Embracing it All: Singer-Songwriter David Shanhun

David Shanhun jumping in the air holding his guitar
Fantastic tips on looping, vocal health, and sharing online from this New Zealand artist.

David Shanhun is a top New Zealand Artist who’s opened for Foreigner, Heart, and Three Dog Night to an audience of 18,500 people.  He’s also sang with Grammy Award winner Bryan White.

But what’s really impressed us is how David’s passion for creating and performing has led him to embrace the entire gamut of music production and sharing from touring, looping (inside and outside), teaching, managing his social channels, and learning about vocal health.

A key turning point in developing your own unique vocal work? 

Realising that I had been taught to force my voice, instead of allowing it. That started me down a path of having the most awesome vocal days I have ever had (so far), and also allowing myself the grace that I go back into old habits also. I used to lose my voice after most shows because of these habits and how I used to sing. 

An important vocal health lesson? 

For me it’s that taking the time to practise good habits is important – without that practise I default to my old habits still, and that’s a quick way to lose my voice. Singing well when I take the time is truly effortless and brings me so much joy – singing badly or trying to push myself on a day that it’s really not happening is the quickest way for me to create strain and tension and start having issues. 

How do you handle days when your voice is not 100%?

Totally aware that some days you simply need to get up and sing, and I have a couple of exercises that massively help me – along with drinking a lot of water during the day if I need/wish to be on top form. 

David on a recent New Zealand tour

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned in terms of technique?

To relax and allow my voice to come out, rather than to try and control and force it. 

Why did you start looping?

It started just as a cool way to be able to play guitar solos that I’d learnt when doing solo gigs. Over time it morphed into being able to play full ‘one man band’ type shows and keep the dance floor cranking, as well as enjoyment and the challenge to see how I can arrange songs using looping that makes me smile when it all comes together. 

Would you recommend looping for all singers? 

Not necessarily – you will typically improve your timing, and likely your vocal pitching also if you build tracks like Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ etc. Most importantly it can be lots of fun – but if it’s not something you’re drawn to it will likely frustrate you and cost you more money than any gain you might get from it.

A vocal artist who inspires you? 

Amos Lee. His tone through his whole range and apparent ease to express himself vocally. It’s not necessarily fancy or complex, but I love the beauty in the use and tone of his whole range. Without this, it would almost seem that he’s written a lot of his songs in the wrong key for himself! 

What’s a lesson with tech (mics, camera, recording) that’s helped you make or share your music?

The biggest thing that helped me was learning basic EQ – I often record very simply straight to an on-camera mic that is the full mix of both guitar and vocals – learning to find ‘nasty’ frequencies and simply remove them as a starting point made all of my home recordings/videos instantly nicer. 

Any other tech tips?

I also enjoy setting up camera and other mics to get the best audio possible – but this also massively adds A LOT of editing time before you can then share anything… which leads us on to the next question! 

David in a recent performance with award winning musician and fiddlist Shimna Higgins

What’s your relationship with social media – what do you do that “works” / or that you like doing?

I enjoy sharing things that I think might contribute to people – sometimes it’s simply me enjoying life as a full time musician, and perhaps that can inspire others to pursue that for themselves too – a lot of other times it’s totally silly things that I think are funny. I actually forget to share music and what I’m working on quite often because I’m not on any social media typically when I’m practising or songwriting etc. There’s a lot of tunes in my voice notes on my phone that might be fun to share some of though. 

What do you enjoy about managing your YouTube channel?

I have put a lot of time into YouTube, learning to improve my video editing skills and sharing both music and tutorials. I do it because I really enjoy creating and editing and making something interesting to other people (and to myself). It started with me making weekly vlogs where I would film something simple like skateboarding to the coffee shop and try and make it entertaining with different camera angles and editing… I think many of those still have very few views – but that was what helped me to start learning. 

Any social media “successes” for you? 

The thing that comes to mind as the best success was the fact that through YouTube, I got in the habit of filming a LOT of things – most of which don’t ever make it online…. But I did film the whole process of taking my Dad into the studio to record, and because of that story and video that I released on YouTube about that session together – it made it easy to get snapped up by news media in NZ which then meant the song took off. 

What are you currently working on in terms of your music-career?

I’ve just finished a tour, and have realised that I have written a lot of songs that have never been released or shared. Playing around with how I wish to record and share these at the moment, so that’s the next project, alongside getting back to creating content on YouTube again. I miss it! 

What is one video of your singing that was particularly easy (or hard!) to complete – and what made it so?

I would say my loop cover of ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Isaac on YouTube. And it was hard! My voice went in and out for the day and I recorded this a LOT of times not being happy with any take, along with flatmates coming home mid take, and not even getting the first bend (note) right for the guitar part as I discovered later. 

When I finally gave up for the day and looked at the footage I found the camera kept doing a weird auto focus, and when I listened back I realised the mic captured a weird slap back delay from the concrete car port I was recording in as well. I was very close to not uploading it at all just feeling super frustrated… and finally rationalised that I would share it, as after all that is what I had spent the whole day doing! Turned out a bunch of people have really appreciated it, and it makes me realise that it’s not necessarily about everything being ‘perfect’ 

What was your first performance?

My first performance with guitar and vocals was at my high school playing for a parent teaching bbq meet and greet type evening. I remember being pretty shy and looking at the music stand with chords and lyrics on it. 

What did you learn from that performance?

I think it planted the seed of being able to perform, and being ok with being nervous about it and doing it anyway. 

What performance would you single out as being a “turning point” & why?

I’ve had many little moments along the way, that have slowly fostered belief in me to take a bigger next step, or to realise that other people’s opinions do not count at all. I would say some of those moments of realisation would be – getting turned down from the very first audition for NZ’s Got Talent, being asked/invited to perform with Bryan White, and the first time I hired a theatre myself to put on a show – it was 300+ seats and we got 30 people in as totally unknown artists – great learning curve!

What were one or two critical steps you took to reach larger audiences with your music? 

Touring, and having no clue about how best to spend money on advertising, but doing it anyway, and slowly learning along the way. The second would be utilising YouTube to share videos of me performing – I realised that the things people enjoy go to the top, and anything that isn’t so great typically will be so far down the search it doesn’t matter. It also surprised me many times what people enjoyed versus what I thought would do well. 

What are some of your career dreams/goals?

Putting on more shows where we as a band have the most amazing time musically and personally, and the audience leaves having had the most amazing time and experience hanging out and singing with us. Also, contributing to more people via YouTube and encouraging people to follow their passions – and

releasing a whole lot of unreleased tunes that I have sitting waiting in the wings at the moment!

See More about David: Website | YouTube | Facebook | Instagram

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