Cecilee Linke

I can write you a story, teach you French, sing you a song.

Finding Your Own Singing Voice (Part 4)

I’m going to start this off by saying that by no means am I a professional voice teacher. I haven’t gone to school and studied voice like many professionals. I’m merely an enthusiast with a ton of practice and experience who wants to impart that knowledge to others.

Even more than having a decent range and writing a decent song, one of the most important elements of singing is a little thing that makes a big difference: confidence.

Singing is about more than just singing notes. It’s about bearing your emotions and letting others into your heart. And if you don’t have the confidence in yourself to believe that you’re good at what you do, you won’t get anywhere. Your audience will be able to tell that you’re not really feeling it. More than that, you won’t sing nearly as well as you could.

I should know.

I loved singing when I was a kid. Then, when I was about sixteen, not long after I joined the choir, I lost my confidence and became shy about singing in front of other people in a solo capacity.

I could’ve quit choir. But I stayed because I could hide behind everyone else. I did sing some solo performances at our yearly talent shows, but those always came with a lot of trepidation. I only did them because I was trying to push through my confidence issues. Unfortunately, I was so into my own head that I didn’t sound great at all, which only led to more frustration at my own abilities.

It took me years of mistakes and growing as a person in order for me to not get scared singing in front of people. I couldn’t even do karaoke until a few years ago. Now, I’m happy to sing to myself, even when other people might be nearby. I can roll the windows down on a nice day and sing with my music without caring what people think. I’ll hum as I’m going about my work at the store too. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally slip and go into a negative spiral. Old habits die hard. As I type this, I’m coming out of one of those. I’m not perfect. Fortunate for me that it only lasts a few days.

It’s been my experience that you could be the worst singer in the world, but if you believe in yourself and THINK you’re great, then you’re going to sound great even when you really aren’t. I’ve seen it at karaoke night. I’ve seen it at open mic nights too. I once listened to a guy whose whiny, nasal voice made the guy from Blink 182 sound like Frank Sinatra. I cringed at and hated his voice. But that guy owned the stage. So it made all the difference, even if I didn’t come away a fan by any stretch of the imagination.

One of the hardest things to do when you’re trying to build up your confidence is getting out of your head. The moment you get on stage and think you’re going to screw up, you will. It’s the power of negative thinking.

When I realized I wanted to get through my confidence issues once and for all, I began taking voice lessons again in 2010. The first song my teacher gave me was Plaisir d’amour. I looked at the sheet music, saw the higher notes in the song, and immediately clammed up. I went, “no way, I can’t sing those high notes, I can’t do it.”

And guess what?

I couldn’t sing those notes very well at all. I believed that I couldn’t do it, and therefore I couldn’t. That first lesson was almost a disaster because I was so into my head and feeling negative about myself that I physically could not sing that note. I’d warmed up past that note, but I couldn’t sing it in a song. My throat always clammed up when I got to that section of the song. It took me months to be able to hit that note with ease.

Most of my problem was that I was always too much in my own head. I was so focused on what I didn’t think I could do that I allowed it to affect my performance. I couldn’t understand how people like Kelly Clarkson or Janis Joplin could get on stage and own it. It took my voice teacher reminding me, “you can sing higher than you think you can, don’t be so scared, you can do it,” practically every week, before it finally set in. It took a while though. Several years.

A way to help you get out of your head is to just know the song or songs inside and out. Know them so well that you could sing it in your sleep. Get the melody well and embedded in your head. Then, as you’re singing, close your eyes and focus on an image to help you convey the song’s message. It will help you to concentrate on something besides yourself. I do this all the time when I’m singing, even when I’m not feeling too much in my own head. Rather, this helps me to emote more. I have a few images in mind when I sing my songs.

You can also pretend that your song is a monologue. Think of what you’re singing about. Are you supposed to be happy? Sad? Languid? Sing that song like you’re an actor giving a monologue in a play. Then emote those lyrics with the emotion you want the audience to feel. If you’re singing a sad song, sound sad. If you’re singing a joyful song, sing with a brighter tone. You may just be surprised at how much more emotion comes out.

Something else that helped me to grow my singing confidence was to practice practice practice. Know those songs inside and out. Sing scales to warm up your voice before going into singing songs. Perfect your singing technique with a teacher who can give you good feedback who knows what they’re talking about. Breathe deeply, drink lots of water, and sit up straight. You won’t sound good all slouched over. Believe me.

You should also be proud and accepting of your own voice. If you don’t like your voice for any reason, it will show on your face and in your body language. Be accepting of your own vocal quirks. Think of all the famous singers who really don’t have great voices, but who own it.

Learning to accept and be proud of my voice was a difficult process. Until a few years ago, I had trouble appreciating what I have. And it showed in my vocal performances. I listen back to my old music and I sounded so timid and strained. I disliked my own voice, and it showed.

Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Singing should be fun. Start out singing with a few close friends and family, and when you feel you’re ready, venture out for a night of karaoke. People will be too drunk to care what you sound like. And if someone laughs at you, just shrug it off. Not everyone is going to love what you do, but if you truly enjoy singing, keep doing it. The more you perform, the less you’ll worry about what other people think. If you feel a little nervous, concentrate on people who are truly engaged with your performance.

On that note, if you make a mistake while you’re singing, just keep going. Pretend like it was part of the performance. I mess up all the time, especially if I’m playing a difficult piano part. I’ll play a wrong chord and just keep going. Or if I forget a lyric, especially if it’s in French or another language the crowd doesn’t understand, I’ll just make something up. I screwed up a French song once when I blanked on the lyrics and I sang the French equivalent of, “I can’t remember the lyrics here, but that’s OK, you can’t understand me anyway.” Don’t stop in the middle of the song.

Learning to sing with confidence takes a while. You won’t get better instantaneously. I didn’t. It’s taken years to get to where I am now. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to be able to have fun singing with friends at a karaoke bar on a Friday night instead of being scared. It’s worth it to have a hobby that you’re proud of. Not to mention that singing offers many great health benefits, as seen here.

No matter what, make sure you’re always having fun with what you do. And the rest will follow!


Finding Your Own Singing Voice (Part 3)

I’m going to start this off by saying that by no means am I a professional voice teacher. I haven’t gone to school and studied voice like many professionals. I’m merely an enthusiast with a ton of practice and experience who wants to impart that knowledge to others.

I was about nine or ten when I wrote my first song. I had been writing random poems for a little while at that point, practicing the poetic forms like haiku and acrostics that we had been learning in school. I also knew how to read basic sheet music and the names of musical notes.

However, I had no idea how to put words and music together. How did the people on the radio do it? I had no clue.

One evening, I came to my mom and asked her in that very matter-of-fact way that children usually ask something, “Mom, how do I write a song?”

Mom was always willing to indulge us kids in whatever we were curious about, especially when it came to music. Mom told me to get out some lyrics I had written and then turn on my little Casio keyboard. For the next few hours, she went through my lyrics and showed me how to compose a song, which turned out to be simpler than I thought.

“You make up a melody to go with the lyrics you’ve written,” I remember her telling me. “That’s the key to writing a song.”

Once Mom showed me how to compose a song, I felt like a whole new world had opened up for me. Suddenly, my words could come alive with music. And all of this was done before I even knew how to compose music with chords. I was just using melodies and playing them on the keyboard and singing over them.

