Hi, I’m Mitch Seekins, The Vocal Coach. Ever wanted to know what it takes to be a pro vocalist? Welcome to my Sing Like a Pro Interview Series where you hear from the professionals themselves what it takes to do what they do. Oh, and if you like this and perhaps learn something, hit that subscribe button. I have more stuff coming.


This interview features the one and only Emm Gryner.


I’ve known Emm for many years now. She came to study with me when she was just 18 and a new student at the Recording Arts Program at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. She went on to become a signed artist, had a hit song, became a part of David Bowie’s band, started her own label, helped produce the first and only music video shot at the International Space Station, has become a motivational speaker, mentors people on establishing their careers in the music biz, hangs out with rock stars, became an author, just released a new album on top of being a mom and a gigging musician. I have to confess being a little in awe of her and I’m always curious to hear what she’s up to whenever I see her. The advice she gives during our interview is awesome. And to find out a little bit more about Em, be sure to check out those links below.


Hope you enjoy.


Emm Gryner, thanks so much for doing this. It’s really nice to see you again. It’s nice to see you every time I see you. I know, it’s always nice to see you. Yeah, yeah. We live, we live only like 40 minutes apart in two little towns (in Ontario) and I don’t see you enough, unfortunately, but… No, we got to get the farmer’s market back. Yeah, exactly. That’s the last time we saw each other is at the farmer’s market. Exactly, exactly. You’ve had a very busy fall, you’ve gotten married, you published a book, Lee’s Everybody. If you’re watching this, this is a good buy, like go get this, this is full of tons of stuff. And it has practically a whole chapter about Mitch. Yes, that’s my favorite chapter.


That’s bookmark.


So once again, thanks for doing this and I’ll just fire off some questions and answer them as honestly as you can. You don’t need to spare my feelings at all.


Okay. Honestly, when you asked to do this, I just jump at anything that you asked me to do because literally, if I can think of anyone who’s changed my life, it’s you. So what am I going to say? I know. Because I asked yesterday.


I like to deliver. Yeah.


Okay. So how old were you when you started singing? Like what? Tell me a little bit about your backstory. Well, I didn’t really feel comfortable singing growing up. Everything was fueled by songwriting for me. I really just like loved writing pop songs when I was 12 or 13. And then I realized I really want to sing them, but I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that at home. We weren’t really like an all out musical family. Like let’s all sing along. There was like kind of a lot of judgment in my house growing up. So yeah, I really didn’t sing out until later in life. But it was sort of like a dream of mine to be able to sing. Right. Right. Right. So when did you turn pro? So in the songwriting process, you were singing from basically what age? 15, 16? Pretty much. Yeah. Pretty much. And when did you turn pro? Well, what happened was I got asked to go into the studio when I was 16 by Carl Dickson, who is celebrated Canadian rock, rock and roller. Guy. Yeah. And he was the one actually who told me I should take singing lessons.


And as I say in my book, one of us had toured with Iron Maiden and it wasn’t me. So I trusted him. I really did trust him. Like, you know, you hear a lot of horror stories of like girls like working with people when they’re teenagers, but he was just a gentleman and really lovely. And so I really took what he had to say to heart. Yeah. And that is when I guess it was maybe when I was 18 or 19 that I found you.


So yeah, I think it was 18. I think I remember. Yeah. 18 in life. I know. I know. Full of life. And yeah, you would you would just begun the Fanshawe recording program.


Yeah. I’m writing that down. 18 and full of life because I’m going to make a new song. Absolutely. Yeah. I just started at Fanshawe and there you were like, again, I know you lived all over the place, but you were there in the town. Yeah. I had just, I had just opened up the London studio at that point in time. And how old were you then?


Oh God.


Uh, 30.


Oh my. How old was I? Uh, 25, 31 maybe. 31. Something like that. 32. I’m guessing. I’m guessing. Oh yeah. Yes. And I remember going to your studio and being kind of freaked out just because I was doing something new. Right. Yeah. And then, you know, someone was in before me and I heard them doing their warmups and I was like, okay, I know I’m in the right place. And yeah. After a few lessons, it started to become comfortable, right? But that first few. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Um, do you approach your vocals differently now than you did back then? I’m presuming you do. Um, you know, because not only is there an experience factor, there’s also the age factor and like, how, how do you, what do you, what do you do differently from when you were 18 to now, what’s your, what’s your mindset on that? Well, I love singing now because I think when you’re learning to sing, you’re always thinking, even in concert, you’re thinking about like, you know, oh, Mitch told me to do this and Mitch told me to do that. Or my teacher told me to do this. Right. So there was a lot of thinking about things and then maybe not feeling like I understood it totally.


And then I feel like there was a big chunk of time where I just like toured and toured and recorded.


