Melissa Cross is not your average vocal coach. She is recognised international within the metal genre as the woman that has helped to coached the likes of Corey Taylor, Matt Tuck and Angela Gossow and now she shares her thoughts on vocal training with us. We discuss her own personal journey into the music industry, techniques and plans for the future.
“It’s okay not to cough blood”
S] What keeps you inspired as a vocal coach on a daily basis?
MC] I live for the moment when I see the light flash in a student’s eyes; where everything makes sense and their path is clear. When all the contrivance and ‘wannabe’ stuff melts away, a very necessary honesty comes through the voice.
S] How did you get started?
MC] I decided that I was sick of typing all day in order to pay my rent and band expenses. I quit, and I went down into the NYC subway to ‘sing for my supper’. A lot of wonderful things happened to me then because at that point, I had found the courage to do what I loved in every moment of a day even if it meant busking underground. I got ‘discovered’ as an artist down there, but more importantly, my first student appeared down there as well. I discovered that I loved teaching and that I was born to be a teacher. My background in music schools and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School had given me enough to get started, and my love of teaching has made it easy to stay with it. My clients are my best teachers.
S] What is your biggest challenge as a vocal coach dealing within the metal genre?
MC] The biggest challenge in teaching extreme vocals is convincing my clients that brutality must remain in the mind and not the throat. It is hard to convince them that it’s okay not to cough blood. Like many things in life, achieving success with this stuff is counter-intuitive. In other words, a lot of people think they have to be murderous to sound murderous, and it should never actually physically feel like it sounds.
S] When did you first realise that you wanted to focus on the metal style – can you remember a specific experience?
MC] Many years ago, my friend took me to a Slayer and Megadeth show. I was in the balcony looking down at this sea of writhing passion in the pit. That undeniable unity of spirit reminded me of the time when and why I got into music in the first place. I knew that I had to be a part of this pit thing, but I didn’t know how. Two years later, that friend is a producer in Connecticut working with bands whose singers can’t get through a recording session without completely losing the ability to make sound. He asks me for help and well, two of those singers turned out to be from Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. At that time, they were completely unknown. I guess you could say the rest is history, ya know? It kind of fell into my lap like it was meant to be.
S] What has been your defining moment thus far in your career?
MC] I would say that there are maybe two defining moments I can think of at the moment. One of them was presenting a lecture and master class to the Voice Foundation, a very well respected symposium of scientists, vocal physicians, and mostly classical and musical theatre voice teachers. The research project involved Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe, hooked up to a spectogram (displays sound waves and their overtones) with a camera down his throat while he sang ‘Now You Have Something to Die For.’ It proved that the masterful scream entailed the same overtone spectrum as that of the masterful opera voice. The second defining moment was very recently when I joined Tom Araya of Slayer on their first date of The American Carnage tour with Megadeth and Testament. I will never throw away my laminate for that one!
S] Will you be creating another ‘Zen Of Screaming’ DVD and how will they expand upon your previous two?
MC] One of the most important discoveries that I made early on in my teaching career was that the only way to effectively teach singing is to impart the knowledge in a completely visual language, otherwise it just doesn’t work. The new DVD will use very cool visuals to inspire helpful imagery to make singing easy. It’s called ‘See The Sound‘ and hopefully it will blow your mind. The DVD will be digitally delivered at a stupidly cheap price in a multiple of languages to make it more accessible and available to anyone who needs it. There’s a book coming to and a bunch of other cool stuff including a new extra website!
S] On a similar note, are there any other exciting projects that you are working on currently?
MC] I am working on a ‘webisode’ series involving artists that I work with on the road. I also continue to present research and master classes to the Voice Foundation so that I can teach teachers how to work with the genre.
S] Who have been some of the most fun people to work with and why?
I love all of my clients equally but all for different reasons. I would say that working with Randy Blythe is extremely enjoyable, because we connect on so many different levels. It’s the same for Corey Taylor (Slipknot / Stone Sour) and Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath.
S] For any aspiring vocal coaches that might want to follow your lead, what would your advice be?
MC] Pick up the DVD, open your mind, and call me if you have a problem. Try to understand the music, commit to understanding the physiology and keep your opinions to yourself. Just the facts, only the facts!
S] How would you advice that vocalists looking to start out in metal make the first moves to find their voice and beat back any nerves?
MC] Just get out there and keep doing it. The more you do it the easier it is, just like with anything else.
S] In your opinion, is it within everyone to scream as well as sing in some form?
MC] Yes, although there are some that will find it easier than others.
For more information visit the official website.