Those songs I wrote were very primitive forms of the stuff I write now. But one of the things I learned early on about writing my own music was that I wasn’t trying to sing something written for a voice like Celine Dion’s. I was writing for my own voice and all the quirks that go with it.

When I was a child, I realized that I could sing really low and really high. When playing around with the keyboard one day, I got up to a soprano high C! (the first note in the picture below)

Realizing that I had a wide singing range, I composed songs with impossibly high and low melody parts. Like this one:

These days, I’m less wild when it comes to my melodies, though I do enjoy swooping low and high to illustrate a lyric. That I can go from high to low really easily is something I like to take advantage of when I write.

Once I figured out what my personal style was (“multi-lingual choirgirl surrounded by synthesizers or a piano”), songwriting came even easier because I knew what vowels and sounds would work with my instrument.

Writing my own music also helped me to further develop as an artist and figure out who I was. In writing my own songs, I got to discover what makes my music stand out. What did I have that no one else does?

1) I can speak a foreign language.

Rather early on, I had a penchant for learning languages. Even though I didn’t speak a word of French or German, I would come up with lyrics in English and then try to “translate” them using a dictionary, looking up each word and writing down my new German or French lyrics. I didn’t care that I didn’t speak any of those languages. However, my mom warned me that my method of writing in a foreign language wasn’t correct. “You’re not conjugating the verbs or learning the grammar, so your lyrics probably aren’t correct.”

But that didn’t occur to me as a sixth grader.

Exhibit A: my attempt at writing a Christmas carol “translated” into German from English.

Once I began learning French for real in school, I wrote little poems and things even when I didn’t know much of the language. And I began writing some of my first real French songs, with real and correct French grammar.

I was always wary of sharing my French songs with people because I was worried they’d tune out from not being able to understand the lyrics. These days, I am more willing to share my French compositions. A self-composed French song at an otherwise English-language open mic night is different enough that people actually do listen and seem to get a kick out of hearing a French song, especially one that I wrote myself. You don’t hear French everyday in southeastern Virginia.

2) Being self-taught on the piano

People ask how long I’ve been playing piano.

About six years.

On a whim, I bought a Yamaha DGX keyboard. I’d always wanted to learn piano but never knew how to do anything more complex than the same melody in different octaves on both hands. And I figured it was a better time than any to learn the piano.

It took a while (read: hours of practice and experimenting and listening carefully to piano-based music), but now I can play countermelodies against a different vocal melody. You can thank Tori Amos and Charlotte Martin for their influence in my own piano playing.

The fact that I play piano makes me stick out, especially at an open-mic night. You don’t see as many keyboardists at open mic nights, probably because carrying around a keyboard is rather cumbersome. When I go out to play a song or two, I stick with places that have a real piano so I don’t have to lug my Yamaha with me.

3) My produced music is electronic

Or more specifically, synth pop (and all its subgenres of subgenres of subgrenres….. sigh the complication of electronic music). My peers were into Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. I was blasting Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys on my Walkman instead.

I love 80s music, always have, always will. And the more obscure, the better.

I love electronic sounds and melding them with pure, acoustic sounds like my piano and vocal layers. It makes the song more interesting. Even if it causes some misunderstandings when I describe my produced music (most people hear “electronic” and immediately think “techno”), I do like to fill out my songs with electronic elements. My friend Janae Jean is the only other one I’ve ever met who does electronic music like I do.

So with all of this said…. How do you go about writing your own songs so you can find your own voice?

Pretty easy, actually.

First of all, don’t let anyone tell you that you have to read sheet music in order to compose your own songs. I can read sheet music well, but I don’t use it to notate my songs unless I absolutely have to. I usually write the chord symbol above the lines in my songs so I know what chords go over which lines.

What I would recommend is that you learn the basic chords for a song and go from there. Pick an instrument, any at all, and learn simple chords to help you get started. Guitar, piano, autoharp, ukulele, whatever.

What do I mean by basic song chords?

I’ll let the Axis of Awesome show you what I mean.

Another way to learn how to write a song without sheet music is to look up the guitar chords for your favorite song online (sites and apps like Ultimate Guitar are really helpful) and puzzle your way through the chords as you learn them on your instrument. Then take those chords and try rearranging them and putting them with your own lyrics (so long as you don’t use the same melody as your favorite song, or you could get into copyright trouble). Hum or sing “do” over the chord and figure out what kind of melody would work for the lyrics you’ve written.

Do realize that your first few songs are probably not going to be very good. Songwriting is a skill like anything else. It’s like riding a bike. You are going to fall a few times before you learn to keep your balance when your feet aren’t on the ground.

And like any skill, it takes time.

But the more you write and experiment and practice, the better your songs are going to be.

Trust me.

My first songs written as a child were crap. But I applied myself to writing songs and now I can write a decent song in about an hour!

Writing my own music helps me feel confident in myself, more than when I’m singing someone else’s song, because I wrote those words and that melody. I know how it’s supposed to sound. And most of all, that melody is for me. Sure I’d be thrilled if someone wanted to cover my song (if you ever do want to cover any of my songs, please send me a copy, I’d love to hear it!) but I feel more comfortable with my own music.

And you can feel more comfortable with yourself too when you write your own music. It will take time, but it will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do when it comes to finding your own singing voice.

Stay tuned for the finale, Part 4, where I talk about something that makes all the difference when singing: confidence.


Finding Your Own Singing Voice (Part 2)

I’m going to start this off by saying that by no means am I a professional voice teacher. I haven’t gone to school and studied voice like many professionals. I’m merely an enthusiast with a ton of practice and experience who wants to impart that knowledge to others.

Anyone who’s ever done karaoke can tell you how much fun it is going out with friends, getting a little buzzed, and then singing a favorite pop song for an equally buzzed crowd. I like karaoke too. It’s more about having fun than sounding like a pro. When one of my good friends Jennifer is in town, we like to visit Plaza del Sol in Norfolk for their weekly Friday karaoke night and sing some songs for the crowd. Jennifer sings “Payphone,” I get to warble through “Girls on Film” and other 80s favorites.

It took me years to get any confidence in standing up for a crowd at a karaoke night. I’d come from the world of formal singing recitals, where you practice a song over and over again for weeks beforehand. Getting up in front of a room of people with no preparation, even in front of people who are too drunk to care how you sound, scared the living daylights out of me.

What helped me in gaining my confidence in singing karaoke was doing something you might not expect for karaoke: I sing the song like myself, thus making the song my own, rather than trying to imitate the original singer.

In the world of performing musicians, I’m not a cover artist. I have nothing against artists who sing other people’s songs. I just prefer to write and sing my own songs. I’ve written those words and that melody, so I know how it’s supposed to sound, and I know what I was feeling when I wrote it. It’s more personal.

However, during a show or an open mic set, if the crowd looks like they might want something a little more familiar, I do like to sing my own versions of some favorite 80s songs they might know. I used to do a dubsteppy version of “Broken Wings.” You wouldn’t expect to hear that song done in that way, but I did it as an experiment in Logic one day and liked what I heard, so I pull it out during a Launchpad show. My girl and a piano version of “Blue Monday” goes over well too. That’s another song I like to do in my own style, this time without the electronics and just going on the melody and chords. Because a good song is a good song, no matter how you do it.

It’s important to first find your own style and what works well for your own voice. Then, you can use that knowledge to help you make a cover song your own.

If I cover a song, it’s usually a song I have some sort of connection with. “Blue Monday” is one of my absolute favorite 80s songs, one I listened to a lot on my Walkman as I navigated the hallways in my high school. I have to bob my head when that distinctive kick starts the song.

“Heartache Feeds Heartache,” done by the group A Drop in the Gray in 1985, was one of the first new wave songs I paid attention to thanks to the website New Wave Outpost. I listened to A Drop in the Gray’s lone album Certain Sculptures over and over again in my first year of college. I liked the moodiness and the gorgeous lyrics. Because it holds a lot of importance for me, I like to cover that song as well, both as a girl-and-a-piano and with my Launchpad.

So if you want to cover a song, pick something you like. Make it something that would be worth your time to learn. Otherwise, it’s a waste. I can tell when someone I’m listening to at an open mic night is just not that into a song.

Something else I like to do when making a song my own is to choose a song that you wouldn’t expect to hear with just voice and whatever instrument you play, if you play a musical instrument in addition to singing.

I tend to gravitate to artists who take a song in one style and do it in their own way. One of my favorite music artists is Eliza Rickman. When she covers a song, she makes it her own in a way that really inspires me when I come up with my own arrangements for cover songs. It’s quite something to hear a super produced 80s song like “Slave to Love” being turned into her own vocal-layered, acoustic style. “Moon River,” done with either voice and toy piano or voice and xylophone played with a cello bow (whoa cool!!), is another one of my favorite covers she’s ever done.

Charlotte Martin is another great example of someone who makes a song her own. She’s a piano player as well as a singer, so when she covers a song, she’ll either strip it to piano and voice (“Black Hole Sun,” “Running Up That Hill,” “Just Like Heaven”) or she’ll make it in her own electronically produced style but different in some way (“Bizarre Love Triangle”).

Tori Amos is another artist who makes a song her own. I don’t always like the songs she covers or the way she does it (her version of “Do It Again” is one of my least favorite Tori covers), but when she does something I like, it holds my attention. Her version of “Purple Rain,” done girl-and-a-piano style, is really awesome, as is her take on “Losing My Religion” and “Ring My Bell.”

My instrument of choice is the piano. So if I cover a song, it’s usually either in a piano-voice style or it’s fully produced with other instruments in Logic. And I’ll pick something like “Blue Monday,” a song best known for its use of synthesizers and drum machine, and take it to just piano and voice. Or a song like “Wishing” by A Flock of Seagulls, done with piano and voice, where it originally relied on electronic instrumentation.

Even if you don’t play a musical instrument and all you do is sing, you can still make a song your own by layering it using a loop pedal or just singing it in a different style a cappella. If the song is strong enough to stand on just the melody, do that!

Now, say you have a song you want to do but it doesn’t seem to quite fit your voice because you either have to sing too low or sing too high. That’s when you can try something I have to do all the time: change the key of the song, or transpose, to better fit your voice if needed. This requires you to have some music knowledge, even better if you play an instrument. If you have a friend who can transpose something, have them help you. If you can find the song chords on something like Ultimate Guitar, there’s an option to transpose the song to lower or higher keys.

I have to transpose a lot of songs. See, I like a lot of dude songs. And for me to sing a song originally sung by a guy, I have to change the key. Otherwise, I’m stuck singing way too low or having to jump way too high. I haven’t ever performed it for a live show, but I learned “Shake the Disease” by Depeche Mode a few months ago. That song is originally in D minor and it ended up being way too low and then suddenly way too high for me. So I moved it to A minor and it fit my voice a LOT better. It also had a different sound to it, even moodier than the original, if that’s possible!

“Catch the Wind” is another favorite song that I like to play, and depending on the crowd at the show or open mic night, it’s familiar to a lot of people. The original key is Eb and while I can sing it in that key, it ends up sounding too high. So I moved it down to Bb major for my own version so that it will work better with my voice. And it does!

One of the last things I do when making a song my own is change the melody when I want to emphasize something in the lyrics that the original singer didn’t do. When I sing “Danny Boy,” I tend to run a little bit on a few of the words. I don’t do Mariah Carey-level melisma (melisma: a fancy word for all those excessive “ooooooooohs” that pop singers tend to sing across many different notes), but just several notes around a syllable

Being confident enough in a song to change the melody a little to make it more my own was probably one of the hardest things for me to learn. For years, I was supposed to sing what was on the page and nothing more. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t sound uniform with everyone else in the choir. Also, I used to audition for various local choirs and those auditions involved sight-reading music (I shiver just thinking about sight-reading; I’m still not good at it). The judges put sheet music in front of you and expect you to sing what’s on the page without hearing the notes first. If you were one note out of place from what was on that sheet music, BAM. You lost points with the judges. Being in the choir gave me tons of experience in singing with others and how to layer voices, but it was less about creation and more about blending rather than sticking out and doing your own thing.

Some years ago, I was learning someone else’s song, back before my songs were actually any good, and I kept singing it too much like the original artist. I don’t even remember what the song and its artist were. I couldn’t get away from what was on the page. Andrew, my husband, told me, “Stop singing it the way it’s written on the page and just sing. Do your own thing with it.”

So that’s what I do now. He was right. As soon as I stopped chaining myself to the melody on the page, I became that much more confident in my abilities.

And I sounded even better!

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I’ll talk about my history in writing my own music and how that helped me to find my own voice.


Finding Your Own Singing Voice (Part 1)

I’m going to start this off by saying that by no means am I a professional voice teacher. I haven’t gone to school and studied voice like many professionals. I’m merely an enthusiast with a ton of practice and experience who wants to impart that knowledge to others.

When people ask me how long I’ve been singing, I tell them it’s been about sixteen years. So, about half my life at this time of writing. Three months shy of my sixteenth birthday, I took my first singing lesson and thus learned how to properly warm up my voice and develop my range and tone. That’s when I began taking singing more seriously.

Until then, it never occurred to me that you could take lessons for singing. If I wanted to sing, I opened my mouth and out it came like all those singers on the radio. Singing was natural to me. It was something I did as I did my homework and when I took part in the elementary school choir in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade.

The reason I began taking voice lessons is because I decided to join my high school choir. After years of squawking on my clarinet in the band, I decided instead to squawk on my voice in the choir. I wanted something a little different.

When you want to learn how to sing with others and how to handle multiple singing parts and harmony, being in a choir is a great thing. It’s why I like to layer my voice. I love hearing multiple voice parts, especially when it’s your own voice, in harmony with one another. (Charlotte Martin, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Florence + the Machine, I’m looking at you!)

However, if you want individual attention for developing your own voice, you’re better off taking private singing lessons. Public school music classes like band, orchestra, and choir are performance-based. You’re not going to learn about your own instrument when you’re one of sixty people. The teacher doesn’t have time for that. At the request of my choir teacher, I began taking weekly singing lessons with the mother of one of my classmates, who was a professional voice teacher.

Those lessons changed my life in so many ways. You learn a LOT about your voice when you become a voice student. Namely, what you are good at singing.

I really think that anyone can sing. Even those supposed “tone deaf” people who were humiliated on the first few episodes of every season of American Idol could probably sing decently if they were given a chance to develop their own voice and learn what they are good at singing. In my opinion, if you can speak, you can sing. Will it sound like the folks on the radio? If you’re one of the lucky few who have that naturally, sure. But most likely not, if we’re being honest here. (Keep in mind those people on the radio have spent hours recording dozens of takes for each line in order to get the perfect performance. Those singers also have tons of post-production effects like compression, reverb and, in many cases, Autotune added to their voice to sound slick and perfect, the audio equivalent of magazine models who have been Photoshopped to within an inch of their lives.)

By the same token, just because you can sing doesn’t mean that you can sing anything under the sun. When you take the time to develop your own voice, you learn that every voice is different, including yours. Some voices are raspy, other voices are huge and imposing, and others are somewhere in the middle.

You also learn what genres are best for your voice quality. Very few people can belt like Adele in “Hello,” sing a feather-light Ellie Goulding tune like “Anything Can Happen,” then both scream and sing a Linkin Park song like “Numb.” (My throat hurts just thinking of that!)

Most people sound good within one or, at most, two genres.

So if you have a bit of a twang to your voice, then try singing country, folk or Americana. About a year ago, I heard this twenty-something guy at a local open mic night who sounds exactly like an older-style country artist but without the crackle of vinyl behind him. He has the twang, the range, and the tone for that kind of music. And what does he sing and sound best in? You guessed it: traditional country music.

If you have a low voice like Anita Baker, try singing jazz.

If you have a naturally loud voice like Ethel Merman, try out some musical theater tunes.

If your voice is light like Kylie Minogue, try dance-pop.

Most people are going to want to sing like their favorite artists, but in some cases, that’s not necessarily the genre you sound great in. What’s important is to experiment and find what you are good at singing. Don’t emulate exactly, but just try out different things until you’ve figured out what sounds best for your voice.

And for heaven’s sake, if anything hurts, stop immediately. That old adage about “no pain no gain” will NOT work for your voice. It will only damage your voice. If your voice hurts as you try to belt like Kelly Clarkson, stop. Remember, only Kelly Clarkson can be Kelly Clarkson. You have your own voice!

Are you “born with it” like some people think? In some ways, yes. You can’t change your skull structure, your throat muscles, or the size of your vocal cords. But you can change your tone, range, and certainly your confidence, which plays a HUGE part in singing, as you’ll see later. Even some “professional” singers who honestly don’t sound that great can get by with tons of confidence.

When I first began singing, my voice was lightweight and breathy with an ease in lower notes. I found out that I was apparently good at singing random folk songs in French with my voice teacher. That’s why I continue to sing in French. Later as my tone became clearer, I realized I was good at old Italian art songs. I can still do some of the classical songs I used to do, but only in passing.

These days, I’ve found that I sound best either when singing in an ethereal way over medium to heavy electronic music like Goldfrapp or LEVV, with a touch of dark Depeche Mode as a contrast to my voice, or when singing just piano and voice, where I get to ratchet it up a bit like Charlotte Martin and become more dynamic with my voice. Once I became more confident, I realized that I had a louder voice than I ever thought I had, so I use that to my advantage to make my songs more interesting.

Those are the times when I sound my best and which work for my voice type.

Other genres like R&B wouldn’t work for me, not without me retooling the melody or the timing to work with my voice. Blues wouldn’t work either. Also, really poppy songs like “I Got You” by Bebe Rexha don’t work either. I know. I’ve tried just for fun. You don’t want to hear it!

And that’s OK. Because I’d rather sound my best than try something that doesn’t work!

And really, don’t you want to sound the best you can? I know I would!

The key is to figure out what you can do. Being positive is another part of singing that most people don’t realize. It goes hand in hand with confidence. But that’s a story for another time!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll be talking about making a cover song your own and how that can help you find your own singing voice.


More Retro Sewing Adventures: Advance 9054 (Part 1)

You can thank Pinterest for this latest sewing project.

If it weren’t for someone posting a picture of this pattern on their board, I would’ve never discovered this pattern. I probably would’ve found this pattern without Pinterest (going to Ebay to look at vintage sewing patterns is VERY dangerous…..), but then I wouldn’t have a super cute dress hanging in my closet now!

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I absolutely love vintage sewing patterns. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. Not only are the styles gorgeous, but since my body type is halfway between a pear and an hourglass, the waist and bust-centric shapes of older patterns work best for my body type. So when I’m looking around at old patterns, if the finished product is shapely and it’s from the 40s through the 60s, I will sew it up and add it to my collection. And I’ll even wear it out and about. There’s something about going to Walmart dolled up in a cute, button-down 50s dress that nips in the waist or going to the mall wearing a cute 40s top.

When I saw a picture of this pattern on Pinterest, I knew I had to have it. This dress has tons of shape to it (gotta love the emphasis on the waist in this one) and it’s got buttons. Other than formal jackets, you just don’t see buttons on clothes anymore. (Admittedly, zippers are easier to install, for the most part)

I also really like Advance patterns. I’ve sewn one of their patterns before. I love the styles every time I see one on Ebay. Unfortunately, the company went defunct long before I was born, so no chance of getting any new patterns from them. Advance was a sewing company that existed from the 30s through the 60s and were sold exclusively at JC Penney’s. (Can you imagine going to a JC Penney store for sewing products?? That would be amazing!) Then they got bought up by another company and the Advance name disappeared. Booo.

At least they left behind some gorgeous patterns. Like this one.

 

If only my hair could be as curly as the ladies in this drawing….. sigh

Lucky for me that this was on Ebay for less than $20. I know some people pay out the nose for vintage patterns, but I don’t go anywhere above $20. (Vintage pattern prices can get INSANE. I once saw a pattern that I loved, but the cheapest I found it was $150. (!))

Then the pattern arrived in the mail (YAY!), I put it in my stash…. Then forgot about it until last weekend.

I’ve been resolving to sew more tops this year, but after sewing mostly tops and even my first jumpsuit for a cosplay, I went, you know what? It’s time I sewed a dress.

And so I did.

Before I began sewing……

The thing about sewing vintage patterns is that until about thirty years ago, you only got one size in the envelope. These days, every commercial pattern comes with multiple sizes in the envelope. Not so with older patterns. This means that you either need to grade up or down to get the size you want (a more advanced trick that even I’m still learning five years later) or try and get a size that’s close to your measurements and hope for the best. (And even then, you might still have to tweak the pattern. But we’ll get to that later.)

The only size available for this pattern was an “18.” Without knowing the bust, waist, and hip measurement for that size (it wasn’t printed anywhere on the envelope, gaahhhhh), I figured if this pattern turned out too big, I could always take it in. Too big is always better to fix than too small. (And I’ve had to fix many a “too small” vintage pattern, especially at the waist; my waist is small but not that small.)

I wish that a simple Google search could’ve told me what the measurements for this pattern size were supposed to be. However, I got several results. One source said an Advance size 18 was supposed to fit a 36” bust. Another said 40”. Gah. So, not knowing what the bust, hip, and waist measurements are supposed to be for this size, I resolved to do something I tend to only do with older patterns that don’t have measurements anywhere on the pattern envelope or pattern pieces: take flat measurements on the pattern pieces at the bust, hip, and waist and calculate them to figure out the measurements this pattern will fit.

