Thursday, January 21, 2010

"They Only Want to Hear Belters"

Thursday musings...

I hear that more times than not...

"I need to learn to belt, they only want to hear belters!"

First - who is "they" and uhm, no they don't!!!!

Can a singer learn the mechanics of belt? Of course! Does it mean that they will be a "belter" in the type-sense? NO!

WHY? Because NOT ALL THEATRE ROLES ARE FOR BELTERS!!!!!!!!!! And sometimes, directors want to take a role a different direction.

Here's an example: A production of Les Miserables is auditioning. Girl after girl goes in for Fantine - screaming/belting/yelling. hmmm - let's look at the character: a young woman, a prostitute, a woman who has had a child and has given that child away for a better life; she begins to dream and remember and wonder....

And lo and behold, a singer enters the room and sings in a beautifully engaged mix - and finds nuance in her voice and tells the story and creates a character....and the CD and Director look up and sit back and put their pens down and LISTEN because it is TRUE. And when said singer is finished she is thanked for not screaming and for making their day.

Wow. Imagine that.

So casting directors want to hear what YOU do WELL!!! (and CDs correct me if I'm wrong please!!!)

Louder is not better. Belters are a certain voice type to go with a certain character type. Belt is not required for EVERY character in EVERY show for EVERY singer!!!

"They" do NOT only want to hear belters! They want to hear YOU and what you do well and hear you according to your TYPE.

Singers in the music theatre business who are pursuing this career need to DO YOUR RESEARCH. You need to STUDY your voice - learn what it does, learn how it does it, learn what it can do! You need to study TYPE, study STYLE, study theatrical device and what shows require what voices and what types!

You need to know HOW you fit into these things. You need to know how to say NO and save yourself; You need to know how to say YES and jump in!

There are too many people in this "business" wasting people's time. Either you learn HOW and WHY or do something else.

This business of music theatre and the craft of developing as a performer and many as artists is not American Idol. It is not instant, it is not for ratings. It is for REAL. It is not for dabblers or wanting to be a star!

You cannot DO without a foundation of knowledge under you. That foundation grows over TIME and EXPERIENCE. Developing a voice that is uniquely YOURS is critical for your longevity!

Do you know what your voice is capable of doing? Can you DO it? Can you summon it?
Have you claimed YOUR UNIQUENESS? Are you on your way to claiming it?

Or, are you just dabbling and making blanket statements and wasting everybody's time?

"They" - whoever is sitting at the table, doesn't only want to hear belters!!! They would love to hear good singing! PERIOD! They want to hear a singer who knows their voice and can deliver a song that is stylistic and shows a possibility! NOT ALL ROLES ARE FOR BELTERS!!!!!

Those of you who believe this, need to begin to discover what singing IS and how to do it.

Even belters should be able to find a "legit" sound on command. If they can't, their voices are not aligned. Simple.

Louder isn't better. Loud isn't strength. Loud isn't belt. If everybody belts, nobody does.

"They" want to hear what you do well. They want to hear your voice and see your type. They want to see an emerging artist and emerging performer who KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING.

That demands consistency, discipline, devotion, passion and dedication. Pursuing a career in this business is not about dabbling or finger painting. Developing your artist spirit isn't about wishing for it. Building a voice and a reality of knowledge isn't instant.

It is REAL WORK. It is about asking questions. It is about BEING REAL.

"They" want to hear belters when the role demands a belter. "They" want to hear and see that you know what you are doing - otherwise - you will get a vacant smile and a dismissal.

Perhaps it's time to change the statement to "They only want to hear ME" - and if the role isn't a match, it's not because you didn't bring YOURSELF; they just need a different type.


Educate yourself - find the knowledge, gain understanding. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY if you say you want to be in this business. Find the teachers, the classes, the information and then WORK ON IT DAILY.

Then and only then will you see what you CAN do.


  1. Every single word of this is exactly correct. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Joy.

    Singers remember what a very well-respected Casting Director has just said!!!

  3. I have to say I am in slight disagreement in your last two posts.

    "They" are the casting directors who submitted the breakdown. "They" may be the casting directors and/or conductors who prefer an sound that's on edge, that IS more like a yell, that is NOT a healthy mix.

    I think it really depends on the show and the taste of who is casting. As you point out, there are different types of belt. Louder is NEVER better, but I will say that there are shows where they DO want a power belt that is border line yelling, a sound that does NOT sound easily produced.

    Sure, lots of singers who sing this way won't last long, but it makes for an exciting show. I will never forget a friend of mine telling me about a tour of cats they were doing. THe Grizabella cover was supposedly an equally good actress and infinitely better singer than the one doing the role--she had a high, easy mix belt that went up and up for days, sounded as effortless as say, Shoshana Bean. You listen to Shoshana, and you are never, ever worried that even her highest "belt" notes aren't going to happen. The woman actually singing the role was full out chesting/yelling, not mixing, and could barely hit the notes, it was always strained and tight. BUT--the audience went WAY nuts for it much more so than the singer with a great mix. Why? Because it sounded on edge--it sounded difficult, like she wasn't going to make it. It may not have been healthy, but it's what the audience responded to better and went nuts for-It excited and thrilled them almost to "root" for her, in part because that modulation sounded SO difficult for her, they could hear that she was struggling. The response to her was always apparently much stronger than her cover with a more easily produced sound.

