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Psychology of a Bad Singer


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This Ashlee thread got me thinking again about American Idol. The first season I was sure that most of the terrible singers were being paid to do what they did for ratings. After a while I realized that most actually thought they could sing. A few were certainly clowning for their respective frat houses but the majority had no clue.

 

I've had people in my studio who simply have no idea how really bad they are. A few hear themselves and skip out on the bill, at least they found out. Most keep coming back and never understand how bad they are. Because I'm not "producing" them it's not my place to tell them they suck.

 

The very worst is what I like to call the "bad balladeer". The guy or girl who just has to sing what should be a beautiful love song and simply destroys any hope that a mentally stable human would actually want to hear it. Jesus. Sometimes I have to concentrate hard to keep from laughing.

 

Can someone with experience in psychology explain this phenomenom? It can't just be bad hearing. These people aren't just a little flat or sharp they're singing in another key!

 

BTW... Brittney Spears sounds like a 5 year old chipmunk on her new "hit single" Mona Lisa something or other. But boy would I like to see her naked in my house. I guess that's the REAL point though huh? ;)

 

Lawrence

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I think some of it is people encouraging them, equally tone-deaf parents, for example, who keep insisting that "little Johnny or Jenny is STUPENDOUS". Then, they start doing karaoke, and because either they have the nerve to get up and sing and/or can do better than their peers, their peers think they're great.

 

I've heard it a thousand times, too...people coming up and saying "You've gotta hear so and so, they RULE"...and then you hear 'em and wonder what on earth the world is coming to.

 

What you're scraping the edge of, however, Mr. Fishburne (nice to have famous folks onboard ;) ) is a larger issue of "performance psychology". Why do people who suck think they don't? Why do people who don't think they do? How is it that those who perform rally the nerves to do so? Watching the movie "Ray"...even those who we count as the true greats still have nerve problems, and hence seek solace in substances to give them the nerve to ply their trade. It does demand some serious examination...

"Cisco Kid, was a friend of mine"
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I know what you mean. I think these people really have no idea.

I had a friend who bugged me for several months to let him sing something in my studio. Then he would proceed to "Audition" for me by singing that Eifel 65 "blue" song out of tune. I would always turn him down, flat out. No chance.

 

I think that it's the same phenomenon that people experience when they hear their speaking voice on tape. Your ears really don't give you a true sense of what you sound like, probably because of bony resonances and stuff. So you have to develop that, to practice, and to learn to really hear whether you're in tune, screetchy, etc. And these people aren't aware of that.

It's like the heavy girl I used to know who thought she was the hottest girl at the club anytime she went out. Misperception.

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I remember when I was 12 years old, my Dixieland band played for a local Boston-area show called Community Opticians Community Auditions. They would go tho various county seats and hold audition contests, with the winners appearing on TV for peolpe to vote for their favorite.

 

We won our local contest hands down. A couple weeks later we were on TV!!! Man, we played our little hearts out, and came in almost last. The winner was a 5-year old tap dancer who dressed in an Uncle Sam costume and waved the flag.

 

For a long time, I thought that our problem was the cute girl waving the flag. Then a few months later, a friend's mother played for us the audio recording of the show she had made - man we SUCKED! Rushed tempos, bad intonation, out of tune, the whole nine yards. Wakeup call,,,

 

Then when I was twenty, I bought a good tape recorder, and began recording my practice sessions (different band, same result. I was shocked at the difference between 'what went in,' and 'what came out.'

 

Fortunately, I could hear the difference, and worked to make it better. My trombonist in the Dixie band never could understand what the problem was, he still thought we should have won...

 

He who has ears to hear...

Dasher - don't ask me about those other reindeer, all I can tell you is Comet's in the sink!
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This is good topic. What I've noticed many times is that a singer has to "find" their voice.

 

Little Johnny or Cindy Lou is told by their proud parent(s) that they can sing. That positive reinforcement is what fuels them. So long as you have a innate or learned sense of pitch, anyone can learn to sing. You can develope the the proper laryngeal and diaphram muscles to support air movement and ta da!!! (Well, not quite, but...)

