Finally! – In The Mix! The Michael Jeffries Story… (Part II)
Blog-Professional Singer Learned-Vocal SLS Mixing-SingLikeThePros.com
Blog-Professional Singer Learned-Vocal SLS Mixing SingLikeThePros.com. How Michael Jeffries’ learned SLS Mix-a prof’l story ‘w before & after music videos.
“Working with Alexys, I always felt the immense dedication he brings to teaching SLS. With that dedication, he was able to open the door for me!”Note: Michael Jeffries is a professional vocalist who experienced vocal complications then learned to sing via the SLS Technique. His story has been documented in an article split between Part I and Part II. I hope you’ll find it worth your while in examining both parts.
Finally-In The Mix!–The Michael Jeffries Story… (Part II)
In Part II, Finally – In The Mix, The Michael Jeffries Story, Michael and I talked about the development of “The Trainer” (which he believes will help singers who “pull chest” transition into “mixing” chest voice and head voice faster. We also continued discussing our various vocal experiences.
Michael shared his views about the music industry, while giving some insight into what he would request from record companies, if he was shopping for a record deal in today’s market. He shared his past experiences while recording the song Rewrite on the Family Affair album with Lenny Williams. Michael also discusses some recording aspects of Family Affair. The article includes interviews with Michael’s daughter, Anikol; and son, Mike J, their contributions to the project and their plans for recording solo projects.
Based on a few students inquiry, we shed light first on the creation of The Trainer. We pick up the conversation from Part I, where Michael explains how he finally learned to “mix”. After overcoming a major stepping stone with SLS Instructor, Alexys Paris, Michael still felt a need for greater confidence and created a listening device he refers to as The Trainer.
Introducing – The Trainer
Michael: What I did for myself was, I designed a device that I wore on my head. Something that would allow me to hear what the listener hears as I practiced. It allowed me to do 2 things.
Alexys: I remember the first time I saw the device!
Michael: First, it would let me know that, ‘Hey, man, it sure sounds different than it feels.’ Secondly, it would allow me to back off so that those exercises could be done correctly. Which meant, that over time, the muscle memory began to change; the vocal cord muscles got their proper exercise and they got stronger.
Michael: I wore that (device) for a while and now I don’t have to wear it anymore. For me, it was the one thing, in all these years of practicing and going to different people that made the biggest difference in my ability to do the exercises with confidence and correctly enough to allow my voice to get better. When Kathy Kennedy, (SLS IMT member), saw the device she looked at me and said, ‘You can sell that.’
I’m working on a prototype to make it marketable. I remember watching you cup your ear to hear while singing. Now, I know why you did it. It’s interesting that most people don’t realize the importance for a singer to be able to totally . . .
Michael: That’s right! Just to hear.
Alexys: Until they can let that go.
Michael: And you will never be able to let it go, until they hear it! The hearing it is what allows you to be able to let go, and the letting go is what allows the voice to get stronger. It’s like a catch 22. I also made one for my son, and a few other people. It works man. It really works.
Let me note that Michael is right about using ways to help one achieve their goal. I was told by SLS Instructors not to use my hands to cup my ears to hear while I was singing, but rather to rely more on how it felt than how it sounded. I did it anyway because it gave me comfort in knowing what kind of sound I was producing while practicing the SLS exercises. Furthermore, I would go into my recording studio and practice SLS exercises and songs with headphones on. I must add that this is not in keeping with SLS doctrine. But in sharing Michael’s experience as well as mine, I’ve reconsidered how I learned to mix and that very habit may have helped me learn the technique faster.
For me, after I began to mix, I had to reflect and retrace my steps to understand how the SLS Technique got into my body, because I didn’t realize I had made progress. I knew the lip buzz, and Muh, Muh Muh and Nuh Nuh Nuh (SLS exercises) were very helpful, and my instructor’s excellent expertise and vocal demonstrations were also very helpful, plus the sheer daily repetitiveness of the SLS exercises moved me from yeller to mixer. But it is not until now, that I must also reconsider that actually cupping my ear with my hands and using the headphones in my studio may have assisted in guiding me into the mix. If this is indeed true, then Michael Jeffries may have uncovered an important discovery in inventing The Trainer. The device would be an important gift to those who are hard chest pullers.