    Speaking of Shoshana Bean/Wicked, take a listen to this clip of Idina Menzel on an "off" night:

    Whether or not Idina is sick here or not, she obviously doesn't have a "healthy mix" to rely on--she is a "yell belter"--and there is a huge, huge market for this, whether we approve of it or want to believe it or not. There are many casting directors who prefer this type of tight, edgy power belting to the ease and beautiful technique of a belter like Shoshana Beane, or one of my newest favorite "mixers," Natalie Weiss.

    As someone who started out as a belter, (I didn't even know what head voice was at 16!) I get comments from time to time from musical directors and agents in auditions who want full chest and almost no vibrato, (a sound I consider to be "yell") who say they think my sound is "too legit" even thought I KNOW there is not an iota of headvoice in my full out chest belt.

    In an age where grinding, growling, and breathiness have become the trend with the recent popularity of "pop/rock" theater shows, I have to say I feel your students' pain, even as someone who is a confident belter. "They" aren't always looking for a healthy, easy sound, unfortunately.

  4. Marcy - thank you! and the point is this: There is no concensus about what belt IS - or what legit is for that matter...thus the issues we deal with. We are in no disagreement at all. I just didn't approach the blog from that direction, but I completely agree with you.

    Sadly you are correct...cause often many CDs don't know the differences. But if WE don't, as singers, we are vocally screwed. Singers and teachers NEED TO KNOW what they CAN do and make the adjustments as they can.

  5. "Vocally screwed"...I love that.

  6. This post strikes such a chord with me (so to speak). My entire career path was shaped by this kind of thinking -- I wanted to be a Broadway singer as a teenager, but I wasn't willing to push my chest voice up (since that's what I thought belting was). So I pursued classical music instead, under the belief that "there is no room for a legit mezzo in musical theater."

    Now that I've left the opera world behind after 15 years and rediscovered musical theater singing, turns out I've got a killer healthy belt, once someone showed me how to do it right. If only I'd known, I wonder what path my life might have taken. No regrets, just curiosity....

    I guess the question is - is there room for a 30-something legit mezzo with a tasteful belt in musical theater today? If so, do I have energy to go after that?

    Great food for thought, Susan.


  7. Natalie - YOU BET!!!! What we don't discuss is the average age on broadway - the AVERAGE age is 36!!!!!!!!!!!!! That means there are people younger but certainly actors MUCH OLDER. All shows and characters are not 22 and younger...

  8. My daughter was told about a year ago by a well-known NY casting director that she had a lovely voice, great for revivals, but not for new shows. Since then she's been trying to teach herself to belt. (Her voice teacher is classical.) I don't know if the results are correct. And I'm afraid she'll mess up her gorgeous soprano voice in the process. How can you tell if it's "healthy" and correct or not? She swears it doesn't hurt but she sounds ragged after a few repeats of the same 16 bars. A new accompaniest last week said she was "over-belting". She's 16 and a half. She's an "Ariel" type in looks and sound. Do we need to head to NYC for some help? What really happened to Julie Andrews?

  9. I think you need to trust your gut - she WILL mess up her voice especially if she's sounding ragged and tired quickly. You cannot teach yourself to belt at 16 - you need the guidance of a teacher who understands what it takes!!! Learning HOW doesn't mean she has to do it!!! Again, she needs to develop the totality of her voice and see where it leads her. You need to head to a teacher that will teach her healthily!

  10. AND just because one CD says something, doesn't make it gospel!!! Everybody has an opinion - you take it with a grain of salt, because ultimately at 16, the voice is barely an embryo in development...
    "Over-belting" sounds like pushing, which means she's doing it incorrectly. She needs to sing well and sing with HER VOICE not just jump on a bandwagon because someone who doesn't know her says her voice doesn't suit certain shows!!! NOBODY'S VOICE SUITS ALL SHOWS! She has to find HER FIRST.

  11. Let's be honest here. "They" don't always know what they want. Even if they think they do. How many times, in all kinds of situations, have you chosen something that wasn't on your original list of acceptable options. Maybe you weren't in the mood for Chinese food until you passed by the restaurant and damn it smelled so good and now that's what you want.

    So yeah they say they want a blonde until a redhead knocks their socks off and they change their minds. Does that always happen? No. But often enough.

    I'm not suggesting that people show up for auditions for roles for which they are completely inappropriate. But people have had success getting roles a little or even a lot against type so if you know you can do it, go for it. (And if you know you can't, don't waste yours and everyone else's time.)

  12. Hi Susan,

    Reading your article has really inspired me! Honestly, I've always wanted to be a professional singer, but I always knew I wasn't going to be a good belter. I started to lose sight of my dreams with thoughts of "Oh I'm never going to be a belter, and they won't want me" and "I'd better resign myself to a life without musical theater, because I'll never make it." I had given up before I even started! But your article reminded me of why I want to sing - it's when I can truly be myself. So I'm going to stop thinking about how much I wish I had so-and-so's "belty" voice. Instead, I'm going to develop MY craft, and be proud of MY voice, and touch the audience with ME. Thank you so much for helping me find my way again!