 

The biggest problem I see is singers who desire to use their voice in a way that is unnatural or less than flattering. Let's face it your born with a certain voice, but finding it can be hard.

 

Many times I've seen singers who desire to emulate Steve Perry, Rob Halford, Geoff Tate, or someone whose range is not quite like theirs. They can't hit those notes and they suck. If you hear them sing within their range, you can be quite surprised by how good they actually are.

 

One obstacle all singers must overcome is finding "their" voice.

 

A well known producer once broke it down for me like this. He said "When I go to see a band I'm considering working with, I look for three things:

1) Does the band have any songs?

2) Can the singer sing in tune?

3) Does the singer sound like he/she means it?"

 

Question #3 is the most important one. Does the singer have conviction. That's the psychology of singing in a nutshell.

 

Who's better, Jani Lane or Kurt Cobain? While the answer is certainly a matter of taste, I'm sure that technically speaking Jani is a better singer than Kurt Cobain was. The one thing Cobain proved is that if you mean it, people will overlook the rough edges, and even find them pleasing.

 

A few great singers I can think of with more attitude and conviction than technical chops:

Johnny Cash

Mick Jagger

John Lennon

Chrissy Hynde

Janis Joplin

Kurt Cobain

David Lee Roth

Jim Morrison

Axl Rose

Everlast

 

I'm sure everyone of those people were told at one time or another that "you're doing it all wrong" by some moron who couldn't find his a$$hole with a funnel.

 

A few great singers I can think of who have both chops and conviction:

Seal

Bono

Mick Hucknall

Tina Turner

Ann Wilson

Tori Amos

Chris Isaak

Geoff Tate

Elton John

George Michael

 

Nowadays the idiots running the "industry" are so busy trying to manufacture the next big thing that the future John Lennons of the world are the last thing they're looking for.

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Great reply GTRBass.

 

I consider myself a pretty bad singer. Not like those idiots on American Idol, but bad enough to require 6-12 raw tracks to comp a reasonable vocal. And I know exactly what you mean by trying to pull off the wrong voice, style etc.

Have tried to pull off an "urban" R Kelly type of thing. How freakin awful that was. Or a Bono style tenor. A little better, but not convincing.

Tried to use modern machinery, i.e. TC helicon technology, auto tune. That ain't gonna fix the problem.

 

The solution is this. Hard work. Practice. Honest evaluation. AND getting a good producer you trust to guide you. They can even make little Ashlee sound listenable (see other threads).

 

But it's not enough to just harp on about bad singers.

So I guess my addition to this discussion is to say this, couldn't we call it:

The Psychology of Bad Singers,

And how can we understand it, alter it, help those singers reach their goals, and make some money and art doing it.

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And, there's a world of difference between a "Bob Dylan" and someone who truly sucks so badly that not even the "Bob Dylan" thing will help them, and there are a lot of those out there. (shrug).

 

Although Celine Dion is truly a gifted vocalist, there are others who I'd rather hear sing. A buddy of mine is a great theatrical/broadway style tenor, but, I can't stand to listen to him sing rock and roll...it all comes out sounding like "Danny Boy".

 

:D

"Cisco Kid, was a friend of mine"
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Originally posted by Tedster:

it all comes out sounding like "Danny Boy".

 

:D

Ever heard that song "SUKKYBOY"?

 

I think there are lots of reasons for this "Blindness of how poor a singer one is" thing.

 

First, i believe it is a primal desire to sing and use the voice musically.

Some people (hippies and lots of French people for example), just have very few inhabitions and their egos are small in that area, so off they go and what comes out comes out. It's healthy for the persons spirit, perhaps not for the listeners spirit, but whatever right.

 

Another is, Really bad ears. If you can't hear pitch, you can't sing in pitch.

 

Another is lack of experience with the voice.

I never sang a tune in a band till i was 26.

It took a long time to get my voice to do what i wanted it to and i still struggle with it. I can sing things slow better than fast. So muscle control maby?