You can see the math I did here to figure it out on this pattern:

So what I came up with for this pattern’s size 18 (which includes the ease that’s always built into patterns) was:

Bust: ~42″

Waist: ~37″

I didn’t worry as much about the hip measurement because this dress is supposed to flare out a lot anyway. It was the waist and bust I was worried about.

Based on these flat measurements, I knew that I would have to make some changes to this pattern. To confirm those measurements, I took to my dress form and pinned the pattern pieces on them to look at how they would fit. Sure enough, there was TONS of gapping at the back and front. OK, so I’d have to change this pattern a bit. Whatever. I’m used to doing that by now. Half the fun of sewing is making the clothes fit you, not the other way around!

Not only did I have to make changes at the waist and bust, but also in other ways too.

Next time: what I did to make this pattern fit me and modernize it a bit.


My Musical Production Beginnings: Techno Ejay

Sometime in high school, my mom and I were browsing in a computer store like we always did. I can’t remember the exact store, but I know it’s a chain that doesn’t exist anymore (likely Circuit City or Comp USA). Next to bookstores, computer stores were my favorite places to visit. See, I’d had a computer since I was four years old. My uncle, my mom’s older brother, was a computer engineer in the mid-80s and he convinced my mom to get my brother and me computers because “they are the future”; he was ahead of his time! As a child, I spent hours on my computer typing stories and playing games, so computer stores were some of favorite places to go. You never knew what kind of games or programs you might find.

That day, I saw a program at the store that looked intriguing. It was a music production program called Techno Ejay. I flipped over the box that it came in to read the description.

Drag and drop samples and create your own songs! it said.

Wow, sounded awesome! That easy? Cool!

And only $30? Whoa, I just had to try it!

Mom wasn’t so sure about it, though. She thought it was expensive. (Not really; $30 in 2001 is only $41 now in 2017 …. I’ve bought apps that were more expensive than that.)

But she bought it for me anyway.

 

This is where it all began….. (source: Amazon)

 

Not only was I interested in it because of the price but also the idea that I could create my own music. Especially electronic music. A few years before I got Techno Ejay, I got the soundtrack to the movie Lost in Space. That was one of those movies that my parents took me to see because they remembered the original 60s show. I LOVED the music. So we went to Sam Goody after seeing the movie and I bought the soundtrack on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman.

It was one of my top albums of the late 90s. The music on that soundtrack was so different from anything I had heard before. Before I got the Lost in Space soundtrack, I was used to simple four-minute pop songs with lots of lyrics and vocals. My parents switched between soft rock or oldies on car trips. So that’s what I was used to hearing.

But the electronic music on that soundtrack was long and had unknown sounds and free-flowing structures. And minimal to non-existent lyrics too! I’d never heard anything like it. Ever. This kind of music never got played on the radio stations my parents always listened to in the car.

Hearing these songs again takes me right back to listening to this on my headphones on the bus going to the middle school across town. I’d turn these songs up loud, trying to drown out the stupid antics from the other kids on the bus, watching the world go by outside my window.

The Crystal Method – Busy Child

Propellerheads – Bang On!

Death in Vegas – Song for Penny (I used to play this LOUD at home when my parents weren’t home and on my Walkman when I was walking between classes)

When I saw Techno Ejay as a teenager, I was still really into the soundtrack to Lost in Space, so when I saw a music program for creating your own electronic music, I was excited to try it! Who knew that I too could create my own electronic music just like the stuff on that album, with Techno Ejay!

I brought it home, installed it and immediately began using it. I realized that the program was simple to use, just right for someone like me who had never made music like this before in my life. Over three hundred samples on a CD, all categorized by DRUMS, BASS, SPHERES (a.k.a. pads), and even the ability to make your own melodies using a sequencer and save them to your songs! All you had to do was drag and drop the samples into one of sixteen tracks, then control individual track volumes and even whether the track would be panned left or right. It was more about using samples than creating from scratch. Perfect for beginners like me!

Behold, Techno Ejay in all its late 90s Windows glory! 😀

 

These days, I sing over my own music. Back then, I had MAJOR confidence issues with singing, despite being in the choir and taking voice lessons. So rather than singing, I chose to do spoken-word poetry over the music. Since I didn’t have a microphone (hard to believe there was a time when computers didn’t come with built-in microphones!), I used a handheld tape recorder.

To add vocals to my techno compositions, I spoke my vocals into the recorder, then ran an auxiliary audio cord into the computer and played what I had recorded into the computer and used it in my song. At that time, I had a computer program for converting LPs and cassettes to WAV files, so I used that program for getting my vocals into the computer. (Quite a very different setup than what I have now, that’s for sure!) It meant that my vocals were not that fitting with the music, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was having fun with making my own music!

And have fun I did. I spent hours making my own songs in the comfort of my bedroom. I’d open AOL Instant Messenger and chat with friends while I played with samples in Techno Ejay. Sometimes I stayed up late into the night with my headphones on, dragging and dropping samples into the interface and making my own freely structured songs. I didn’t even thinking about proper transitions and all the other things that I keep in mind when making songs these days. It was all about experimenting and having fun. And isn’t that what creation is all about? Having fun with what you’re doing?

 

Here’s one of the options for dropping in your own samples and manipulating the sound. I never used this one very much but I do this more often now in Logic.

 

 

Where you can control the volume for each track in Techno Ejay!

 

Where you can make your own basslines and sounds within Techno Ejay

 

Fast forward to 2017, almost twenty years later (GAH!!!). Since Techno Ejay, I’ve used GarageBand, Logic Express, and these days, I’m into Logic Pro X, which has way more customization than Techno Ejay does. Logic, after all, is meant for pros. Techno Ejay, however, isn’t. There’s no ability to fade between tracks or do a lot of panning throughout a song (automation is one of my BFFs in recording and producing my own music). There’s no EQing (equalization) of tracks to balance out their places in the mix either. And no way to customize chords for the endless pads they offer in the program. You’re stuck with whatever chords are already there in the sound.

Going back to using Techno Ejay for fun (through an emulator, mind you; I’m a firm Mac girl now!) required me to think a lot more simply! It also made me realize that I’ve moved beyond using samples and that I prefer to do my own stuff from scratch.

And you know what? That’s fine. Because Techno Ejay was meant for people like 16-year-old me who had never produced music before. You don’t want to overwhelm music production newbies with all the settings and options of a program like Logic Pro. I’ve been using Logic for a few years now and I still don’t know everything. There’s a reason people go to school for years and years to learn all about Logic Pro. One of my good friends even has a masters in electronic production and knows her way around Logic. Me, I know what I know by launching myself into it and seeing “hey, what does this button do? Or what about this? Wait, I want to try this other thing, let’s go to YouTube and look for a tutorial.”

I know not everyone is like that, but that’s how I learn. I just get in there and try it. And if I make a mistake, oh well, that’s part of the learning process. I’m like that with sewing. Writing stories. Cooking. Crochet. Anything creative. Because everyone has to start somewhere, right?

And using Techno Ejay was just the beginning of my love of producing music. Wanting to make music was something I’d always wanted to try, but never had the chance to do. I knew it was possible. After all, I was a band and choir kid. So the music we played HAD to come from somewhere. But until I saw that box on the shelf at Comp USA, I never imagined it would be possible to make music. I was a band kid who played whatever was put in front of her. And in choir and in voice lessons, I had to sing whatever was on the page. No changes whatsoever. It never occurred to me to make my own songs or do something creative with music until I bought Techno Ejay.