And in that time somewhere, it just became like, okay, I know what I’m supposed to do. So now I’m just singing and maybe not that mindfully, but I kind of get it now. And now I don’t really think about all the tech technical stuff. I just sing. And I, like, I know when I need to like, oh, I haven’t warmed up enough. So go do that. Or it’s like you, it’s just part of you now. So it’s part of me. And that makes it more fun because it’s sort of like, okay, I know that before I do a concert, I’m going to be doing my warmups. No big deal. You know what I mean? I remember actually in lessons with you, like when you taught me all the warmups and I was like, what do you do when like someone’s looking at you weird when you’re doing these sounds? And I remember you just saying, you know, I got a job to do. I got to do it. Right. It is, it is your job. This is, you think I’m foolish. So be it, but I’ve got a job to do. And I’m on that stage and you’re in the audience for whatever, you know, it’s like, you know, other people have whatever software they have to get ready to do their work or whatever, like get ready in some other way in the morning or whatever. And, and so now it’s just part of me. It’s really part of everything I do. Even before this interview, I did a few warmups. So, ah, I didn’t, I’m just drinking coffee. That’s my warmup.


But that’s another thing. And I know like I’m bouncing around a lot, but like, I remember asking you like, oh, do I have to give up my coffee to be a singer? And you’re like, nope, you just have some water with it. So here I am. Like, I do this all the time now. Right. And I loved that about you because it made it feel like it could still be rock and roll. It could still be, you know, it didn’t have to be like, oh, like rigid, rigid. No, exactly. Exactly. Because you don’t want to think about that stuff when you’re on stage and you definitely don’t want to sing pop or rock like an opera singer or be rigid with it. No, no, no, no, no. It gets ingrained and stuff just starts working. You know, when you’re recording, like, do you think about the vocals that you record and how you’re actually going to produce them live or do you just this? These are your songs. You don’t even give the live situation any kind of a thought because, you know, I deal with a lot of rock, like rock singers or punk singers. And it’s in the studio is very, very extreme.


It’s a different ballgame when you get on stage. Yeah. You know, so I asked that question of everybody.


Does that really kind of apply to you because your songs are so well suited for your vocals or they’re always they always sit beautifully, you know? Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I think the whole reason I went into music is to kind of have fun and not have limitations. And so I think too much about how I’m going to pull it off live. It really makes the songwriting process not fun.


So even with my public record, that was a big production in London and everything with the orchestra. I remember the manager I had at the time going like, how are you going to play these songs live? And I just thought it was the most unsupportive question I’ve ever had because there’s always a way to do it. I mean, I think the only time I’m really mindful of it, I’m even thinking of it right now as I’m writing a new song, is I sometimes like it if both men and women can sing the melody. So sometimes I’ll like be a little bit more mindful of that, you know, kind of drop it down maybe a little bit. But it’s not not at the like cost of the song. You know what I mean? Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve I’ve had a fair number of people come to me and go, I wrote a great record. It’s great record. I can’t see it live. Help, you know, that’s kind of a good challenge, right? Because then absolutely. Yeah, you’re walking into something new. Yeah, you don’t want it always to be easy. And I think the human ear loves different ranges.


Well, yeah. And the human ear, particularly with rock, loves to hear that edge. You know, they’re getting to the edge. It’s a dangerous part. That’s the exciting. That’s the exciting bit, you know.


So warming up, how long do you warm up for for a show?


Well, probably 10 to 15 minutes now.


There is a point where, you know, when you taught me how to do the blending exercises, if I don’t do those, I’m not fully warmed up. So it’s about 10 minutes in.


Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Because you do want to extend the full range, you know, because it again, you know, I asked that question because I’ll get people going, oh, well, I warm up for a full hour before a show. And it’s like, that’s way too much. Right.


You’re wasting all the energy that you could use for the show. Yeah. You know, as opposed to just doing a stretch, you know, I’ve always thought you have to look at things like an athlete. An athlete’s never going to do a full workout before a competition. Right. Yeah. So 10 to 15 minutes ish. Yeah. I mean, sometimes 20. I mean, I do recall certain times where you say, you know, maybe don’t warm up as much if something’s going on physically or do more. Or do more. Yeah. Yeah. I think you just get to know your body and you know when your voice is ready to go. Ready? Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Cool. Have you, have you ever experienced any kind of issues while touring on the road?


Yeah. A couple of major shows I’ve been sick for. I’m sure you’ve talked about this in other interviews, but like when I did Saturday Night Live with Bowie, I was really sick, but that wasn’t me singing front, like being the front person.