 

Another is confidence, people sing way better when they are confident. It allows some sort of subconcious connection to take place.

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Theres just no replacing true talent and artistry. I'm fortunate ( and grateful) that I'm at a point where I don't have to work with producers over my shoulder, and I coproduce with the artists I work with, so I can pick and choose. Being the cold hearted SOB that I am, I have no problem telling someone they suck. hey better they get a bit of a slap in the face now than dillusioned into rehab!!!!!!

 

I sympathize with those of you who want so badly to run screaming from the control room in terror, but must suck it up to keep the cleint happy. Y'all got more patience than I.

Hope this is helpful.

 

NP Recording Studios

Analog approach to digital recording.

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Originally posted by halljams:

Another is confidence, people sing way better when they are confident. It allows some sort of subconcious connection to take place.

Boink! You gotta believe in yourself...the talent thing, if your skills are anything acceptable then it's just a matter of connecting with other like-minded souls - this sometimes includes mass hypnosis. :D
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I remember once when I was in high school. Some friends and I were hanging out in my parents' garage smoking pot, drinking beer, and jamming er... making a bunch of really awful noise. Some kids from the neighborhood came by and listened to us. I will never forget one of the kids saying "You guys are the best band I've ever heard!" I guess we were his first band. Ever since, I've never ceased to be amazed at the tone-deafness of people.

 

Even today when we have those total train wrecks at gigs (blessedly rare these days), we seem to get the most applause.

 

Jimi Hendrix once said that he was afraid to sing because his voice was so bad - until he heard Bob Dylan. Then he figured that if that guy can do it, anybody can. IMHO, Jimi could sing beautifully in the right situations. Again, it was because he had conviction, tone and "became" the song.

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Some people really are tone deaf. They have no idea how bad they are and never will. Too many of these people want to hop up on stange and sing with your band. :mad:

 

Some drummers never know they are rushing the tempo. Some guitarists never know they have a string out of tune. What can you do but avoid working with them and move on?

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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Originally posted by GTRBass:

...

A few great singers I can think of with more attitude and conviction than technical chops:

...

Janis Joplin

...

I have to disagree with this one. Just listening to Janice sing Summertime sends chills through me. I would love to be able to pull that off. Yes, her voice is scratchy but she has full control of every note. I think this song is a main reason that some of those shows that do the top 100 lists place her as the number 2 female blues/rock singer behind Aretha.

 

JMHO

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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Originally posted by GTRBass:

A few great singers I can think of who have both chops and conviction:

Seal

Bono

Mick Hucknall

Tina Turner

Ann Wilson

Tori Amos

Chris Isaak

Geoff Tate

Elton John

George Michael

Great post GTRBass! I just wanted to put another name on this list: Freddie Mercury. 'Nuff said.

- Bob Freebird

 

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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Something else that affects live performance is that people listen with their eyes! By that I mean most people don't go to "hear" a band they go to "see" a band and be somewhat immersed in the whole experience. I've seen it myself with a very popular local act I play keys and sax with. The band itself is not bad to competant most nights, but the three front guys who only sing and do choreography are simply awful. Their harmonies sound like somebody's hittin' a baby with a cat pretty much all the time, but they get up there and do their schtick and generally have a good time and their crowd simply goes nuts! I can't tell you how many times we've done a show with truly HELLISH vocals only to have the first guy I see when I walk offstage grab me and say "Man you guys are so AWESOME" while I look at him like he just sprouted antlers....Leads me to believe that despite what's actually going on people hear what they want to hear in most of these situations and if the emperor has no clothes they're having too much fun to care about it.
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Originally posted by PBBPaul:

I remember once when I was in high school. Some friends and I were hanging out in my parents' garage smoking pot, drinking beer, and jamming er... making a bunch of really awful noise. Some kids from the neighborhood came by and listened to us. I will never forget one of the kids saying "You guys are the best band I've ever heard!" I guess we were his first band. Ever since, I've never ceased to be amazed at the tone-deafness of people.

 

The glory of live in-person music- apparently it was a lot more exciting than any recordings.

