Representing emerging & established talent

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For our latest blog interview, we were delighted to interview the renowned Matthew Shaw, the singing teacher of countless successful performers and also the Artistic Director of Seedtime at London Studio Centre.

Twitter: @MatthewshawShaw

How long have you been a singing teacher?

Ooh, about 6 years… before that I was MD’ing as well as teaching.

Top 5 shows you currently have clients in?

Hamilton- I have a few leads, Dreamgirls- I have about 15 in that…Les Miserables, Motown….and Kinky Boots.

What is your style of teaching?

Technical stuff. So when they first arrive, we pinpoint 3 or 4 things that muscularity wise need changing and very often it’s things like they are breathing too much, they are using too much muscle tension. I work with a lot of dancers and they are a totally different thing to actors as they have a lot more muscle tension. So we start with recognising those things first and then look at very specifically the exercises they need to do to in order to get better. So I would say technical first, and then when they progress further and further we can talk about the acting and that kind of stuff.

Anything else they should expect from your class?

Rep stuff I will look at a lot….and I would also give advice on general things like how they come across as well. For example, if I get an attitude, and maybe they’re not aware, I will be very honest about that.

If they can they can take away one thing from your lesson, what would that be?

To not over breathe… to be continuously trying not to take breath. Because the second they go (breathes in) like that, the vocals can’t physically close properly and it’s human instinct to do that when you’re nervous. If in doubt, breathe it all out. So if they learn to not breathe in, known as SPLAT (singers please lose abdominal tension) that’s the one thing.

What’s your favourite style of music?

For me…I’d call it Off-Broadway new writing. It’s a very specific voice quality. It’s like a very whiney, American tight voice quality. So it’s kind of like folk…we don’t have it over here. Things like Tom Kitt who wrote Next To Normal and those kind of musicals. So I suppose Folk Musical Theatre.

Anything that makes you go. “Oh God, not again!”?

It’s songs that drain your energy. So songs, musically that would start with a kind of (demonstrates dramatically on piano) …A particular one is “I’m Alive” for boys. It just doesn’t show anything at all …and people choose it for the wrong reasons…it  because they like it. It doesn’t tell the panel anything about where they fit in to the musical. Oh and the lead song from Waitress, which is a lovely song but again is the wrong reason to choose it. It’s maudlin and low, self-indulgent and it shows absolutely nothing about that person and where they fit.

How should a client prepare for an audition?

I think the most important thing is to go to singing lessons. It’s expensive and it’s difficult to get in with good people but they have to go. And if they’re not going at least once every couple of weeks they’re not going to be prepared for auditions. Then I think it’s a physical thing of going through the song time and time again. A lot of people think an audition is about know the words to the song and of course that’s just the first layer of what you need to do. Then it’s about working the song and I would advise them, the most important thing, is to place something strongly. I mean very often people sing songs that you think, “lovely, I don’t know what that demonstrated that you can do as a person” because it’s utterly style-less. So people sing them and you don’t know what they are as a person. A useful way to look at it is to show something very specific. Are you a character actor? Are you demonstrating that you sing very beautifully in a classical voice? Are you demonstrating a rock voice? If you don’t make it specific enough, I think panels sit there and go “great” and I don’t think they know why ….but they don’t know what that just showed them. I think they are left a little confused. Whereas if you sing something specific they are more likely to hire you if you’re right. Be specific with what you are telling them you do.

What do you think the biggest stumbling blocks are for clients?

Money. And I think it’s something that people don’t get….when I graduated, living in London was no way near as expensive….people don’t realise that in order to live in London they need to work, in order to work they can’t go to auditions and can’t get to dance classes. So, I think that’s the biggest thing that’s changed. It’s hard for dancers now. Because then, they can’t go to singing lessons because they can’t afford it, they can’t go to dance lessons because they can’t afford to take the time off work. And the industry is heavily more saturated than it used to be. So the over-saturation and the fact they just can’t afford it. I think the problem with training is, training doesn’t even fully prepare you, its when they’ve left that they start properly training and if they can’t get that time off work to go to those ballet lessons and meet those people, join the actor’s centre and go to those singing lessons….

Top 5 “no, no’s for a client in an audition?

Forgetting words, not bring friends with the pianist, wearing something too slutty and too revealing, being too made up facially…and how they stand while panels are talking. Because very often they’re stood being nervous and they start looking at the panel as if to say “come on then, what are you doing?” …so I think the way they come across when they are stood still. I suppose that goes with the whole audition, it’s just generally how they come across.

Best handy hint?

When you go to the audition don’t speak to anyone else outside, because all it takes is for someone to come out and say “oh my God they heard scales” and then it spreads to every other single person and then people start panicking. And then it becomes all about panic. I’d say get there half an hour early, register, and then go sit in a corner and just read a book so you’re not involved in any of the drama that comes out. You’re not listening to what’s going on, you’re not talking to anyone at all, you’re sat there on your own getting prepared.