mentioned above don’t always give a realistic portrayal of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.


  • Watch out for “one size fits all” approaches.  While videos or recordings of voice exercises marketed on the internet may be helpful for some, they can be neutral or even harmful for others.  Voices are as individual as people.  The same exercises done in subtly different ways or done by people with different vocal issues can have very different effects.  Be cautious if you use these products, pay attention to how you sound and feel (NEVER do anything that hurts).  In particular, if you have professional aspirations, you should invest in a qualified voice teacher who can individualize your training.


  • Steer clear of miracle cures.  There are many products such as lozenges, teas, sprays, supplements, etc.  that are marketed to singers that supposedly improve your voice.  While some of these products might be soothing if you have a cold, in the long run there is nothing that you can apply, spray or ingest that will take the place of mastering vocal technique, or following common-sense vocal health guidelines.


  • Be skeptical of anyone who promises to “make you a star.”  There are many, many people who dream of becoming the next Beyonce or starring in a show on Broadway.  However, according to a 2013 study by The Next Big Sound, a whopping 90.7 percent of all musical artists are wholly undiscovered, while only .2 percent go on to be “mega” stars.  The remaining 9.1 percent includes many who are part-time musicians, or perform for fun on the side. Don’t give up on your dreams, but be realistic and work on becoming a better singer because you love it,  not because of any imagined pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


  • Surround yourself with teachers, mentors and role models who are encouraging, but honest.  Don’t waste your money on a teacher or coach who is not supportive; I’ve never seen anyone improve by receiving a barrage of negative criticism.  On the other hand, being flattered instead of being told the unvarnished truth just holds up your progress; you need to be able to honestly assess your weaknesses (and we all have them) in order to address and overcome them.

Keep your eyes open, research carefully before you make a commitment to a teacher, product or course, and always trust your gut.  As with many other things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Good luck on your musical journey,and most of all, enjoy it!



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