The Path of Vocal Authenticity: Sam Robbins

Singer songwriter Sam Robbins at the Bluebird Cafe
The classic, soulful music of Sam Robbins has been making an impact since his appearance on The Voice.

Sam Robbins jumped full-on into the music right after high school with 150-200 shows per year.  At the same time, he pursued the study of vocal technique, recently graduating from The Berklee College of Music.

Sam considers a it a major accomplishment to have “failed” on The Voice!  This is because he consciously resisted efforts to change his musical approach and vibe to fit others’ expectations. This is what attracted us at Singdaptive to his music!  We wanted to ask him to share his convictions about his work and his views of singing with all of the singers at Singdaptive.

Key turning points in developing your own unique vocal work

I have been given so many wonderful musical tools through lessons and study of the voice. But a key turning point was the realization that I needed to integrate these with my own approach.  It was easy for me to believe that taking lessons, having a teacher, would be the thing that would make my singing great. But no, it was that added together with my own experience and expertise, which is just as valid.

That’s a great insight!  Any breakthroughs with vocal technique? 

Learning to sing more quietly. I spent many years playing at bars, 150-200 shows a year, where I had to get people’s attention. I would sing and play loud. I would turn up my mic and still sing and play loud. I blew out my voice from time to time, I would sing with tension, and it would be generally unpleasant. When I first moved to Nashville, I was practicing and warming up at these volume levels. I was lacking in tone and was tense. 

Sam Robbins soundcheck at the Music Hall

How did you address this?

My girlfriend (an amazing singer) told me gently to try singing quieter. Whispering almost. It was incredibly uncomfortable at first but then… I reached a new level. The freedom, tone and comfort in my voice has never been the same. Now, when I warm up and before I perform, I always sing one song at almost whisper level.

A favorite quote that inspires you

I’ve had this Teddy Roosevelt quote on my wall since college – “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

An object that inspires you in your musical work

A little cliché but… my guitar! The limitations it has have allowed me to create in a different way than I normally would. I bought it in September, right when I moved to Nashville. Its smaller than what I normally use – limited in some ways, but in other ways this has opened me up to a way of playing and thinking that uses that limitation as a beautiful tool.

A recent original by Sam Robbins: “Satisfied”

A vocal artist who inspires you? 

Mary Chapin Carpenter!  She’s inspiring me on every level right now – she has an amazing blend between her vocals and guitar. They work in tandem.

What are you liking about right now?

I’m really loving the Singdaptive website. Some of these online instruction sites have a cumbersome user experience that makes it hard to get into at all. With Singdaptive I’ve been able to jump right in with ease of use and get what I need out of it.

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

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Social media can be a very dishonest platform – built on ego and exploiting our egos. This can be a great thing for so many reasons, but I also see where its pitfalls can be. I’ve been promoting things on social media for a while now, and I’ve come to realize that the most powerful way for me to share myself out there is to be honest. 

That sounds refreshing!

Honesty cuts through the BS of social media like a knife. It’s taken me a while to even realize this, and it’s an ongoing thing to learn. I feel scared when I post a video of me singing where I don’t hit every note or where I think I look bad, or where I think I’ve gained weight or am being seen from a bad angle. I find that that feeling of fear is exactly the thing that drives me to post it – because everybody feels that! And when people see you doing it, they’ll be inspired to do it.

Cover art for Sam’s recent single

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

I’m currently almost done with my first album! I’m going to be releasing it in the fall. Very excited! I’m constantly writing, trying to gather up new ideas.

What was your first gig/performance?

I sang at a middle school talent show. I’d never sang for anyone before and I decided I wanted to give it a shot. I did “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

What did you learn from that gig/performance?

I learned that live performance is power – it’s an extremely powerful, palpable form of communication that is only there for that moment. Even when videos are taken, the real essence of the performance is only there for that moment. I got a standing ovation, and for the first time I can remember I felt the sense of ego burning brightly inside me. Something had shifted – I knew I had been given some kind of power in performance.

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

I performed a sold-out show at a theater in my hometown a few months after being on The Voice. I had written many new songs, stepped out of my shell personally and vocally, and I was ready to show it. I felt that I had found a new purpose at this show. I found that people liked my songs and my heart, not just the fact that I had been briefly on a TV show. (Although that helped). It encouraged me to push myself to find my songs and my voice even more than before.

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

The biggest one is that I was honest with myself and my writing. I stopped trying so hard to be a star, to be famous and to write hit songs, and I just tried to write for me, no matter how anyone would like it. I go in and out of this mentality, but every time I write without other people’s expectations in mind, it ALWAYS draws people in. I find that it’s a much more powerful way of building an audience than how I look, how good my branding is, how good my voice is, or how many vocal runs I can do. People want to feel something, to look at something with a different perspective. With YOUR perspective!

What are some of your career dreams/goals?

To be able to tour and play for people who know my music, and feel that I’ve been of service to them in their lives.

Visit Sam Robbins Website |  Sam on Instagram | Sam on Facebook

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