BWW Interview: Matt Farnsworth on the Creation of His Innovative Vocal Studio App

BWW Interview: Matt Farnsworth on the Creation of His Innovative Vocal Studio App

Matt Farnsworth is an accomplished voice teacher, actor, and pianist living and working in NYC. He has been teaching voice since 1995 when he became the consulting coach on Broadway's production of RENT. Since then, Matt has taught hundreds of Broadway actors, film stars and recording artists which include Sara Bareilles, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tony Award Nominees such as Anika Larsen and Brandon Uranowitz and American Idol finalists Constantine Maroulis and Pia Toscano.

He recently developed a vocal warm up App called MF Voice to help beginner and professional singers alike. MF Voice introduces a new patented algorithm system where the user answers a series of questions about voice type, singing experience, vocal range, song genre and how they are feeling that day to create a perfect warm-up designed specifically for the user's voice and the type of music they are singing.

CLICK HERE to download the App today.

Matt just spoke to BroadwayWorld about his new App and how training a professional singer is akin to training someone for the Olympics. Check out what he had to say below!

You started out as a performer... how did you make the switch from that to vocal coach?

I actually started as a classical pianist. I only found out I could sing in 7th grade. That's when I switched over to theatre and was hooked after being cast in The Wizard of Oz. I attended CCM for musical theatre and I always found myself accompanying people, but also vocally coaching them at the same time. Ive always had a natural instinct for it and have been lucky enough to have wonderful teachers like Karl Resnik and Bill Schuman.

My dream had finally come true by being cast in The Who's TOMMY, but after I had left and gone to do another project, I found myself waiting tables at a restaurant.. again. My friend and acting teacher extraordinaire Heidi Marshall called me, who was working for Bernie Telsey at the time. She said, "We are working on this new musical called RENT, do you want to play piano for it?" I said, "Heidi, I'm an actor not a piano player." To which she responded "its 50 bucks an hour" to which I responded.. "ILL BE RIGHT THERE." That's how it all started.

It was a new kind of rock musical for the time- they had all these legit singers come in that couldn't really perform or sing in the style of the show correctly. So we were literally bringing people in from places we wouldn't normally look. Like the subway... also band performers and people that had real grit to them. So, I started working with these actors voices to try to make the MT voices sound more rock and the band singers sing more healthily so they could sustain 8 shows per week. I would coach people who were very close to getting the part before their call back. I then became known as this rock vocal coach which is really funny because I was a classically trained singer. All this was happening while at the same time I was still performing, I did several other Broadway shows like THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, CATS, CURTAINS and the Canadian productions of SUNSET BOULEVARD, along with regional productions.

BWW Interview: Matt Farnsworth on the Creation of His Innovative Vocal Studio AppIn 2010, I was doing CURTAINS on Broadway, which was the most rewarding experience of my life. Not just because of the amazing cast and creative team, but because I was actually performing on the same stage I had seen my first Broadway show on which was INTO THE WOODS. It seemed like a full circle moment to me. As much as I had loved performing, the joy of doing it for some reason wasn't outweighing how hard of a business it had become for me. I was on stage during CURTAINS and I was like, "you know what? I think Im here taking up a role that someone else would be thrilled to do and I need to go and do what Im really good at.. Teaching." I was always a good performer, but I knew in my heart I was a better teacher.

With teaching now I had to come to grips with my ego about it. At first I had this overwhelming feeling that I had failed in some way. But then, I realized that everything I had worked for my entire life as a performer was going to be an addition and compliment to my teaching. It didn't mean I was a failure. So, that's how I made that decision to switch and make teaching a full time commitment. I told my agent expecting them to be mad at me, but they were lovely and said "you can always come back" which made me feel great. Then I went to India and I worked at ASTEP at a school for a month and re-centered myself. When I came back I committed myself to teaching full time.

We love Mary-Mitchell Campbell here too. So that's awesome you worked with ASTEP.

Yeah it was amazing. It was a life-changing experience because you realize these people have nothing in comparison to what we do. Yet they are smiling. They are smiling because it isn't about stuff. It's about experience and making human connections. It was an amazing life experience.

I'm sure that's something that fits into your everyday life and teaching.

