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Before you ask yourself “does my singing voice sound awful?” remember this crucial concept: Multifactorial– involving or dependent on a number of factors or causes. While this term typically refers to medical diagnosis, it can be a helpful term when considering how your recorded voice sounds to your own ears. Below is a list of these considerations that we’ll be discussing in the following points. Some of these factors, you can help or change. Some are up to individual listeners. Some may have to do with psychology, ability, sound perception, nutrition, lack of sleep, lack of practice, sore throat, over used speaking voice on day of recording, dehydration, wrong microphone having a bad day, wrong technique or training, singing the wrong song, emotion, experience, production (types of instruments in the arrangement, who is your producer?), genre of music, expectations and ‘does the song fit your voice?’ The quickest answer I usually give singers that they don’t have a good warm up routine for the studio. This assumes the voice sounds good already. Only you know when your voice is warmed up enough to begin singing. Although great coaches can tell—if educated and truly listening as they warm you up. Read on for details on how to fix this issue!
Is It Me? Do I Just Sound Bad?Remember me talking about perception? To gain understanding of the various possibilities, let’s start here:
yes… you LEGITIMATELY sound badThe first consideration should be your tone and articulation. If you don’t sound bad and you have general sense of style or personality in your voice, then usually the voice can be fixed. Even, and especially, if you sing off key. Fixing pitch is easier than fixing performance. A great producer can often drag (sounds harsh, but yes… DRAG) out a decent vocal performance out of a somewhat gifted singer. A vocal coach can do this too, though we all may approach this differently. Some come at it from technique only, while others simply want a believable performance. I believe in both! Your singing voice is different in the studio than on a stage, in your shower, bedroom, outside alone or on stage. Sometimes…. recordings don’t lie. Your vocal cords are weak and your limited training, practice, discipline and understanding could prematurely cause you to think you just have a bad voice. But there’s a difference between a bad singer and a bad voice. The first is easier to train and fix. The second is extremely rare. Meaning…. EVERYONE can improve and at least NOT sound awful. Remember this, an untrained wild horse might look good in a luxury car commercial, but they don’t win races. An untrained voice sounds different to an audience than to yourself.
no…you’re just your own worse criticYour recordings actually sound good, but hearing your actual voice recorded for the first time throws you off. My own daughter has one of the most amazing recorded voices I’ve ever produced. And that was at 12. And yes…she’s my daughter and #1-Parents are supposed to love their own kid’s voices and yet some are overly harsh to their own children out of jealousy or wanting to discourage them, so they’ll do something else. So, parents aren’t always the most objective surveyors of talent. #2- She has an advantage being the daughter of vocal coach, so of course she’s going to be good. But this isn’t true. She worked her butt off, sometimes singing 3 to 4 hours a day before her tone became compelling. #3- She has unusual genetics, which is true. But without the work, she wouldn’t have gotten there and has drastically improved over the years. So my point is that she sometimes cringes when she listens to her recorded voice, though her friends are literally shocked at how good she is. The problem is in perception of sound as we’ll continue to discuss. If you expect to sound like Aretha Franklin, but sound more like Adele, you might be disappointed. Even if everyone loves your voice. It’s the initial shock of “gosh, I thought I sounded totally different than I actually do.”
do you hear what i hear?No, you don’t. If you plug your ears and sing, you’ll hear the resonance of your inner ears. But this is why I always tell singers…. “your inner ear is a liar”. More on this in the section titled Simply, the resonance your inner ears (also via your eustachian tubes which vary in levels and density of mucous) sounds different from room resonance and acoustics. Consider this also, the microphone, the pre amp, how close you stand to the mic, the effects, the compression and the eq can drastic effect your tone. You could get a completely different effect from changing just ONE of these factors. Also, everyone hears music differently because the shape of ears, the size of your inner ear structures and the sounds your ears are used to hearing will shape your musical perception. In other words, everyone has different musical taste and the sound of your voice could be loved by one person and hated by another. It’s a fact you must face and move on. Don’t get mad if someone you know hates cinnamon and you love it. That’s just for you! 😉
DehydrationImagine running a marathon without taking a single drink of water, Gatorade or some hydrating liquid. You really can’t, can you. But too often, I’m called into the recording studio to coach an artist—sometimes an artist signed to a record label—is in the studio with a tiny 6 oz water bottle of which he’s only taken 2 sips. His voice sounds scratchy and tight. His tone is strident and he is straining for notes he typically hits easily. We hydrate, wait 30 minutes, reset his voice with some simple exercises and he sounds MUCH better! Important note: watch for my blog on hydration. For now, realize that water is a solvent, which means it cleanses and flushes out toxins from the body, so without trace minerals, it’s not going to necessarily hydrate you. Hydration has many factors (there’s that words again). Too much water can be a problem, because you can get waterlogged or over-hydrated. This condition can actually be DEADLY. Recently, a radio station had a water drinking contest where a listener drank 2 gallons of water in short amount of time…. and tragically…. she died! How horrible and yet unpredictable. It’s important to do a search for a ‘water calculator’ to see how much water you should be drinking daily in proportion to your weight and activity level. But seek out good mineral water or even add a small pinch of pink mineral salt added to purified water. But whenever possible, avoid tap water or water from a plastic water bottle. Glass is more preferable. Finally, be aware of foods that are more likely to cause dehydration, like food additives like MSG and other Excitotoxins, which—according to PubMed—a class of chemicals (usually amino acids) that overstimulate neuron receptors. The result is often unquenchable thirst. Avoid these. Also cigarette smoke, excessive or hard alcohol. Typically red wine or hard liquor cause dehydration worse than beer. But any inebriation (excessive alcohol intake or drunkenness) will make you a sloppy singer anyway. Practice moderation.