And there was another backing vocalist, so I could kind of lean on her a little bit. Yeah. Um, I didn’t see some- Wasn’t that the first gig with Bowie as well? It was. So I, you know, now that I know things, I kind of think it was probably stress related too. Of course. Absolutely. Absolutely. And by the way, for anybody who doesn’t know, uh, am saying with Bowie for two years, two years for about that long. Yeah. We did albums together and yeah. Yeah. I remember getting that call from me. I was driving down. I, I, it’s a lot of years ago and I remember getting, I was driving down to 401 and you, you rang me and I picked up and you wouldn’t believe this. I’m sticking with David Bowie. He’s like, what? So I think I pulled off the, I waited chat with you about it because it was, that was pretty exciting. That was very exciting. It really was. Another time I did lose my voice in concert and, um, my fans had to like, sing my songs for me. Sure. You’ve heard that happen a lot, but, um, you know, and then another time before going out on the road with Holly McNarland, I don’t know if you guys remember her, but, um, I just thought I had nodes or something. And I went to the Dr. Hands, do you remember? Yes. Dr. Hands and strange dude, but company dude, uh, the ear, nose and throat doctor who is named Dr. Hands, um, he was like, yeah, you’re just dry. You got to drink a bunch of water. So those nothing major. And I honestly, I attribute that to my training with you because it’s not like I sang for like 20, 30 years. And then I, yeah. And then, yeah. Yeah. You came to see me right at the beginning. So that was perfect. That’s how I can have a large coffee. Exactly. Yeah. All day long. Exactly. And sing for the rest of your life and not have any, any, any issues, you know?


Um, do you, uh, like, uh, I, again, I always ask about, you know, vocal recovery after, uh, a string of shows, do you find that, you know, the voice gets quite tired? Is there, is there something that you do in order to deal with vocal recovery or it’s not really something you need to deal with?


It doesn’t seem to bug me or it’s not really anything I have to, I think, deal with other than just getting rest, which might be a boring answer, but, um, you know, sleep just makes everything better. I find after doing more shows, I’m more ready to go. Yeah. Again, I think that’s because of the way that we work together and how I’m fueled by my diaphragm, I’m not doing all my singing from up here. So less need to recover, I feel like. Right. Right. Um, big shows versus smaller shows.


What’s, does the mindset, does your mindset shift? Do you put more energy into one or the other or like, how do you, how do you mentally approach, uh, that?


Well, that’s a good question. I think in terms of the giving at the show, like I always think it should be the same. Like if you’re playing to 10 people or you’re playing to like 5,000, you’re giving the same, but you can’t approach a 10 person show, like you’re at Glastonbury or whatever. I know.


So I think there’s some like adapting to the audience, you know, making it about them, um, which Bowie was really all about. Um, so I learned that from him, but, um, yeah, just technically, I think that’s where the challenges come. Like I remember opening for Def Leppard with my band Trapper.


And I honestly, we weren’t on in-ears. We were on wedges because we were opening and there was, they were just like, okay, here you guys get whatever we’re going to put out for you. Right. The monitors and whatever. And, um, I can’t say that I actually heard myself through the monitors. Um, cause the guitars are so loud and the drums are so loud. So not ideal. However, um, knowing my voice, I could kind of just hear it in my head and knowing how much power I had to put out. I knew I was doing okay. And then in the arena, you’re obviously hearing yourself. Yeah. Slap back. Yeah. So then you just have to kind of just trust that, okay, this is when like your team becomes really important. Like I know my sound guy is not going to make me sound bad or whatever. Right. Like, yeah.


It’s more of like a technical adjustment for me. Yeah. Yeah. You, you need to sing by feel at that point in time. Yeah. That’s a really good way of saying it, which is sort of like, yeah, your eyes are closed and you’re like in the middle of the night trying to find where you’re going. You’re going, I know. But muscle memory, right? Like, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. As long as you’ve done your homework and you know, the song’s well enough, then it, you do rely on muscle memory. And, um, that’s not really fun because you’re always second guessing yourself. You know? Yeah. That’s when you just trust that, okay, the audience is getting what they need. And it’s ongoing, right? Like even I did this play, which you came to see, um, which was singing all these Joni Mitchell songs. Yeah. And, um, I think you came near the end of the run. And I think I did. Yeah. I remember like in the intermission, you’re like, you got like, let go. Like you’re like kind of tense or something. And I’m like, Oh my God. Well, I must’ve been tense the whole time because the show is almost done. And, but you know what? It’s like, uh, it’s, it’s sort of an ongoing learning process. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that. And especially with pop and rock, like it’s okay to not be perfect. Absolutely. That’s, that’s the, that’s the, uh, the charm of it is not being perfect. That’s what gives a person individuality, uh, something interesting. Uh, I’ve sung with people who are like great singers and man, it gets born real quick. And I, I don’t know if you saw the interview I did with Joe Elliott, but like he was talking about that, right? About like, you know, there’s some rock guys who are these impeccable singers and he’s never considered himself to be that, but that’s not what it’s about. Right. It’s about the passion. And I have to also like give a shout out to you because it’s not just the training, it’s just, you also have lived the life, like you have toured. So, you know, right. It’s not like just you’re in your chair, like no, having no idea about what it’s like to be on the road. Yeah. Really do know. And I think the combo of lessons with you and then just like getting out there and playing gigs, that’s where the magic happens because then you have a practical application and then I can come back to you. I remember coming back to you many times and just saying like this happened like


so we could discuss it. Right. Yeah. Yeah.


