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Chris Keller Scores His Singing Success In New York

It has been nearly a year since Chris Keller left the relatively familiar comforts and challenges of life as a Brett Manning certified vocal coach in Music City, U.S.A. to face the unknown risks and rewards of life in the Big Apple.

The small town Illinois native arrived at the suburban New Jersey home of Brett Manning trained vocal coach Deborah “Zuke” Smith and her husband, Kent, in early May of 2010, leaving behind a flood ravaged town for the chance to set sail in a city where many get swallowed up or blown away.

“I got to Zuke’s on May 5th, and was there almost a month before I moved to Brooklyn on the 2nd of June,” Chris said.

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Stronger + More Focused

For Chris, the challenges have provided greater opportunities to grow. He has noticed that he now has a greater focus, more appreciation for the gifts of others, and has a stronger passion for coaching, singing, and performing.

“Since I got here I’ve been performing with two different bands,” he said. “The style for one band is what’s called jock rock. It’s where you hit the highest note, and have the baddest guitar. While the other is a band called Jenny Jump. It’s named after a mountain in New Jersey. It has a kind of a poppy, Journey-ish sort of sound. We have a gig coming up on May 6th at an outdoor festival.”

The producer of Jenny Jump contacted Zuke to see if she knew of any singers that might be a good fit for the band, and the rest has been a sort of supernatural history for Chris.

Learning To Sing + Authentic Voice

Chris said that one of the perks of performing has been reconnecting with many original instincts and passions for singing. He feels these are part of his authentic voice. This reconnection has also helped him make adjustments in his approach to teaching and coaching.

“I focus on vocal placement and tone placement, but there’s also more singing instead of vocalizing,” he said, adding that it’s helped to free him up to be more positive and bloom as a coach and performer.

He credits Brett Manning’s teaching, along with his introduction to vocal coach Melissa Cross (“The Zen of Screaming”), as being instrumental in helping him grow stronger as a performer and coach.

“Brett always said that light and right is better than strong and wrong,” Chris said. “I’ve changed that a bit to light and bright, but the results I’m aiming for is the same.”

The Coach As Producer

Chris has also gained valuable experience in vocal production at The Cutting Room. “I produced an EP there for one of my students,” he said. “It all clicked, and I really enjoyed it. I hooked up with the studio owner and an engineer there. So, I’m doing a lot more producing now.” A side benefit of being at The Cutting Room has been getting to know Art Garfunkle, of Simon and Garfunkle fame. And, Chris has also met a number of Broadway performers that have expressed interest in working with him, including key players from the cast of Mary Poppins and Spiderman. “I’ve become a better coach by being exposed to all aspects of producing, and that’s also made me a better artist,” Chris said. “It helps with teaching more of the artistry and understanding that scales and exercises will help you get better technically, but that alone won’t make you a better artist. I also don’t focus on breathing so much, but focus on speaking. I recently figured out my approach to things like the high mix notes. So, with producing and performing, I’m seeing more of the bigger picture. It’s very rewarding.”

Jimmy Gnecco

One of the artists Chris admirers most he met through Brett. That artist is Jimmy Gnecco. “I once spent seven hours just hanging with him,” Chris said. “He helped me to just be honest. To just be myself. I mean going back to high school, I knew I could sing. But those six years where I was in college and then coaching in Nashville, I felt like a lot of what I did I was doing to impress people or show off. But here in New York, I’m more confident. I mean when you’re around people whose opinions matter here, you have to be real, to be yourself. If not, you’ll get lost and fail. So, coming here, I’ve learned to get back to my roots. Now I try to sound like Chris Keller, kind of Broadway, kind of poppy – just natural.” As for tales of New Yorkers being cold and the city full of crime, Chris would beg to differ. He dropped his wallet on a subway platform on Halloween, and he got it back because someone had found it and turned it in. “Also, I once left my cell phone in a taxi,” he said. “Then, when I realized it, I called the number, and a guy answered. It was the taxi driver. He brought it all the way back to me.”

Advice For The Big Move

Having made big moves from Illinois to Nashville and then from Nashville to New York, Chris has a few words of wisdom to share in taking those first few big steps – planning is critical. “Make sure you have some knowledge in your field, some focus of pursuit with some options and savings, and know what you’re doing,” he said. “Don’t rush anything. Look for a temporary place to stay where you get your bearings. Be open. Ask lots of questions. Be straight up and tell the truth. People want you to be forward and honest. And, don’t be afraid to let go. I know this guy who was born and raised in Manhattan. He said you learn that people are dispensable. That doesn’t mean you just throw people away. What it means is, be selective in terms of who you want to hang out with and want to get to know better.”

City of Opportunity

Chris said he’s also quickly recovered from the wow factor of the many popular tourists sites in New York. “I always thought New York was the city of opportunity, and it is,” he said. “But those places like Times Square are super cool at first, but you learn to avoid them. There are like 20 million people here in a city that’s 24/7. So whatever you need is here, and pretty much whenever you want it. You just have to figure out how to get it. I’ve been much busier here than I’ve ever been anywhere. I’ve had some down times, but I always bounce back. Maybe the biggest challenge is finding things to do without spending money.” He’s also made one key change in terms of personal habits and tastes. After working with Lasse Lauren, a successful Ralph Lauren model, Chris has become a vegan. “He’s been a vegan for years,” Chris said. “So I’ve learned to take better care of myself. I’ve noticed positive results in my overall health, energy and well being.” One of the opportunities Chris may pursue down the road is acting. If he does, he will likely gain even greater focus and a deeper passion for his teaching and artistry. This would provide one more tool for him to use in helping his students achieve their singing success while providing a richer experience for his audience and fellow artists.

Clip It

Check out coaching clips from Chris Keller as well as clips of artist Jimmy Gnecco right here at, and share any stories you have of your experiences with visiting New York. Share your dreams of big moves you want to make in taking that next step closer to achieving your singing success.

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To book a session with Chris Keller call (888) 269-7758 or (615) 866-1099 or send an email to: