With a Song in His Heart
Two decades ago, Matt Kramer was a rock star. Now he teaches others to achieve that rarefied status, while he enthusiastically harkens back to a bygone musical era.
Twenty years ago, 21-year-old Matt Kramer reigned as a newly minted rock star—the co-founder of and lead singer in the band Saigon Kick.
Today, he has reinvented himself as a master voice coach and career development consultant, with a clientele that includes aspiring recording artists as well as doctors who just want to do better on karaoke night. “My oldest student is 70,” says Kramer, proprietor of North Miami Beach-based Kramer Voice Company. “He’s a doctor who sings Mexican ranchera, a traditional form of music that dates back to the Mexican Revolution.”
Kramer’s students include raw beginners as young as 10 years old and Russian pop stars who fly in to be tutored in his uniquely pragmatic technique, which can teach virtually anyone to sing competently. “Last December,” he says, “I even trained the Miami Dolphins for a playoff and Super Bowl TV commercial so they could sing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’”
Since childhood, Kramer has enjoyed a distinct and rare musical advantage. His mother was a renowned opera singer who went on to become an acclaimed vocal coach. “I had spent my childhood watching her get trained by the greatest maestros in the world, the old schoolteachers who are long gone now,” he says. “They learned in Italy and were the finest voice trainers ever. There aren’t many left today of that caliber. And just sweeping up around the studio or listening against the wall, I was able to learn about and understand training at that level. And that has always been inside me.”
What exactly is so unique about his method now?
“Everything,” he says, with a laugh. “Because I grew up in a traditional opera-teaching environment and my mother later taught in a way she called her ‘holistic method’—including bringing in yoga breathing back in the 1960s—I had that to refer back to and draw on.”
As a result, he questioned the way modern voice lessons were doled out. “I always had a problem with how vague voice lessons really are,” he says. “And the more I researched it, the more I learned how vocal teachers throw around words, like diaphragm. If a student doesn’t really understand what that actually means, they get frustrated very quickly.”
To brandish commonly applied terms such as diaphragm and projection without being able to clearly teach what they mean in practice does a disservice to students, says Kramer, who joined his first band at the advanced age of 18. And he came to that conclusion as a result of his own frustration when he was learning to sing—after his mother declined to instruct him in the “screaming” art of rock.
When he decided to launch Kramer Voice Company, he developed a clear, practical technique akin, he says, to using an instruction manual to rebuild a car’s engine. “I broke the instrument down into an assembly, into diagrams, and I realized there is a ‘mechanical’ solution to teaching people to sing,” he says. “There is a chain of events that needs to happen—and it can happen the wrong way or the right way. But since I had also been a rock singer, I was able to see the things that are usually hidden when you want to learn to sing.”
He held himself to a high standard. “I didn’t just want to become a voice teacher,” he says. “I wanted to become a great voice teacher. And to do that, you have to understand the fundamental mechanics of singing and be able to communicate them to other people.”
The result of his fierce commitment has been a uniquely comprehensive method that can teach almost anyone to be a singer. “The hardest part is that first you have to have a good understanding of your body’s motor skills and learn how to use these techniques,” he says. “Of course, there are certain people who are naturally gifted singers, like Andrea Bocelli or Celine Dion. But anyone can learn to be a competent singer. The only real requirement is that you have a musical mind. You just have to understand what makes music happen.”
Today, Kramer says, he also understands the value of an ongoing reinvention of himself.
“It feels great to have reinvented myself,” he says. “It allows me to see things in another perspective. It teaches me about training someone to do something and how important that skill is.”
In fact, he has applied it to himself, and become a big band jazz singer with a few public performances under his belt as Matt Kramer and His Big Band. “That’s really going to be my future,” he says. “I’ve also started a publishing company and released two books of poetry. So, I’m a published poet now, too.”
And, after two decades, Kramer and his Saigon Kick co-founder, guitarist Jason Bieler, are talking about a reunion of the band and a tour. “It’s all pretty wild,” he says. “You’re never too old to reinvent yourself—more than once.”