Is there anything in particular that we worked on that really stands out as, as a, as a game changer for you? Yes. So focusing the sound.


Focusing forward. Yeah. And solid tone because I was very breathy in the beginning. I don’t know if you remember this and it’s still a flavor in my singing. Oh, absolutely. It’s a texture. Yeah. But that is a game game changer for me. Cause now like I really can tap into that kind of a voice, which is maybe what I wanted all along. You know what I mean? Like it’s sort of like if you wake up and your voice is a certain way.


Like, yes, that’s natural, but you can work on it so that it can be multi-layered. Right. I think because of what you showed me, I was able to suddenly have all these different voices and now like I’ve been in a rock band, I did a jazz record, I toured with Bowie and made this yacht rock record. Like that is not normal.


I know.


I appreciate so much what you’ve taught me. Yeah. Um, that isn’t normal, but man, is it fun because then you’re never pigeonholed. You never stuck because you can stretch into different genres and, and play with them. Totally. You know, um, that, like I’ve always, I’ve always loved that. Do you have any, uh, personal tips for any new upcoming vocalists that you can think of other than study with Mitch?


No, seriously, study with you. I send people to you all the time. You know, I know you, you, you’re, you’re very good to me that way. I do have to, I do have to give you that the kudos for that. I really appreciate it. It’s not for you really. It’s for them because I know what’s going to happen, you know, if they see with you. And so definitely being consistent, like I would say, treat your vocal lessons. Like it’s a, like a meetup with a friend. Like you wouldn’t ditch your friend, so don’t ditch your vocal lessons. And then also just like get out there and have a practical application for it. Cause if you’re just learning in a bubble, it’s kind of not everything I think. Yeah. And relaxation, like I think the more you relax, the better everything is. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Um, you’ve had like an amazing career. Like, I mean, from solo records, hit songs, Bowie, did you not produce the very first rock video from outer space? I didn’t produce it, but I did like help make it. Yeah. Okay. Um, I still remember that, that story of you going for a walk in the woods and getting a call from some people at the space station. It’s like, who does, who does that happen to? I don’t, M that happens to you, you know, hanging out with rock stars.


You’re an author now you’ve, you’ve run your own record label and what it, what you’re, you’re, you’re mentoring or what, what, what is it you’re doing now as well as all the rest of that stuff? You’re, you’re guiding people on how to achieve goal. Like, what is it? Yeah. Well, it’s coaching. Um, so it’s a variety of coaching, like life coaching. I also do career consulting, but you know, at the root of it all is music. And it, I think, you know, it makes me a better coach that I am active in releasing music, you know, it’s not like a either or thing, but yeah, I love to help people and it’s also, you know, you have that passion too. And I honestly not totally sure where I’d be if I didn’t find you. So it’s nice to be able to give back, you know. Yeah. I’m, I’m sure you would have done fine. You know, the personality to be driven. I mean, I’m the same way. It was, it was my passion is what I wanted to do. Uh, not the teaching thing right off the bat, but it was interesting to find that I enjoyed the teaching just as much, if not more than the performing. Um, yeah, the life is as different and you’re also doing speaking events as well. Um, that’s a full life. Yeah, you know, it is, and I feel very lucky. And I think at the heart of it is just trying to share what I’ve learned. And it took me a long time to learn some things like it didn’t take long for us to, you know, to get me to a good voice, but in terms of life lessons and career stuff, a good like 20 years of just like trial and error. So if I can help someone avoid all that, uh, I’m really happy to do that. Right. Yeah, that’s perfect. And I will add a link in the bottom of the video here to people want to get a hold of you, they can, they can reach out to you direct, uh, and, and find out all about what, what it is you do. Cause, uh, I know that it’s helping a lot of people. So, um, cause I’ve worked with some of your people and. I can see where, where it’s taking them. So I think that’s awesome. So thank you so much for doing this on a always awesome to see you.


It’s not that early.


You know, and coffees and we just, we’re missing the danishes or something, you know, I know we should have got them delivered, but, um, yeah, if anyone’s watching study with Mitch, you won’t be disappointed. Yeah. There’s my ad for you. There we go.


Well, thanks so much. Yeah. All right. Thank you. It was awesome to see you and let me know anything else.


Absolutely. Thanks for watching. Stay tuned for the next episode coming soon. I’m Mitch Seekins – The Vocal Coach.