So thank you, Techno Ejay. Really. I might not be here using Logic Pro X and writing my own songs if it weren’t for you.

And now to end this post with a little something I came up with last night in one hour using Techno Ejay, a composition called Shadows in the Night. I’m pretty proud of this, if I do say so myself. It’s within the constraints of the program, but still has my own dark wave touch to it that I put into most of my own songs!

Enjoy!


Sewing Adventures: How It All Began

What began as a simple “hmmmm, I should learn to sew, it might be easier than learning to knit” thought has turned into a full-blown hobby.

Five years ago, I was trying to teach myself how to knit. But I just couldn’t get it. No matter how many YouTube tutorials I watched, or sitting down with my friend Kailee who knew how to do it, I just didn’t have the patience for it.

Then I saw the sewing machine that my mother-in-law handed down to me about a year before. A simple Janome machine (DC 3050 if you’re wondering), it had been sitting in a pretty, decorative bag ever since she gave it to me. She’d upgraded to a Husqvarna and so she didn’t have the need for that Janome anymore. So I ended up with it.

 

Exhibit A: The Janome 3050 Decor Computer. Who knows how old this is: I’d guess maybe 10-ish or more. It’s a wonderful little machine, seriously. Woot, go me!

My mother-in-law also gave me her serger at about that time. She too had upgraded to a better serger, so guess who got it? Apparently, me!

Now, about that serger she gave me: until recently (read: four months ago), I would look at and get the heebie jeebies. Sergers are sewing machines, but they are a bit more specific than the Janome pictured above. Sergers use multiple (usually four, but some machines can do up to five or even eight) threads to finish off seams (they do what’s called an overlock stitch, where they slice the seam allowance and then wrap it in thread so it doesn’t fray), the long and short of it. I won’t bore you with specifics. They make your clothes look professional on the inside.

I used to be scared to use the serger. This used to be me:

GAH too many threads, no way, I can’t do this.

GAH what if I make a mistake on it?

GAH how would you even thread ALL THOSE THREADS, GAHHHHHHHHH.

Must run and hide from the big evil serger.

Awwwww, so cute! It’s pink! And…. yeah, it’s pink! Can you believe I was actually scared of this thing? But no more. I have conquered it! I rule!

Everything was set up for me to sew. But… to be honest, I wasn’t even sure why she gave me her sewing machines. Except that, well, that’s what parents do when you get older. They start handing off stuff to you that they don’t want anymore so they can clean the house. Or….. something.

The last time I sewed was in eighth grade Home Ec class way back in the dark ages of the late 90s. And before then, I watched Mom make all out Halloween costumes on her late 80s Brother machine (which still works in 2017!). I’d watch Mom cut out all the pieces and then put it together and it looked like fun. I was a creative kid, so I loved watching her work.

But on a whim, at the age of 26, I thought, I should learn to sew. 

My first project, as I love to tell my sewing students, was a so-called “easy” dress. Easy if you know what you’re doing. But NOT easy for “has not sewn since the late 90s and it’s 2012.” That dress had darts, pleats, a zipper, and lining. Talk about jumping into the twelve-foot end of the pool. It took me several weeks to do and multiple visits to my in-laws so that she could help me. At that point, she also taught me an awesome technique for lined bodices and how to make them neat on the inside (I’ll have to do a YouTube tutorial about it later; it saves all the hand-stitching that some patterns call for)

As difficult as that first project was, I’m glad that I jumped in as I did. It makes me overambitious but I feel like I learn a lot more by trying something above my skill level. Then when I do accomplish it, I go, Whoa, I actually did it! Holy crap!

Since then, I have sewn multiple dresses, tops, pants, and skirts. I’ve sewn for myself as well as my husband. I’m slowly getting into fashion design and draping too. I sew mostly vintage clothes from actual vintage patterns. I can do a bound buttonhole (hey, you want to talk about a technique that’s been lost to time, ummmm, yeah…..). I can sew a zipper and make it look good. Hell, I can even sew on SILK for someone else. My best friend’s wedding dress was all silk. HOLY MOLEY was that a project….. 😀

Note that I am completely self-taught. Whatever I have learned has been from “hey what if I tried it this way,” reading books, talking with my mother-in-law and my mom, and that gold mine of information: YouTube. I have never taken a class. I just go in to see what happens and if I screw up, eh, whatever, that’s part of the learning process. And everyone’s gotta start somewhere!

The point is, sewing has become more than just a life skill. It has helped me become even more creative and even to help me figure out what my own style is. And I am CONSTANTLY learning. I’m always telling my students that you never stop learning. And it’s true!


Cecilee: Singer/Songwriter or…. Something Else? That Is The Question

In my area, there’s an annual contest for up-and-coming local singer/songwriters. You sign up, submit some songs, and if you’re chosen, you get to perform your song for judges and you win prizes and all sorts of prestige and yay yay yay!

And every year, I can’t join.

One of the rules of the contest is that you can’t have a commercially available album. I interpret that as “you can’t already have an album available for purchase on Bandcamp/iTunes/some other digital outlet. Doesn’t matter if it’s self-released. If you have any of your music available for people to buy, you can’t join our little club nee ner nee ner.”

So that disqualifies me. I find that rule a little frustrating because it’s not like I’m making my living off my music and I’m not signed to a record label (you can’t walk into FYE and buy my stuff), but OK, whatever.

But even if I didn’t have a Bandcamp page where I sell my music, I still wouldn’t be able to sign up for this contest.

You see, another contest rule stipulates that you can’t use any kind of electronic enhancement. You have to play an acoustic instrument.

Well, you got me there. Because when I’m not being “girl and a piano,” I like to live-mix my songs on my iPad while singing live.

Sure, I could sign up and play piano. But…. well, as much as I love to play piano and sing, I enjoy doing my live-mixing even more. Because it’s different. You don’t see many other people doing what I do, especially singing live on top of it. And it takes a LOT of practice to get your singing and your mixing right. You have to make sure everything flows.

And that’s where we get to a big question.

Am I still a singer/songwriter even though I do electronic music?

Because here’s the thing: I consider myself a singer/songwriter. So does my husband. So do my friends. I do what a singer/songwriter does: I write and sing my own material.

However, listening to my recorded music, you might not think so. When people think “singer/songwriter,” they think of a lonely guy/girl singing and strumming a guitar. Or sometimes playing a piano. However, I can tell you from personal experience that the number of piano players at any given open mic night is far lower than the guitar players. It makes sense, if you think about it. Guitars are easier to carry around. Pianos? Not so much. I’m usually the only piano player at any given open mic night.

And at times, I’m also the only female performing that night. But I digress.

Getting back to that eternal question of whether I’m a singer/songwriter or not, I believe that I am. The only difference is the choice of instruments. I’m not a lonely girl playing guitar on stage. I’m taking that singer/songwriter format of lyric-writing (writing about personal experiences and feelings) and marrying it with electronic music and other influences.

French music.

Sometimes Italian music (but NOT opera; there’s more to Italian music than opera!).

80s synth pop.

New wave.

Even more than that, I like doing something different. Why would I do the exact same thing as someone else?

If a singer/songwriter can’t include people who perform non-acoustic music, then what would you consider someone like Imogen Heap? She writes and performs her own material. I consider her a singer/songwriter then.

