Casting Frontier - How Singing Benefits All Performers: An Interview with Jenny Karr
Of all the qualities that make humans unique, language is one of the most impressive.
But of course, language is complex. As author Maya Angelou said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
Someone who understands the power of the human voice more than most is Jenny Karr. As a singer, songwriter and voice instructor, Jenny has collaborated with some of the most iconic talents in the music industry. These include Elton John, Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears.
Jenny feels most people want to sing. However, fear and insecurity prevent performers from learning new skills. A question Jenny often hears is, “How can I build confidence, and master auditions?”
Well, today we answer those questions. We had the opportunity to speak with Jenny about singing help, confidence building and songwriting tips. For her, singing and songwriting are beneficial to every kind of performer. With Jenny, facing the music never sounded so good!
Getting To Know Voice Teacher Jenny Karr
From an early age, Jenny was drawn to music. The beats, rhythms and lyrics pouring out of her speakers not only entertained, but helped shape her ideas of reality.
“I’ve been interested in singing ever since I was little, “ Jenny says. “You see, I grew up close to Atlantic City, and in the summers I’d go to sleep-away camp in the Poconos. That’s where my interest really bloomed. I lived for the musicals and plays they put on there. Then when I got to high school, I was introduced to a lot of different cultures and types of music. I enjoyed listening to people like Quincy Jones and Irene Cara. For me, I loved the way music made me feel. It was essential to my development as a human being.”
After high school, Jenny moved to New York. There, like most aspiring performers, she struggled to muster the courage to take her singing seriously. Eventually, enough was enough. Jenny knew that if she was going to have a shot at success, she’d have to battle her insecurities head on.
“When I moved to New York, I started working at record labels,” Jenny says. “There, I’d keep telling people I was a singer. But of course they’d roll their eyes and say okay sure, you’re a singer. Often, I was just too scared to immerse myself in it. Finally, I moved past my fears. I started singing at these R&B open mic nights. That’s where I made a name for myself. Soon, I was doing background singing for Sony Records. After some time, I was called in to do studio sessions. Well, the first one I sang on was Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love.” It ended up being a hit, and was my big break.”
Songwriting, And Embracing The Unexpected
For Jenny, there was no question that singing brought her immense joy. But as she collaborated with more and more artists, she realized she had a knack for writing hooks and lyrics. Soon, Jenny saw songwriting as a further tool in refining her strengths as a performer.
“After the Jennifer Lopez record, I started getting more serious about songwriting,” Jenny says. “Before that, I had never written a song. My whole attitude was I’m a chanteuse. I don’t need to write. But, a lot of major songwriters started calling me to sing on their demos. And whenever I would do that, they would have me adlib from time-to-time. To my surprise, I became very good at ad-libbing. After that I thought, well, I think I’m a writer. I began pursuing it, and had beginners luck. The first song I wrote ended up being a top ten single in the UK.”
Jenny echoes Henry David Thoreau’s sentiment that success often comes from the unexpected. For her, people should embrace the unexpected rather than hide from it. Especially when it comes to one’s art and career.
“Songwriting was something I happened to stumble upon,” Jenny continues. “Everything was a learning curve with it. But once I came across it, there was no turning back. It created an awakening within me. There was a writer inside that I never knew was there. And that’s an important aspect I keep in mind when working with clients. It’s all about helping people tap into talents they thought didn’t exist.”
Jenny’s Move To Voice Instructor
As demand for Jenny’s singing and songwriting increased, she became interested in the role of voice instructor. Often, Jenny would hear someone say, “My voice sounds awful. I can’t face casting calls.” But in the world of performance, words like “good” and “bad” are insufficient.
For Jenny, what matters is finding the vocal style that best suits the emotions and personality of the individual. Through this practice, both performer and instructor can learn and grow stronger.
“Everyone goes through a personal evolution in how they learn things,” Jenny says. “Either they seek out knowledge, or they acquire it accidentally. Because I was involved in a number of big projects, I had a lot of people approaching me to collaborate. But, I never knew instructing people about song and voice was going to be my path. Once I started though, I found it incredibly fulfilling. It’s beautiful giving back, and I learn so much from the people I work with. It’s this constant back and forth of learning and teaching. Everyone is learning something from someone. You’re creating, and being creative together.”
Building Confidence When It Comes To Performing
Embracing the role of voice teacher, Jenny soon developed her personalized vocal program called Everybody Has A Voice.