When you walk into my studio, I don't have everybody who has been nominated for a Tony Award on my wall or all my broadway show posters up or signed headshots of famous people that I have worked with. I don't put the accolades up of people in my studio because it's not about me. That's what I learned in India. It's not about me, it's about my students. It's about their success. So, I just try to create a very neutral space for them to do their work in. To me, our achievements and accolades are a reflection of the INSIDE work we do. Not the other way around as we have been conditioned to believe. So I always tell my students that in their audition the job is to be of service to the material they are performing and to do good work. Its never about getting the job. That will be a result of the work.

So, in the couple decades you have been teaching, what sort of changes have you observed? Obviously the rock musicals were a big one. What else have you seen?

I have seen composing for the human voice become much more difficult and diversified. Composers are writing in stratospheric ranges for women and men, which is the style of what is happening right now, but we have to develop the musical theatre singer to be much more flexible in range while maintaining balance of the instrument. Meaning we have to teach them to thin out the instrument and not bring all the weight up into their sound, yet when it is called for, be able to sing with full voice legit singing. People are being asked to do crazy vocal riffs and at the same time we have the classics being revived. There's so much more variety of singing on Broadway like in HAMILTON. I mean that is something so thrilling, but also now a new skill theatre performers must learn to do authentically. Performing those words with articulation and speed is no easy feat. Actors have to remain very very flexible and also have to remain physically and emotionally in shape. There is so much that goes into taking care of the human voice, and body. Performers need enough rest, sleep, hydration and healthy eating habits. Everyone needs to be on their game. There are many more injuries from performers not knowing how to sing the material properly, and that comes from perhaps not understanding fully how to train a voice for flexibility and stamina, but can also be aggravated by poor life choices and bad vocal hygiene. I think we are seeing now though that classical singing is not the only form of singing being taught in colleges, and performers are coming out much more versatile than before. Ive had several college professors come to observe my lessons and its awesome to see. Their students will be so much more prepared because their teachers are seeking out new information. When I came to New York, I remember SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ came out, and they were like, "You need a pop rock song," and I was like, "What the hell is that?" I think, "Okay, 'Closer Than Ever.'" That was the closest thing I had to pop rock.

BWW Interview: Matt Farnsworth on the Creation of His Innovative Vocal Studio AppSo how do you teach people to sing all these different styles of music without killing themselves?

Well you have to really give them the techniques. There are certain exercises I give people. Singers are like Olympic athletes, really. You have to get your voice and body into the position of the show that you're in. So people generally get into trouble when they're doing something like belting as Elphaba in WICKED every night and during the day they're doing a reading of THE MUSIC MAN where they're having to sing high soprano. That will confuse the muscles of the instrument because they are doing one set of muscular dynamics in the afternoon and a completely different set of dynamics in the evening. I always make my students bring in the score a month ahead so we can get the show into the voice and get the body into the show. You really need that position, just as you would train to do the pole vault. One can't be the best pole vault athlete during the day and be the best long distance runner at night. There are different muscles that are needed for different types of singing.

When someone books a show, I say, "Alright, let's get this show into your voice correctly and give you exercises to keep your voice flexible during the run of the show." It's just like how dancers have physical therapists because they're doing the same thing on the left hand side of their body 8 times a week and they need to balance out the right side. When you're belting a role like Elphaba, of course you're going to have to make sure to keep their head tones and mix alive. It's just finding the balance and making sure they become to best singing Olympic athlete they can be.

Where did the idea of creating an App come from?

Well people have been asking me for years to create one, but I decided not to for a very long time. Singing is like therapy; no two voices are alike. I can't go to a therapist and have the therapist tell me the same thing that the guy before me went in a talked about because we have different sets of problems. Singers have different size larynx, different size voices, different tensions in their bodies etc etc. I thought there is no way I can create an App that would be specific to a person individually. Most of any good ideas that happen it my life happen for me when Im half-asleep in the morning. The night before, I had been on Facebook and I answered one of those algorithms that's like "Which Movie Star Are You?" It asks you a series of questions, what's your favorite color, blah, blah, blah, and I thought "I wonder if I could create an algorithm that basically asks a series of questions where I could program a back-end content management system to pull the correct videos based on what they've asked for."