Alexys: Those parts of the knuckles (referring back to an example given in Part I Article) we talked about the 2 fingers and the first bridge being right at the knuckles, as the sound is produced in the first bridge. As it goes across the knuckles, it’s going into the parts of the vocal cords that are going to resonate into “the head voice.” Those parts of the vocal cords cannot be utilized with a heavier sound. You have to lighten up to get up in there.
Michael: If you utilize The Trainer, you will do it right. Because if you don’t you’ll hear it very loudly.
Alexys: I have students using their fingers and dropping their jaw with a real kind of dopey sound. I mean, I have them repeating it over and over – that really helps as well.
Michael: That was being done with me too. But man, I kept saying,’ I cannot use this dumb, duh, duh, duh kind of sound, you know.’
Michael: And nobody believes you’re not going to sound that way.
Alexys: That’s right.
Michael: What’s being done is – this whole thing is dealing with muscle memory.
Alexys: That’s right!
Michael: So, to re-program is harder than to program.
Alexys: Very well stated. (I couldn’t have stated this more succinctly).
Michael: Yeah. To re-program people like me and other folks that come to the plate saying, ‘Oh well. I can’t do it the way I’ve been doing it cause, I’m older now and my body won’t take it.’ Well, to re-program is harder than to program.
Alexys: That’s right.
Michael: That’s why I had to come up with some way to know that when I’m away from the SLS Instructors, I’m doing the daily exercises correctly. The biggest thing for me is that for years, I did the exercises faithfully, but I did hem wrong.
Michael: All it did was make matters worse. And so, since re-programming is harder than programming, you can’t afford to do that.
Alexys: That’s right.
Michael: The Trainer stopped me from doing it wrong, because you cannot do it wrong with that thing on. It will be so loud and you can hear all the strident sounds and strain. You will know that ain’t it!
Alexys: Right! (Laughing) Something’s wrong!
Michael: You put it on and you just back off into a lighter sound production in head voice register.
Alexys: Right, you drop incremental weight as you are moving upwards.
Alexys: You bring in incremental weight as you’re moving back through.
Michael: You also don’t hear the weight drop with the device on. …I would love to bring this trainer, this Speech Level Trainer to the light and let people who are smart will say, ‘You know I can see how this would help.’ It wouldn’t be just some people, but most people will be able to make that transition. Some people don’t have that problem, but for those who do, it would be great to be able to say, ‘Here, use this.’
Alexys: By the way, a few of my students have inquired about the The Trainer. What can you tell them in regards to perhaps creating one for them?
Michael: I could see making a few to help someone who could benefit from using it.
Alexys: And in SLS’ philosophy, you move the person into songs as quickly as possible. (Any student interested in obtaining a prototype of The Trainer, please contact Alexys about getting one made for you.)
After our discussion about The Trainer, we turned our attention to the “Family Affair” recording project, which is enjoying success in the UK. Be sure to check out the video advertisement of the project, below:
The Michael Jeffries, Daughter & Son Project:
Alexys: So, let’s talk about the Family Affair Project. Tell me about the songwriting and production of the project.
Michael: I’ve been so busy with this project and working and just having a life. It’s really involved when you are doing a record. And I’m really trying to get into the writing and the production.
Alexys: That’s a beautiful song, I love that song. (“Don’t Forget 2 Say I Love U”)
Michael: Thank You Alexys. You know, the reason I’m so busy is because I love what I’m doing and I don’t shun getting into it. And then we branched off into producing the video, it brought in a whole other element of just fun and creativity. It’s a lot of work too, a lot of work. I bought cameras, I built equipment; I’m learning cinematography, just like the recording. And, Playboy (a rap artist) and I are producing three videos for my project and two for his project. So, it’s really going well.