With it, Jenny offers a number of sessions that tackle the technical components of singing and songwriting. These include vocal range, tone and timing. But the program is more than simply refining technical concerns. In fact, its main purpose is to overcome one of the most significant obstacles of auditions and performance: insecurity.
More often than not, a lack of confidence will sabotage casting calls and performances. Jenny knows that people put themselves in vulnerable states when they step on stage. For her, laying a strong emotional foundation helps to balance all other aspects of performance.
“It took me living in New York 5 years to finally step onto a stage,” Jenny says. “But once I did, there was no turning back. It’s all about building confidence, and practice is an important confidence builder. Whether it’s singing or acting jobs, a performer needs to take the focus off themselves. In terms of my own evolution, there came a point where I just couldn’t fight the desire anymore. Getting on stage was something I had to do, whether no one clapped or they gave me a standing ovation. From that point, your confidence begins to rise. “
With Jenny’s singing lessons and songwriting tips, clients start with simple exercises to become more familiar with their vocal range and abilities. For Jenny, it’s about taking each aspect of performance, and dedicating the appropriate amount of time to its cultivation. Jenny believes this is how confidence is able to last.
“When I’m instructing someone, I help to build confidence by starting small,” Jenny continues. “First, we work on our breathing and becoming more familiar with our voice. This involves seemingly simple things like finding a tone and the right key to sing in. Proper breathwork is a major weapon against fear. It helps you to visualize and focus on the tasks you want to complete. From there, the actual singing tends to flow out from the performer more confidently.”
Although it can be nerve-racking, Jenny encourages beginning singers and actors to find ways of performing in public. Persistence pays in this type of career. Only through preparation and repetition will one be able to develop the necessary creative stamina.
“Now, for people who have never really sung in public, I would recommend signing up for an open mic,” Jenny says. “Yes, it’s going to be scary, but here’s where preparation comes in. Practice is key to all of this. If you’re going to make singing and performing your career, you have to get used to putting yourself center stage. It’s about finding a song that speaks to you, and not being afraid to fail and repeat the process.”
From The Shower To The Stage Workshop
Often, a person is fine belting out their favorite song in the privacy of their home. Truth be told, a good number of us have probably attempted the moonwalk in our living room. But as soon as we feel we’re being watched, everything changes. We become self-conscious, and that once-passionate air guitar is put away.
For Jenny, this phenomenon surrounding performance is all-to-familiar. That’s why she created her “From The Shower To The Stage” workshop. In it, Jenny addresses how to overcome fears relating to auditions and singing.
“Do you ever notice that you sing your heart out when no one is watching,” Jenny says. “People act and perform differently when they think they’re not being watched. Or for that matter, when they are being watched. All of a sudden they become their own worst critic. As a voice teacher, I believe that working in an intimate group setting, or with a performer one-on-one, allows a person to take more chances. And before they know it, they’re performing in front of large audiences.”
Whether acting jobs or a concert, Jenny believes a performer must connect with the material they’re channeling. This attention to words and lyrics allows the individual to shape their performance to the story being told.
“I think it comes down to connecting with the language of a piece,” Jenny continues. “It’s about taking the focus off ourselves, and really connecting with the lyrics, music or story you’re trying to tell. Also, we should stop comparing ourselves to other people, and building ourselves up way too big or way too small. You have to take judgement out of the equation. During my singing lessons, we also discuss stage fright and where it comes from. We want to understand the things we can’t control versus the things we can. We can’t control stage fright, but we can control the preparation that goes into performance.”
Finding What Makes Your Voice Unique
A phrase Jenny hears often is, “Sure, I’m interested in singing and acting jobs. I just wish I had a better voice.”
This sentiment is common amongst many would-be performers. But as a vocal teacher, it’s an attitude Jenny feels should be put aside. As mentioned, when it comes to being a singer or songwriter, Jenny doesn’t believe in “good” and “bad.” For her, the objective is to discover what unique component will allow a person to stand out and make the piece their own.
“I think the greatest thing is to not sound like everyone else,” Jenny says. “What I really enjoy is working with people on finding music that compliments their voice and words. Everyone is different, and that’s what I love about working with so many people. Finding those weird, neglected qualities in the voice. Even taking the fear that someone might have and using it to build the emotion of their singing. It’s an element that can add quirkiness to someone’s performance.”
To help illustrate this, Jenny points to iconic artists whose voices are not traditionally attractive. Despite this, they use these unique qualities in conveying emotion in powerful ways. Something she believes is essential for artists at all levels.
