Live: Q&A with Julie Miles, founder of Vocal Ovation

Julie Miles is a professional vocal coach and founder of Vocal Ovation

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I predominately work with singers who are already professional or are seeking to have a career as a singer in the music industry, however on any given day I may be working with an amateur singer to simply teach them to control their voice and stay in tune well enough to join a choir, right up to prepping an artist for a TV show where they will be seen in front of millions!

Talk us through your journey into the music industry. How did you get into vocal coaching?

Much of the success I’ve achieved as an effective coach is attributed from my 10-year career in senior management at Sage Software, where I ran a highly successful sales department responsible for achieving multi million sales targets each year. Although completely unrelated to music – developing, mentoring, motivating and coaching people was at the heart of the role.

In earlier years, my life was completely based around music and performing. Having played the flute from the age of 6, I left school to study Performing Arts at Newcastle College where the main focus was singing, dancing and acting. Although my versatile vocal style made me competent as a pop, musical theatre, jazz or blues singer. Understanding the importance of a strong vocal foundation, I also undertook 2 years of classical voice training throughout my time at college.

I then went on to sing professionally for over 12 years across the UK and abroad as part of a wide range of acts including; close harmony girl groups, solo, lead singer of several top North East bands, original music projects, as well as recording work for the International Guild of Songwriters and Composers.

The whole concept for Vocal Ovation started in August 2009 when my husband booked me a surprise singing lesson with David Grant from Pop Idol and Fame Academy. On the way there he said, have you ever thought about being a vocal coach, I really hadn’t but then spookily David asked exactly the same in my session. I took that as a sign! I then started traveling to London every month to train with him. My lessons took on a “coach the coach” model and I was fortunate enough to be able to work really closely with both David and his wife, Carrie Grant too.

Talk us through your career highlights?

My students have had some amazing experiences since we’ve worked together, but personally, one of the best things I’ve done was being part of The 100 in BBC’s All Together Now. I’ve been involved in talent shows for years but the difference with this was it did what it said on the tin. It wasn’t about finding the next superstar – it was more about giving singers the chance to show what they can do and to get immediate feedback. There was no hidden agenda. We had some brilliant singers, but it was so great to see that this was proper prime time entertainment!

You’ve worked with plenty of talent show contestants. How do you help them in their journey?

I really try to keep things real for them and make sure they stay true to themselves. It’s always so tempting to try to second guess what a TV show may be looking for in order to adapt yourself to fit, but that will be so hard to maintain if you’re not being authentic. TV is a great platform to be seen and potentially discovered but that rarely happens unless something stands out about you as being different.

A great example would be what happened to my student Courtney Hadwin. After dabbling with pop songs, at only 11 years old it quickly became apparent that really wasn’t her lane. She loved artists like James Brown, Etta James and Janis Joplin, and despite criticism that the songs were too old fashioned for her we stuck to our guns and kept working on that genre of music. She made it right through to the final of The Voice Kids singing the music she loved and could lose herself in. Consequently she was spotted by America’s Got Talent, not only because of her incredible voice but because she was so unexpected and unique. Her initial audition where she sang Too Hard To Handle by Ottis Redding got her the golden buzzer and went viral overnight. That would never have happened if she’d been predictable and hadn’t been 100% herself.

You worked on Little Mix’s new BBC talent programme, The Search – what can you tell us about that?    

I was initially involved in scouting singers right across the country for the show and watched literally 100s of videos in order to find the ones that not only were great singers in their own right, but who would fit in with a group. I was also part of the coaching team for the 4 huge audition stages in London, Manchester and Birmingham. We saw an amazing array of talent and the groups that were subsequently formed did us proud.

How have you adapted your coaching through lockdown?

I went completely online and thought I’d get to catch up on other work, but that didn’t happen at all because my face-to-face students started to work online with me and a lot of my waiting list people — I was able to slot them in. I started earlier, had less of a break time at lunch, and finished earlier, because so many people were available throughout the day. I’m teaching people not only up and down the UK but around the world now – Japan, Canada, USA and so on.

What advice would you give to those wanting to get into the music industry?

Make sure that you find a professional to work with; you’ve got to be able to sing correctly and it’s important to have people there for you for support and advice, and to keep you grounded amongst the chaos sometimes. Working at a high level in the music industry comes across as very glamorous but getting to that stage takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If you’re serious about singing and performing as a career path you have to be so passionate about it that it becomes an obsession to a point. You have to be prepared to work your pants off to get what you want and be prepared for many setbacks along the way! You’ll likely hear a lot more no than yes throughout your journey and have to be able to bounce back.

Any plans for the future?                       

I’d love to be able to split my time between the UK and America and continue what I’m doing now on a greater level. It’s not just a job; it’s a passion!

Vocal Ovation