Alexys: Now, I have questions for your daughter and son. So, Anikol (Michael’s daughter) in “The Best” your vocals are very nice. What do you attribute this to? Who has been your most influential vocalist?
Anikol: Thank you… I really appreciate all the love and admiration the UK has shown us, we worked so hard on this album and we are all very passionate about the message to… Love your family, and enjoy them!
I’ve had so many musical influences in my life, of course my number 1 is my father, his dedication to music and perfecting his craft is amazing. Number 2 would be Mariah Carey and number 3 Stevie Wonder. I love them both; their vocal ranges are amazing to me. …
Alexys: Anikol, can you share your vision for your upcoming project?
Anikol: Right now, I’m focused on promoting our “Michael Jeffries Daughter and Son” CD and making sure everyone gets to hear the positive messages we have in each song. I think at this time the entire world can use some positive energy, and its important to remember to appreciate our loved ones everyday. In the future you can expect more good music, from all of us, both collectively and solo.
Alexys: Thank you. Good Luck to you.
Alexys: And for Mike J (Michael Jeffries son): Did you write the rap on “The Best”? Real Cool….
Mike J: I did and I tried my best to keep it in the same vein as the song.
Alexys: Where do you see you taking your vocals in your upcoming project?
Mike J: I would like to strengthen my voice and become more comfortable with my upper register.
Alexys: I noticed you have a very rich voice, big and round, which is good. It means it can thin out as it moves up into the upper register, which is required. Would you say you are a baritone or tenor?
Mike J: I believe I’m a tenor.
Alexys: Honestly, I’ll give some input here, as I always tell students “God knows what you are, alto – tenor – soprano etc. Let’s put ourselves on a discovery mission and find out what the capabilities of your gift are. With SLS, singers are often able to increase their range…” Just from listening to your vocals, I would not be surprised that you are a tenor and I would agree, there’s more ground to plow there with you as it is with most of us. Singing is a process with always more terrain to explore vocally. I hope you are excited about your possibilities; there are perhaps many doors to unlock in your voice…
Alexys: With that, Mike J, can you share your vision for your upcoming project?
Mike J: I have always loved ballads…maybe its because of the music I was exposed to growing up but I love music with emotion in it and Lord willing I would love to make music like that.
Alexys: If you’re anywhere close to being a chip off the block of your father, I’m sure you will…
Alexys: So Michael we’ve talked about a lot of things. Let’s talk about the music industry. What’s the difference in the music business from back then and now?
Michael: Well that’s not an easy one to answer because it’s such a huge topic. The music business today is wide open more today than ever. The advent of very capable home studios, digital cameras and the World Wide Web makes releasing records attainable for artist more today than ever. It’s by no means a cakewalk but the money required to do a good job is far less than it would have been back in the day. There is a growing culture of people interested in the Independent Artist and the music they make. That growing Interest is spawning a network of Internet and digital radio stations who focus on the Independent artist sector so it’s creating a worldwide forum for reaching the public. The problem that faces anyone in the record business is “how do we re-gain control of our Inventory (records for sale.)” There seems to be an un-natural paradigm shift asking the question of weather a CD is a product or advertisement? I still see CD’s as a product but there are those who feel it’s advertisement and the real product is the live show it attracts you to. Back in the day you could survive as a Recording Artist (with a hit record) without touring. Today record sales are down and bootlegging is up so to make ends meet (even with a hit record) you will need to tour.
Alexys: If a record company asked you to sign now, if you would, what would be your request or negotiation points?
Michael: Signing with a label these days will involve allowing the record company to encumber you in areas previously off limits (live performance, all of your publishing income and a hefty share of your merchandising). I would weigh the pros and cons and try to retain as much of my interest as possible. In an ideal situation, I would try to get a distribution deal that allowed me to retain ownership of the masters.
