A version of this article was published in the Bath Weekend magazine on January 7.
For Vocal Coach and Music Lecturer Lee Risdale, the key to becoming a successful singer is passion and persistence.
Lee, a professional vocalist for two Soul bands, started work at Bath College with a real desire to work with other singers.
Over the past few years, he has tracked the careers of former students whose musical talents have made it into the newspaper headlines.
The list includes Stos Goneos, from Bite the Buffalo, Chris Georgiadis, singer for the rock band Turbowolf, and Matt Sellors, part of the Bristol-based ska punk band Yes Sir Boss!
Most famously, Lee voice coached singer songwriters Gabrielle Aplin and Laura Doggett, who came to Bath College to study music performance at the age of 16.
Chart-topper Gabrielle, who signed a deal with Parlophone Records early in 2012, found herself in the spotlight after covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love for John Lewis’ Christmas advertising campaign.
The 23-year-old keeps in touch with Laura, who was in the year below her at Bath College and found fame when her single Old Faces was used for the new Broadchurch trailer in 2014.
“I could tell they both had their own distinct style and they were each talented for sure,” says Lee, who is researching what makes a truly successful singer.
“Laura had a distinct voice for a female – quite a low and rich-toned voice – and I didn’t want to change that. Sometimes you know when someone has a unique quality. It’s about exploring that quality and making opportunities to develop it.
“Gabrielle’s voice is stylistically more folk/rock. It had a lighter style at first and very soulful, then it got a lot stronger from touring.
“My favourite song of Gabby’s is ‘Home.’ She performed it at the Christmas lights in Bath. When I first heard it I thought ‘That’s a really good song. I thought ‘that deserves to do well.’.”
Lee’s research will form the basis of his new book: The Voice – Mind, Body and Soul. For the book, he has spoken to singers, voice practitioners and professionals around the world to find out what it takes to become the Complete Singer.
In Lee’s opinion, great singers have a certain mindset, combined with the self-discipline needed to develop their skills and an ability to express themselves musically with raw authenticity.
“To become successful in any skill it takes persistence,” says Lee. “Gabrielle and Laura both had a real passion for music and that’s where it begins. They both soaked up styles and music from their favourite artists while pursuing their own unique style.
“As to becoming a star, that’s something different. Not all stars or celebrities have great talent, but they do possess something: a certain mindset.
“You need to have a certain mindset so you don’t hold back. It’s about breaking down barriers and breaking out of comfort zones.There is a work ethic, too. Sustained success takes dedication.
“It’s always interesting to see with any students we have here. They come in at the age of 16 and they haven’t always had the opportunity to express their own music.
“There seems to be a eureka moment for every singer when they latch onto a particular style and they realise what they can do.
“I remember Laura being at the piano. She had written a song and played it and the whole room really fell silent. She got a massive applause afterwards because it was just a beautiful song.”
To many finding fame as a professional singer seems like a fairy tale come true, but in reality professional singers need to work hard to build up their strength.
At Bath College, Lee teaches students vocal exercises to help them extend their range and advises them how to look after their voice.
Next January, he will be sharing his expertise with performers and musicians starting on a six week part-time course.
“Building strength and flexibility and preserving our voices is where the self-discipline comes in,” says Lee.
“There are things you can avoid. Dairy products and Chocolate are things to stay away from because they cause a lot of mucus. Chocolate tars the vocal cords – it makes them less flexible.
“I gave Gabrielle a list of vocal exercises to take with her on her first tour and I know she still uses them. They’re the same vocal techniques that Seth Riggs devised in training Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder before gruelling tours.”
Lee’s course, an ‘Introduction to Singing,’ is open to beginners and performers or musicians who want to improve in vocal confidence and build up a repertoire.
At the end of the course, students will have the opportunity to record their own cover or original song in a professional studio.
“This is quite a special thing,” says Lee. “Not only will singers get to improve and develop, they will have something to work towards and a great reward at the end.
“The level you start at doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re getting better. Singers often compare themselves with other more experienced or successful singers and it doesn’t always help that our culture champions competition such as the shaming X-Factor TV shows.
“We have to remember that the race isn’t against others. The race is simply with ourselves because all voices are different and unique.
“That’s the beauty of it. Sometimes you may have to work harder than others depending on your life experience, but that’s ok because it’s so very worth it. We have an incredible Music Team here at Bath College and each of them is worth their weight in gold.”
Lee’s course starts on January 14. For more information click here.