Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#Pop Song #Vocal Priorities: Sing Like You Mean It, Cut through the Band, Stick to the Melody, Keep in Time

In case you're wondering, the Chord of the Day is G-flat minor.

I could barely give advice about singing, since I personally am not much of one. (I sing despite this.) This quick post will only cover songs in the "popular music" format that covers basic genres like four-chord rock, pop country written in a factory in Nashville, Top 40 pop, and the singing hook in rap songs. This mini-rant does not apply to traditionally technical and experimental genres (opera, progressive, jazz, etc.). Anyway, here is the basic checklist to be a better pop vocalist:

1. Sing like you mean it,
2. Cut through the band,
3. Stick to the melody, tied with
4. Keep in time.

If you don't believe a word you're singing, your singing will sound like crap -- no matter how perfectly pitched you are. I forget which singer, it could have been Pavarotti or B.B. King, used to underline and color words on his lyric sheet to remind him to put some emotion behind certain words. Whether or not you're the songwriter of a song, try "coloring" the words of any song. Use the tools and techniques at your disposal, and learn some more along the way. Figure out when to use or not use vibrato. Shriek and scream if it benefits the song. Sing like you mean it.

There's a reason why bass-baritones aren't the lead singer of any accessible/successful heavy rock bands -- the mix gets muddy by the very nature of sound frequencies. Many female vocalists and every male tenor can cut through and float on top of any heavy rock band easily. If a singer's natural singing voice is of the same frequency as a bass guitar or the meaty distortion of the rhythm guitar, then it's time for a serious band meeting. The solutions could involve having the bassist play up on the neck, using lighter overdrive for the rhythm guitar, and/or pushing the lead singer to rely on head voice and falsetto -- or getting a new vocalist altogether.

If you're a cover singer, try to stick to the melody. If you're a singer-songwriter, then write accessible melodies and stick to them. Keep in time with the rest of the music as well. I'm not saying you should be Autotune perfect, just keep close. Let's look at the late Whitney Houston's recording of "How Will I Know?" I analyzed the vocal track with Melodyne software:

The rectangles show where the perfect notes would be, and the grid lines show where the correcct timing would be. Ms. Houston's notes are the blobby-looking waveforms. As you can see, she hit the notes very well and relatively in time, but her performance was not robotic perfection. There are moments of being slightly flat, slightly sharp, behind the beat, and ahead of the beat -- but it all works out wonderfully.

Whitney Houston sang like she meant it. The producer and musicians recorded the correct arrangement to complement her voice. But above all, she had soul. Soul is what makes a vocal performance -- or any performance -- excellent.

That's all for now; keep jamming!

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