Alexys: Have any other members from Two Things In One had similar success you’ve had?
Michael: Well, they all have been involved in the business the entire time and we recently all got together for a listening session (checking out some old vault recordings) Everyone is doing well, as for their history, I do know that Kevin Burton recorded with Franky Beverly & Maze and received a Gold record for his efforts. Marciel Garner played with Sly Stone. Johnny Tucker and Michael Griggs both released records of their own.
Alexys: In your biography, you speak of the drugs being an issue in Tower of Power. I know you never did drugs, but in your opinion, did the drug use in the group ever get out of hand and how did you deal with that?
Michael: I did touch upon the issue of drugs, but I also said how wonderful it makes me feel to see the band drug free today and running the business of Tower of Power better than ever. If anything suffered from the drug use it was the running of the business of being Tower Of Power. I was 22 when I joined the band and I think most of my concerns were those being echoed by my Mother. The band had some bad press with the Rick Stevens incident and she couldn’t sort out who did what to whom. She was just against me joining a band with a bad reputation.
Alexys: I see. How long did it take to finish Family Affair?
Michael: We worked on the “Family Affair” record for about a year. I’m sure we could have finished it sooner but this project took on a life of it’s own. My two very creative kids had to cut their teeth on this one (I think they did a fine job) in both writing and recording. These things take time.
Alexys: Yes, I know. How do you feel about the production and songs?
Michael: I’m very happy with the outcome of the production and the songs but like any Artist we will keep changing it if we don’t step away and say it’s finished.
Alexys: How well is the Family Affair album doing?
Michael: We are getting some very good attention from the UK of which I’m really pleased to see. The music is being picked up by some very seasoned DJ’s that hear lots of good music, and to have them pick our music to play is a good feeling.
Alexys: How was it performing the “Rewrite” duet with Lenny Williams?
Michael: Lenny was great in the studio he just came in and laid it down. Bam! We had talked about doing a song together so I tried to write something that would work well for both of us and tell a good story.
Alexys: “Rewrite” feels it’s written from your real life’s experience. If so, would you like to share that?
Michael: Rewrite is actually relating to the life experiences that we all have. At one time or another we all have had situations that we could have handled better or would love to have a second chance at the solution.
Alexys: True, I can attest to this myself. I really love the title cut “Family Affair”. The music is well written. Are there any comments regarding this song?
Michael: I ‘m glad you were touched by the Family Affair song. I wanted to write a song that would express the oneness that we all have here on this rock! One Family, The Family Of Man!
Alexys: Beautiful! In the song “Make Sum” I think I know the answer to this, but who crafted the background harmonies, particularly the “Ooooooh Lets”!?
Michael: That’s a typical Michael Jeffries approach to background vocals. LOL!
Alexys: “Just as I thought. LOL! And, “Butterfly’s” a slick play on words… Any comment there…?
Michael: My contribution to “Journey On A Butterfly” was strictly melodic. My Production/Writing partner in crime Reggie Washington came up with the story (a beautiful one too). I can see this question being asked again so I better get it from the horse’s mouth soon.
Alexys: Great. The music sounds good. It sounds really good and congratulations on that too.
Michael: Thanks man. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of fun. It’s wide open right now because of the way the technology is for people who don’t have big record companies to come to the plate. Even though that’s kind of been a double edge sword because it hasn’t allowed people to control inventory, you know. But, the love of it is what keeps us going.
Alexys: That’s it. You said it! Thank you Michael, Anikol and Mike J for allowing The Alexys Paris Voice Studio to share your experiences in your vocal training and the recording project.
Additionally, I would love to thank the editor of both Part I & Part II, Ms. Philosopher, Juanita Wyles, who recently received her Masters degree in philosophy!!! Thank you Ms. Philosopher!!!
For a more in-depth article about the SLS Technique and its benefits, go here: Free Voice.
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Advanced Instructor – Institute for Vocal Advancement(IVA)