In the course of developing your voice, learning other people’s songs is a given for any vocalist.

However, there is a big difference between selecting songs to build your voice, and selecting songs to create unique covers that can be made your own.

At The House of Voice, we help vocalists through this particular process. However here are a few handy hints of what to keep in mind within this process:

Identify your style and arrangement choice as an artist

  1. Identify what style you are going for, how do you want to present it?
  2. Do you enjoy acoustic covers, elaborate covers (ie. full production) or experimental covers?
  3. What type of artist are you: indie artist, lyrical contemporary, ballad pop artist?
  4. What are your vocal strengths and how would you like to highlight this in the style of the cover?

Its really important that you ascertain what type of singer you are, what style you intend to sing the cover in, what kind of personality you wish to infuse into the cover, and what you wish the cover to highlight in you/your voice

With this in mind, its then far easier to imagine your sound into pieces as you research them.

Be prepared to look outside the box

In your research for potential covers, favourites or what is hot right may seem the most attractive.

However, I encourage students to look at a whole range of songs.

Look past the style and the quality of the arrangement (especially if it sounds dated in its production) and focus simply on the melody and vocal line. Is it catchy? Is it distinctive? Is it captivating?

The whole idea of a cover is to reimagine what the artist has created. So even if you don’t like the voice of the artist, look at the potential to insert your voice, style, rhythmic shifts, key changes and reimagined chords.

The best covers often come from unexpected places, so explore all genres, eras, styles and research Movie/TV soundtracks for hidden gems.

Keep an open mind and experiment with bare basics

Start collecting an audition list of potential songs.

Grab the sheet music and if you have the skills, play out the chords to get a sense of what the piece is at its bare basics.

If you can’t play piano, grab an instrumental (an acoustic/piano one if at all possible) and experiment with it in a program like Ableton.

This will give you a sense of whether the piece has potential for further work minus the usual production that comes with the song.

I cannot re-inforce enough the power of singing the songs you come across in this way, even if the impression initially wasn’t totally awe inspired. Don’t just listen to them, try them out!

You are you, and your vocal tone/style will change the entire song. So even as you search for songs, hum the melody and try and see where it sits in your voice.

I have often had singers reject a piece initially and then when they sing it are totally transformed in their thinking.

Make sure there is a connection

Make sure you love the piece!

Whether its because you initially connected to the lyrics, or that the melody line moved you or that once you started working on the song (as suggested in bare basics) it resonated deeply within you – make sure that you connect to the song at a heart/soul level.

Being the song has been presented to the public before, people will see right through a version that does not connect.

It won’t matter what fancy work you have laid out in the song, if you are not there, neither is your audience.

So even in keeping an open mind about cover song choices, make sure you are connecting!

Make sure it has potential

Make sure the piece sits in the correct tessitura/range for you, that it sits in the appropriate key for your voice (experiment here) and has some changing sections which will help take the piece somewhere special.

If you are an intelligent musician, of course you will be able to create a build into any song (whether it exists already or not) however its always nice if the song already has the appropriate fluctuations, and will offer you something unique to play around with vocally and/or musically.

Be careful when covering classic songs and distinctive voices

Some artists have a really distinct style eg. Lorde, Florence and the Machine etc be very careful when covering these artists as audiences hold a lot of possession over their sound and creative choices.

If you do anything below par that could potentially make these songs too different or take the sound too left of centre, your contribution to a new style within the song may be quickly rejected.

Equally if you sing a Classic Powerhouse Song and attempt to make it an indie or dance/pop cover, audiences may get a little out of sorts unless you completely reinvent it.

Try to remain tasteful and ask for as much feedback as possible in the workshopping phase.

Sometimes artists tread a fine line – so makes sure you assess carefully whether its the right song and whether you have the appropriate skills creatively to pull off the cover with ease and grace.

Photo Credit: “Present_Stage_Performances_Color (277 of 278)”, © 2015 rawartistsmedia, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

All content within “How to choose a cover song for your voice”© Alisha Gartland – The House of Voice 2015