What about Charlotte Martin? Her recorded music is electronic like mine. I too consider her a singer/songwriter.

Kate Bush? She writes and performs her own music. So she’s in the club too.

Just a few examples for you there.

And I think that’s probably the biggest beef I have with that contest. How else are we supposed to push the art forward if we aren’t allowing people to do something different with it? By not allowing something different, like me live-mixing and singing live with my iPad, which takes a LOT more talent to do than most people might think, the art of singer/songwriters becomes stagnant.

I wish people would realize that a singer/songwriter can be anyone who’s playing an instrument and singing their own song.

And it shouldn’t matter the instrument.


How I Discovered French Music, or: The Internet is Awesome

For some, their favorite school subjects are the core classes like science, math and English.

Mine were the elective classes. Band, then choir from my sophomore year on, and French class.

I began taking French in eighth grade (when I was about 14 years old) and I continued taking French through high school. Every day at school, I opened my mind to a new culture and language. Most of the time we spent our class time doing grammar drills.

However, my teachers would sometimes play French music in class and let us dissect the lyrics. One of the first songs they ever played was La vie en rose by Edith Piaf, a song that’s apparently just as well known in English as well as French (I prefer the French version of course!):

When we learned the passé composé, a.k.a. the basic past tense, my teacher played Et maintenant, a paean to lost love:

Another past-tense favorite song (if you recognize the melody, there’s a reason why; this was the original French-language version of My Way by Frank Sinatra):

Now, if you’ve clicked on the videos above to listen to these songs, you might notice something about the music my teachers would play for us in class. It was all older music. The other kids in my French classes always talked over the music, not paying the slightest attention to the lyrics on the overhead projector.

I was the weird kid who actually liked those songs. My parents played music from the 50s and 60s in the house when I was a kid, so I preferred music from that time anyway.

Also, I loved those little cultural learning moments. It made the language more than just grammar drills. I was learning what French people know and like. And I was listening to something that I had never heard before.

Before I took French, I had never heard a non-English song in its entirety. You don’t hear a foreign language song on American top 40 stations unless it’s a novelty hit like Gangnam Style or, if you go back a little bit to the mid-80s, 99 Luftballons. The French hear our music mixed with their local language hits. American radio sticks to English-language songs.

One afternoon in high school, I went on an Internet search for other French music. I wanted to know what else was out there that someone my age at that time (the early 2000s) would know. Every culture has their popular songs. What would a French person know?

As it would turn out, a lot!

That Internet search brought me to a young artist named Alizée and her song Moi… Lolita. I’d never heard a modern French pop song before. It was cool. It was in French. And it was DIFFERENT. I’d never heard anything like that song before in my life. I. WAS. HOOKED.

I then found the whole album that song came from and it kept me sane through the last few years of high school. I learned new words. I had a new favorite singer too. Alizée was only the beginning. After I played her first and second albums to death, I sought other French music too. My teachers loved that I was asking them about the various French artists I’d found online. They even gave me some cassettes and I’d dub my own copies.

Another world of music I’d never heard before had opened up to me. It amazed me that someone could be so popular in one country but be unknown in another. French artists like Alizée, her songwriter and fellow French artist Mylène Farmer, Daniel Balavoine, and Indochine were on regular rotation in my Walkman. It became the best learning tool for learning new French words. I also learned how real French people communicate and what those songs are that everyone seems to know.

The Internet helped me find even more French music when I discovered Internet radio. For a time, I listened to NRJ Radio to discover new French music. I stopped listening when I realized I was hearing more English-language than French-language songs, so I switched to Cherie FM. When I was in France for three months, I listened to that station on my portable CD/radio. Then I found MFM, which I sometimes play for my students while they’re working in class because they only ever play French music.

Over the years, I have amassed my own collection of French music. I have everything from Jean-Jacques Goldman, a pop-rock singer famous for writing songs for Celine Dion. If I’m in a thoughtful mood, Francis Cabrel is there with his gorgeous acoustic songs, of which my all-time favorite song is this number:

There’s also the raspy, passionate voice of Florent Pagny, who is one of the current judges on the French version of The Voice (I really need to get into more of his music):

One of my favorite French voices is Nolwenn Leroy, who possesses one of the most beautiful, rich voices I’ve ever heard in my life OMG…..:

And lastly, I can’t forget about Zazie (speaking of the French The Voice, she is also a judge on that show). Her wordplay has influenced a little of my own French writing:

That love of French music that began in a dusty high school classroom in 2002 has never left me. I have happily passed on to my students, who love hearing me play real French music for them in class. What I love about French music is not just the exotic quality of listening to a foreign language song you’d never hear on the radio in the US. It’s connecting with another culture and realizing that music is universal. Even if you don’t know any French beyond “bonjour” and “au revoir,” you can hear the song and like the beat and the emotions of the singer. The words become another instrument in the mix. That’s probably what our music sounds like to every non-English speaker!

Case in point, this Dominican radio show that featured a caller looking for a song called, in Spanish, Are those Reebok or those Nike (in reality, the song he wants is The Rhythm of the Night):

To close this out, I will leave you with another Alizée song, one which I played almost as much as Moi..LolitaL’alizé, a playfully written song about Alizée’s often overemotional state and how her moods change like the alizé, a Mediterranean trade wind:


Originals and Remakes – Adventures in Babysitting (1987) vs. Adventures in Babysitting (2016)

After putting together our list of originals and remakes, Andrew and I realized that it had turned into quite a long list! Some of them are going to be too hard, maybe even impossible, to find (the original French version of True Lies, called La Totale!) and others will be interesting to watch in general because without even watching the remake, I can tell things will have changed drastically for one reason or another.

In the case of the remake and original I’ll be talking about today, I actually had no idea the remake even existed! So these two movies were not on our list to start with. Andrew and I happened to be walking in to our favorite local video store earlier this week when I saw the poster for the remake in the window.

“They’re going to remake Adventures in Babysitting?” I remember asking, for some reason not registering that they probably already remade it, hence the poster.

“Umm, I think they already did,” Andrew replied.

Not only did they remake this classic 80s movie, but it was a Disney made-for-TV movie. I could tell by looking at the back of the DVD case. The cutesy images and the Disney logos gave it away.

Hmmmmm……

Curious about the remake, I added it to our list and our pile of movies to rent that day. When I mentioned that I was looking forward to seeing this remake of an 80s movie, the video store clerk remarked that he hadn’t seen either one yet, but that he wasn’t holding out hope that the Disney version would be that great. Not because it’s a made-for-TV movie (there are some awesome made-for-TV movies out there!) but because Disney was involved. And this guy does NOT like Disney. Cue anti-Disney rant from him as we checked out our movies.

I wasn’t holding out much hope either that the remake would be that great. I love the original in all its zaniness and 80sness (the hair! the music! the “Family Truckster” style car that Chris, the main character drives!). It’s definitely a ridiculous movie, but it’s fun to watch. A bit dark in places (it’s PG-13 for a reason!), but hey, that stuff doesn’t bother me. Realizing that Disney had remade this hard PG-13 movie, I imagined something aimed way more at younger kids than the original, which was clearly aimed at older kids. And since the remake is aimed at younger kids, I expected this newer version to be so squeaky clean that it could shine (no subplot about Chris, the main character, resembling that month’s Playboy Playmate of the Month, no jokes about homeless people shooting up, no instances of the “f” word, or one of the kids getting a knife in the foot).