Singing IncorrectlyBad technique frustrates. One thing I’ve said over and over is that you need to trust your voice. Great technique should drastically improve pitch, duration and quality. This means that you have a connected voice (no breaks) between head and chest voice through a developed blend of both qualities. In other words, a mixed voice. The mixed voice is the most commercially compelling and safe sound a singer can develop for upper mid range notes. The vocal cords (also called vocal folds) receive less torque and tension. Yet the blended registers improve pitch and tone because this obeys the laws of physics. This means the swallowing muscles under your chin, towards the top of your neck, should not be flexed or rigid. The vocal cords should have been coordinated in your vocal warm up with your coach or with a systematic vocal training like the international best-seller I’ve authored, titled “Singing Success” which will train and coordinate every part of your voice from technique to style, as well as application of both to a song. Also, the way you warm up is the way you’re going to sing. Don’t compromise!
How We Hear Own Voice in Our Head Is Not How Others Hear ItAs mentioned earlier, the inner ear is a distortion from what the audience hear. Also something called bone conduction, the way we sound in our heads is not how others hear us.
When Sounding Awful Isn’t the Fault of Your VoiceWhen the environment, headphones, mic and other equipment suck…. step back. It’s not necessarily your fault. A great vocal coach and a reputable producer mitigate (reduce) this risk. If you sing out of tune and listen back and not one is there to critique singing, you might hearing yourself wrongly. Also, I’ve heard recordings where the singers were great, but someone forgot to tune his guitar. 🤔
Low-Quality Microphones Won’t Do You JusticeYou don’t have to spend a lot on a good microphone. Most music stores that sell mics will allow you to test out their microphones to see which fits your voice type. Also, recording studios should have a few condenser, tube and dynamic mics to test out. You’ll hear a dramatic difference from 1 microphone to the next. Also, some mics record high pitch tones better. If you talk into the mic first and then sing into the same mic, you’ll notice the difference. The exception is that some folks singing into a voice memo on an a smart phone can blow your mind. They are rare, so use every advantage!
Not Using Pop Filters Can Affect the Way a Recorded Voice SoundsA pop filter is placed in front of a microphone to lesson percussive or plosive consonants from being too abrasive. They soften your approach so that there’s no sudden boom in your vocal tone. The picture at the top of this article shows a pop filter.
Bad Recording SoftwareNot all recording devices or recording software is created equally. A recording device typically needs an interface to convert analog vocal sounds into digital. For example, Garage band plugs straight into the USB port, including a USB microphone. But if you sound bad recorded, you’ve compromised your singing. If you want folks to listen to your true voice sound or tone, you songs, the reflection of your life, my personal recommendation is to wait to be heard only after you record on a microphone worthy of your voice. Also, do NOT let out bad recordings. Some times we thing singers suck when they are really just recording on a cheap microphone or have hired a bad producer. Singers stand strong! I could give an entire lecture on this. But for now, my go to list for recording vocals:
- Pro Tools- Industry standard and loaded with technical tools. Very high end super powerful for recording acoustic instruments. Very pure sound.
- Logic- Extremely user friendly and great for programming beats and other synth related music. Simple presets to give your voice an edge in tonality.
- Reason- Most underrated and yet distinctly professional sounds. Costly, but one of my favorite.
- Cubase- Used alot for indie music and rock. Very user friendly.
- Garageband- the cheap, simplified version of Logic. Requires great skill to capture a usable sound. Good for demos but sound quality is thin.
- Cakewalk- Considered best free program by a lot of beat makers.
- Audacity- Open source program which means this could be a darkhorse. A pleasant surprise for those looking for something with differentiation.