I want to answer the question, “Can all actors sing?” because a lot of people think that the answer is “yes.” Over the years, I have had an amazing lifetime of working with so many actors who were in the position to do singing projects and I will explain you why this is a myth.
Here’s everything you should know if you want to both sing and act:
1. Acting & Singing require different skills.
2. Chest, middle and head voices are a learned skillset.
3. Sing with emotions like you act with emotions.
4. It takes work to become a great singer.
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Hi, I’m Roger Love, celebrity voice coach and author of the bestselling book Set Your Voice Free. Today, I want to answer the question, “Can all actors sing?” because a lot of people think that the answer is “yes.” Over the years, I have had an amazing lifetime of working with so many actors who were in the position to do singing projects, for example, when Reese Witherspoon called me, and she said she and Joaquin Phoenix were going to do Walk the Line, the film where Joaquin was Johnny Cash, and she was June Carter Cash. And the thing was, neither of them considered themselves singers. Reese had done a little bit of singing in high school, and she could carry a tune, but Joaquin really hadn’t spent even a lot of time at birthday parties, focusing on being the one in tune, singing Happy Birthday, even when it was his birthday.
So, I started with them on different levels of them being, of course, amazing actors, but not really being singers. And you might be thinking to yourself, “Look, once you’ve learned to be an actor, once you’ve learned to deal with being presentational, once your self-confidence is so high that you can actually get in front of a camera, that you can make movies, that you can act, then surely you must be able to take those presentational skills and then let them come out of your mouth attached to melodies,” that if you have all of those assets as an actor, self-confidence being on the top of the list, that surely when you open your mouth to sing, what’s going to come out is going to be magical. But let me say, “That is not the case.” That is hardly ever the case, and I really explain to actors and non-actors that acting and singing are two completely different skill sets, absolutely different.
Let me talk about that right now, so you understand why I think that way. When you are singing, it is your responsibility to hit specific notes, melodies that are happening, that are key to that particular song. So, the composer of the song wrote melodies, and some of the notes are high, and some of the notes are low. And there’s a specificity that happens trying to sing those melodies. You know that. When you’re sitting in the car, or you’re at home, and you’re singing along with your favorite artist, and you’re trying to hit all the notes that they’re hitting, can you hit them all? Sometimes you can hit most of them, but sometimes some of them are really hard to hit. They go high. They go too low. You have a low voice. The notes are high. You have a high voice. The notes are low. You can’t hit them all, even if you’re a pretty good singer.
So, the idea is that to create sound is its own skill set. To be able to create chest voice and middle voice and head voice, and to be able to go and use melody, the specific melodies in the song—that’s a learned skill set, totally aside from whether or not you’re shy or self-confident, or you take good pictures, or you’re handsome, or you’re beautiful. It’s different. You have to learn how to hear music, and then you have to learn how to make your body create those sounds. Actors who never really grew up singing didn’t create that kind of technique. They just became good actors. So, if you’re an actor who has to sing, you still have to learn how to get your voice to go high when you want it to go high, and hear the difference between this note and that note.
So, it’s not a given, believe me. It’s two completely different skill sets. Also, actors are often incredibly surprised to learn that, when I ask them to sing songs, they feel like they’re overacting. So, what happens is that—let’s say they’re acting, and the camera’s in front of their faces, and it’s more—today’s movies are very much realistic. The person who’s acting is not going like, “Oh, that hurts me so bad,” and over-exaggerating facial gestures and sounds, and being absolutely ridiculous and not believable. It’s very believable. Cameras are in their faces. When they move their eyebrow the tiniest amount, it’s a big deal. When their lip moves just a little bit, it’s a big deal. So, the camera creates a very, very close view for the viewer, so acting is a lot more subtle than, for example, if you were standing on a stage and doing Shakespeare, and the audience was way out there, and there were no cameras, and there were no mics.
So, singing is like over-acting, because there’s so much music. There’s the drummer, and the drummer’s going [drum imitation], and the drummer’s loud, and there’s a guitar player, and they’re going [guitar imitation], and that’s loud, and the bass player’s loud, [bass imitation]. There’s a lot of competition in the sound, in the music, of the song. So, when you go to sing, if you sing subtly, if you try to sing as if the camera was in your face, often you don’t sound emotional at all. So many times, I’ll take a great actor, and I’ll let them sing, and they sound like they have no emotion whatsoever, zero. They act with all this emotion, and then they go to sing, and they just sound boring and monotone and lifeless. It’s because the music swallowed them up, and I have to teach actors how to actually overact for singing, and that’s a skill set in its own. And you probably didn’t realize that, because you haven’t been faced with that task.