“I mean, take Bob Dylan for instance,” she says. “You can feel the emotion in his voice. It’s not what you would call a traditionally good singing voice, but to me it doesn’t matter. I’d rather listen to him than to someone who lacks emotion. Music and songwriting are all about emotion. That’s what I try to help my students with. I want them to discover the kind of emotion within themselves that’s going to move people.”
Singing Lessons Benefit Actors Too
Too often, Jenny encounters actors who disregard singing. The attitude is well, I’m not going to be in a musical anytime soon, so why should I learn to sing?
In Jenny’s opinion, this is a careless mistake. Acting jobs require a performer’s vocal range to be diverse. Think of singing as a secret acting power tool. By strengthening the voice through song, an actor can tap into modes and tones that help in their casting calls and auditions.
“I think in this day and age, the more skills you possess, the better your odds are of booking a gig,” Jenny says. “It’s good to be versatile on stage, online and on set. It can be the difference between landing a part and not. I feel singing is very connected to speaking, and having a wide-range of vocal tools is vital as an artist. But I also think there’s a disconnect when it comes to singing and acting. Often, when actors are asked to sing during casting calls, they’ve never done it before and are scared. A voice is for business, pleasure and fun. The more confident you are as a singer, the more confident you will be in your life.”
Even A Professional Needs A Voice Teacher
Jenny is quick to point out that even the most seasoned performers can use a vocal teacher. Whether it’s songwriting or singing help, each artist has a unique set of obstacles they are wrestling with.
For Jenny and her singing lessons, the objective is not to impose her own sensibilities on the artist. Rather, it is about finding their voice, and guiding it to reach its full potential.
“I think everyone has to start somewhere, and my clients range from beginners to professionals,” Jenny says. “I think every individual has needs no matter what level they’re at. It’s always good to have a different set of ears when absorbing a piece of material. Often, you want someone with experience who can see things differently. Remember, even the greatest singer or songwriter is human. They get sick, overworked, and make mistakes. I think if you’re going to be in this business a long time, you have to manage disappointment very well. We all need tweaking, no matter how experienced we are.”
Performance is not a solo act. Although actors and singers may perform alone on stage, the people guiding them behind the scenes are just as important. It is for this reason that Jenny encourages artists to surround themselves with positive people who will turn frustration into creativity.
“I think successful artists surround themselves with people who are there to help share in, and bring out their experiences,” Jenny says. “I have friends who are some of the best singers in the industry, and even they need sounding boards. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who has it 100% figured out. I think we need people with experience. This includes both life experience, and professional experience. We all need these types of sounding boards no matter where we are on life’s ladder.”
Singing Help Starts With Nutrition
Let’s face it, singers have not always been the best models for nutrition. As much as we adore his music, Keith Richards’ health regimen may not be the most conducive for artists.
Along with practice and repetition, Jenny says a proper diet and exercise is essential in helping a voice stay healthy.
“Nutrition, sustenance, and stamina are super important,” Jenny says. “We all need to be strong, centered and balanced in order to succeed. I think everyone needs to pay attention to what their body is saying. Sometimes as humans we are very susceptible to fear-based myths. Everyone’s like don’t do this, but I would say pay attention to your body. If something doesn’t feel good, then don’t do it. I also think everyone is different. Overall, stay hydrated, eat healthy and exercise. A healthy body is a healthy voice.”
Of course, this attitude is important in sustaining one’s overall health. But as a voice teacher, Jenny also has a specific tip that’s worth considering.
“I do have one trick, and it may not work for everyone,” Jenny continues. “I like to do a small shot of hot sauce before a performance. It clears my throat and wakes me up. Of course, you might find another vocal teacher who says hot sauce destroys your voice. But for me and my singing, it wakes my voice up, and brightens my tone. In the end, you have to do what feels good and makes common sense.”
Wrapping up With Jenny Karr
The human voice is both powerful and fragile. It has the ability to entertain, inform and inspire. It is a tool that voice instructor Jenny Karr believes should be respected and nurtured.
But too often, a voice is silenced because of fear and insecurity. More than anything, that is what Jenny wants to combat. And through her workshop, she aims to balance preparation with spontaneity. In the end, the hope is to promote the unique voices helping to shape the future.
“People are their own worst critics,” Jenny says. “Although it’s not easy, you have to learn to ignore these negative feelings. The same was true for me. My insecurity was the hardest hurdle to overcome, but I did it and made a career out of it. I’m an example of what happens when you overcome your fears. It’s knowledge that I now want to use to help people in achieving their goals.”
Lucky for us, Jenny’s words and music continue to ring true.