I was right.

You can probably tell already which version Andrew and I liked better. Nonetheless, here’s what we thought of the original and remake. Because it is interesting to note the differences, since one was a rated PG-13 theatrical movie and the other was TV-G made-for-TV.

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Adventures_In_Babysitting

I saw this for the first time in late high school during my big 80s phase. It wasn’t an enduring favorite but I did enjoy it for the sheer ridiculous but at least logical (well, sort of; far more logical than the remake!) plot.

Elizabeth Shue (best known now for playing on the original CSI) plays Chris Parker, your typical 80s teenager. She’s got the teased hair, long tan coat with shoulder pads, and a boyfriend. Speaking of the boyfriend, Mike, he bails on their anniversary dinner, so she takes a last-minute babysitting job with the Andersons and their two kids Sara (a major Thor fangirl who wears a winged helmet throughout the movie) and Brad. Brad is supposed to stay at his friend Daryl’s house for the night, but when he finds out Chris is babysitting, he stays at home because he’s got a major thing for Chris. Chris expects this to be an average night of babysitting, until she gets a call from her friend Brenda, who has run away from home, and is freaking out because she has no more money and she’s stuck at a Greyhound station in a bad area of Chicago. Brenda begs Chris to pick her up, so she gets the kids and Daryl, who’s come by the house, in her mom’s car and drives to the city.

Except she gets a flat tire on the way.

The tow truck they stop after they get a flat tire, driven by a “Handsome” John Pruitt, offers to drive them to his garage to help them fix the car. Then, John makes a detour to his house when he gets a call from his boss that his wife is “with that guy again,” so he can confront the guy. Pruitt accidentally shoots the windshield of Chris’ mom’s car when he was aiming for his wife’s lover. Chris and the kids hide in a nearby Cadillac, which is being carjacked, so they get taken to a garage and they discover a national stolen car ring. They’re detained in an office, from which they end up escaping, but not before Daryl swipes an issue of Playboy from that office, and then finding themselves in a blues club and having to sing before leaving, and then….

They end up in an L train with a gang (where Chris utters the immortal line “don’t $^&#*^ with the babysitter!”) and Brad gets a knife to the foot.

There’s a young Vincent D’Onofrio reminding Sara of her idol Thor.

They also end up at a frat party.

Oh and then the very party that the Andersons are attending, yet they are somehow never seen.

Chris and her boyfriend break up.

And they still make it back in time after picking up Brenda for the parents to arrive home.

Sure, the plot is a little ridiculous with everything they get into, but it’s fun to watch! It’s fun to watch these people try and figure out how they’re going to get home, all without the modern technology of using PayPal to get money for their car repairs or calling AAA to get towed, etc. And it is definitely rated PG-13 for a reason. Not that it really bothers me, but it should be noted, especially when you compare this to the remake. Characters joke about how much Chris resembles that month’s Playboy of the Month. Brenda is stuck with the dredges of society at a downtown Chicago bus station, so we see her verbally spar with a homeless guy who tells her to “get out of [his] house” while she’s talking to Chris in a phone booth. She also loses her glasses and thinks that a sewer rat is a kitten until some custodians tell her otherwise. All of it is told in a very 80s style, complete with the hairstyles, big cars, and not taking itself too seriously. If I had to use one word to describe this, it would be goofy. But goofy in a non-childish way.

Not an absolute new favorite but in terms of 80s movies, it’s up there.

Which brings me to the remake…..

Whoooo boy…..

Adventures in Babysitting (2016)

Adventures_in_Babysitting_2016_Poster

 

What I find most interesting about this remake in comparison to the original is that the 1987 original was the eighth PG-13 movie to be released by a Disney film division (Touchstone Pictures). So Disney had a hand in putting out that movie to people. They even wanted Chris Columbus, the director, to remove a line from the movie to make it more family-friendly. Yet it still came out as PG-13 to movie theaters.

I find that interesting because this remake, done entirely by Disney, was made even more family-friendly, much to the detriment of the story.

This remake was clearly TV-G. And you could tell.

It was as I feared.

Not as bad as I thought, but still, it was bad.

Like the original, you still have a set of zany adventures in the big city involving a babysitter and her charges. The kids get everyone home just in time. That part hasn’t changed.

However, everything else is different.

This time, we get to know two babysitters, Jenny Parker and Lola Perez, who are both rivals for a photography internship. Yes, in this remake, we have two babysitters to take Chris Parker’s place. Somehow they switch phones (this is 2016 after all) and Helen Anderson calls Jenny’s phone, begging for a last-minute sitter. Lola answers and is about to explain the mistake but when she gets a parking ticket, she figures she could use the extra money. Meanwhile, Jenny goes to the Coopers’ house to babysit and when they realize they’ve switched phones, Jenny travels to Lola to get her phone back. By then, one of the kids, Trey, has gone missing. He’s snuck out to a Psychic Rockets concert despite being grounded. So the girls team up to find him and they journey to a sketchy pawn shop to track him down because that’s where he bought the scalped tickets. One of the kids, Bobby, accidentally lets loose a rare ferret, which the girls take a picture of, and which sets into motion these pawn shop owners who spend the movie chasing them down because they could expose their illegal animal smuggling ring.

Many of the things they get into from there are even more ridiculous versions of the original. In a nod to the original, the girls and their charges end up on stage at a club and can’t escape without doing something musical. But instead of singing the blues, they have to engage in a rap battle. A scene that would’ve made sense if they had walked into a rap battle along the lines of 8 Mile instead of what it was: a typical EDM club. Everyone was listening to bland EDM music, not rap music. So making them rap at an EDM club made no sense except that the writers were bound by squeaky-clean Disney rules so they couldn’t have them walk into a rap battle, since rap battles are not family-friendly.

Since we have two babysitters in this version, we also get two sets of kids. Which makes things even more confusing because there are so many kids that you can’t tell who’s who. At least I couldn’t. And you don’t get to know them very well either. I did like that one of the younger kids Bobby is an aspiring chef and therefore loves to cook. But the others, I couldn’t tell you one from the other. They all have one thing to define their personality and nothing more. One of them loves to wear her mother’s jewelry (she also looks creepily like Jon Benet Ramsey). Another is a typical Hot Topic goth. And all of them get involved in all sorts of slapsticky antics that feel childish rather than goofy.

Speaking of slapstick, perhaps if this remake had not been released by Disney, this might’ve been better. But as it was, the writers seemed bound by two things:

1) This is a Disney movie so we need to make this as family-friendly as possible;

2) This is made-for-TV

Since this was Disney, the villains were turned into bumbling, cartoonish idiots that you weren’t scared of for one second. They reminded me of Horace and Jasper from 101 Dalmatians. They also included tons of slapstick gags with people always slipping and falling and the parents being too stupid to understand what’s going on. The writers seemed so bound by making it squeaky clean and making it a TV movie that the movie felt way too restrictive and it lost the goofy charm of the original movie. Instead, it was made ridiculous with way too many elements (there’s a subplot about Jenny’s crush, another about a cute dog who has to be kept as stress-free as possible, and a police officer who takes a liking to Lola).

Not a total waste of time, but it left me groaning more than laughing.

Andrew and I will take the original any day over this.