And so, it worked out beautifully with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, and the film won awards, and she won an Academy Award. And then, I moved into the film Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell, and that worked out beautifully, took more actors and taught them how to sing, and he won Academy Award for best actor of the year, and then I did Begin Again with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, and that worked out great and was a huge box office success. And my recent film that I just finished is with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and it’s called A Star Is Born, and it literally—I took Bradley Cooper, who is an incredible actor, and I helped him find that part of his talent that was a singer, because he wasn’t singing before, and he transformed into this amazing singer. I can’t wait for you to see that film, because you are going to be blown away by how an actor had to become a singer.
And also, you need to understand something. Some of these people that I work with, Bradley and Joaquin—these are some of the hardest-working people in the world. Joaquin used to sit in front of a stereo for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours, and then, after he’d do that, he’d sit again and, for hours and hours and hours, listen to Johnny Cash and try to get all the sounds in. So, the work ethic that’s needed to become a great singer is a high work ethic, even if you are already a great actor.
And most people are more familiar with actors who suddenly decide they want to sing, but there’s plenty of singers who decided that they wanted to act. Justin Timberlake was a singer who became a good actor, Beyoncé—singer who became a good actor, Barbra Streisand—singer who became an amazing actor, JLo—singer, dancer, who became an amazing actor. But they worked their butts off to make it.
And here’s the other interesting thing. People think that, if you’re a good actor, then you’re probably a good singer, which—I’ve already dispelled that myth—and if you have that, maybe you’re also a good actor/singer/dancer. And if you’re a good actor/singer/dancer, well, then, you’re a triple threat. I know some of you have heard that phrase. “Well, if you want to make it in the music business, if you want to make it in the entertainment business, you’re going to need to be a triple threat,” which traditionally meant that you could sing, dance, and act. And if you could do all those three things, like Beyoncé, or like JLo, then you were going to up your chances dramatically to be a famous entertainer.
Nowadays, it’s even harder, believe it or not. I say, today, you need to learn how to do five things. You’ve got to be a five times threat. You need to be able to sing, dance, act, and then, you need to be able to write or co-write your own songs, so that you’re singing about things that you want to sing about. And after you learned how to sing, dance, act, and write or co-write, you have to learn how to market yourself, because you know how many times people come in to me, singers, and they’re like, “Look.” They look good, and they perform well, and they write great songs, but their record companies look at how many views they got on their videos, and “Oh, you only got 3,000 views on your latest video? Come back to me when you have 250,000 views.”
So, nowadays, singers have to learn, not only how to sing and dance and perform, which is part of acting, but also write, and also market themselves, because we live in a world where we’re not depending on the record company anymore. We can do a song in our basement, and then we can put it out on the Internet and have the opportunity of thousands, potentially millions, of people who say, “Roger, I really like that song. I really like the way that you sing.”
So, I’m not trying to scare any of you from wanting to become singers or entertainers or actors. I just want to dispel some of the myths, that people think that, if you can do one category, that somehow you’re going to find it super easy to do all the other categories. The answer is, you have to learn, learn from the best, learn the best techniques, and every time you learn something, when you learn to be a better dancer, you have better rhythm, you become a better singer. When you learn to be a better actor, you have more emotional control, and you learn to sing better, and you learn to use your body better. When you learn to write songs, or even co-write songs, you start to get your brain working, and then you have things that are really passionate that you want to say, which makes you a better singer, because you’re singing about things that you believe in, which makes you a better actor, because you believe in the words, which makes you a better dancer, because the things you believe in are more attached to your physiology. But the goal is to just be aware that you can learn so much, because the information is so readily available.
So, today we learned whether or not all actors can sing, whether or not all singers can act, and the answer is “no.” The great actors who want to be singers work and become great. The great singers who want to be actors work and become great. And the sky’s the limit. Whatever you want to happen with you, make it happen. I’m Roger Love, and I look forward to hearing you next time.