BWW Interview: Matt Farnsworth on the Creation of His Innovative Vocal Studio AppMy brain started working, and I came up with the idea for this App. I didn't want to create an App that wouldn't be usable, helpful or generic. The app asks things like your gender, your voice type, what type of music you're singing, it asks if you're belting, if you're sick, and it asks how high the song goes. Based on those criteria, the App will pull a series of videos in the correct ORDER that will warm you up for the music you are singing and how you're feeling that day. Its all specific to YOU. That felt like something that was really cool and most of all helpful. Especially If you're out of town and you can't get in with your voice teacher... This isn't to replace voice lessons, but is a warm-up app to help you prepare for something. Let's say you're going in for WICKED and you're sick that day. You put in belting, sick, female, high, contemp theatre and it will give you the right exercises in the right order that will get you in the correct position to go in sing those songs.

What kind of skill levels is it designed for? If I was a beginner, is this something safe for me?

Yes. One of the questions is are you a beginner or are you a pro? So I created a whole set of videos for beginners and it simplifies everything and doesn't give the extended runs that the pro exercises do. Each exercise comes with an explanation video, then the keyboard comes up and you can practice based on your range and the range of the song. The keyboard knows if you say soprano to start you on a B flat. It also knows how high and how low to take you based on the information you input.

If I have a voice teacher, is this something that compliments the work I've been doing with them?

Absolutely, but It also depends if we are on the same page as far as technique goes. I'm a believer in sharing of information....I try to learn as much information as I can because it makes me a better teacher. After all I learned everything I know from my teachers and my own experience. I love talking to other teachers about what they have found useful for certain problems. I would say it's a great tool to use with your teacher if the teacher is open to it.

How does the cost structure work for the App?

BWW Interview: Matt Farnsworth on the Creation of His Innovative Vocal Studio AppIt's free to download with in-App purchases. Once you program what you're doing that day, the app will suggest the packages you need. We have both beginner and pro packs of pop/country, rock, contemporary theatre and classic theatre for $5.99 each. We also have the add on packs of sick/tired, belting, and speaking packs. For example, if you're needing the "Pop Professional Pack," plus the "belting pack" it is $5.99 plus $2.99. You can buy those and you will get a series of 21 videos total with explanations and exercises and automatic keyboard for practicing. The app will always suggest you buy "All-Access Singing" to Volume 1, which includes all the singing packs in every category for $19.99 because its a much better value if you are going to sing different genres of music. You have access to all 76 videos of Volume 1 and you own those videos forever. We're going to release Volume 2 very shortly, so there is always new material being added to the App.

What's going to be on Volume 2?

Volume 2 will have a whole new series of sick, belting, pop, rock, contemporary theatre, and classical theatre exercises. If you get sick of doing the 76 that are on Volume 1, there will be another set on Volume 2 you can play with.

If people want to, through the App, can they contact you to schedule something like Skype lessons? How can they sort of upsell themselves to one on one?

On the App, there's a tab that says 'About.'. There is also link to, our website, and you can easily book a one on one or Skype lesson and contact us. In addition to myself, we also have three amazing associates that work with our team that are trained extensively by me as an ongoing process. We do training together with their students as well when they bring them to me if there is a particular problem they are having difficulty with. We have a very open door policy about sharing students and information. I think it's a little more of a contemporary view on the way voice teaching should work. Growing up, you were required to be very loyal to your voice teacher. It was almost like cheating on a boyfriend or something if you went to someone else. We are very much more open and like "Hey I'm working on this, what do you think?" And I'll say, "Yeah, that's great. Why don't you add this to it." There's an evolution to information we share by constantly having other people involved in the conversation. Just like anything else in life, the more people that contribute to something, the more ideas you have to make something a better product; this is the philosophy of our studio.

Matt Farnsworth's students can be seen performing in Film and Television, on Broadway, National tours and in regional houses around the country. Matt's success as a teacher is not only attributed to his studies, but also from his experience as an actor and accomplished pianist. Before Matt decided to pursue teaching full time, he performed on Broadway and regionally in The Who's Tommy, Cats, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Sunset Boulevard and Curtains. He has performed in top regional productions opposite Idina Menzel, Alice Ripley and many other amazing singers. Matt believes that every great teacher should continue their own studies and he does so by studying regularly himself with incredible teachers like Bill Schuman, Craig Carnelia, Joan Rosenfels and Bob Krackower.

Matt's knowledge and experience of "the business", relationships with casting directors and directors, unparalleled piano skills, understanding of the human voice and body, along with his own experience of being a Broadway actor in NYC for 20 years, make him one of New York's most sought after voice teacher today

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