 

Even today when we have those total train wrecks at gigs (blessedly rare these days), we seem to get the most applause.

Maybe 'cause you're takin' a wild chance? Those can end in train wrecks!

 

Jimi Hendrix once said that he was afraid to sing because his voice was so bad - until he heard Bob Dylan. Then he figured that if that guy can do it, anybody can. IMHO, Jimi could sing beautifully in the right situations. Again, it was because he had conviction, tone and "became" the song.

Apparently he left the booth after tracking to vocal to "have you ever been to electric ladyland" exulting "I can sing! I can sing!" And that is an absolutely gorgeous vocal.

 

If you look in Grove's Dictionary of Music under Jimi Hendrix, it's amazing how on it these classical cats are about Jimi. They write that he employed a unique form of sprechstimme (heightened speech) and that his voice "while not pretty in a convential sense, is always convincing".

 

Jimi's my vocal hero. He shows that sometimes the hardest won voices are the very best.

 

When I saw this thread title, I guess I was thinking it might be more like, psychology of a good singer singing poorly. I was thinking, fearful, blocked, not in touch with the muse. Not singing out, forgetting about communication. I can sing very well or very poorly- it's all about psychology and emotion and spirituality. Sometimes my out-of-tune fuckups are absolutely classic and sublime- sometime's they're just awful! Sometimes my in tune and in time stuff is wonderful- other times it's just too safe and careful.

 

That to me is a more interesting subject.

 

I will say that hearing my voice recorded again and again and living with the recordings for weeks and years has made a whole lot of positive difference. So has singing with some women that blew my mind, learning to sing like a woman. As far as I can tell, women are crazy about men who sing like women!

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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I also think that some folks just get so wraped up in the moment when they are singing- during a time when they cant objectively listen.

In their minds eye they are crooning like ole blue eyes. While in the shower day after day they reenforce this mis-impression.

 

Even listening back to some awful take isnt enough to purge the impression they set in their minds. They liked the experience as they perceived it and they just wont/cant let go of it.

Check out some tunes here:

http://www.garageband.com/artist/KenFava

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Originally posted by Tedly Nightshade:

...learning to sing like a woman...

I was thrust into the lead vocal position in my band when we fired the front man and his replacement suddenly disappeared. I'd never been very comfortable with my voice and went looking for inspiration. Hands down, the most inspirational vocal music I found was on Aretha Franklin's "Aretha's Jazz" CD. That collection of natural soul still gives me goosebumps.
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Back in high school I worked at a place no longer in business called Incredible Universe. It was owned by Tandy (Radio Shack) and was a big-mega-type electronics store. Anywho, my job was to work the Karoake booth. People would come in, pay $5, and Id record their mix onto a cassette tape. It was a truly hilarious experience. To watch people butcher song after song all the while thinking they were hot shit was unbearable at times. I had to turn around and walk out of the booth a few times to keep myself from laughing in front of the singer. The best part was that I could broadcast the singer to the huge monitor in the center of the store with audio :D ! Good times!
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I remember reading an article on a study of confidence and ability. It was found to be somewhat inversely proportional. In general the people who had lots of confidence were mediocre, and the people who thought they needed improvement had more ability; they tended to be perfectionists and hold themselves up to higher standards. It wasn't related to music specifically, but applies somewhat.

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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I'm not a sanger but if I were, Oh wait! Yess I am ahahaha!

My sister is tone deaf.

I would NEVER laugh at a person sangin' he heart out ESPECIALLY if it was BAD.. Oh god the times I felt so sorry for someone cause they have no clue how awful it really is.

Like hearing yourself on an answering machine, you say: Thats me?. I sound odd..

You sound diff to you own ears. A goode voice must be trained and cultured like a prize begonia.

But one MUST HAVE a clear understanding of the mechanics of sangin.. ..

"Want to" just ain't enough.

So If I hear someone singin' through his noce then I say HEY mon'! you be sangin' through your nose and I sjhow him why that bad and how to fix.. . then they no do thot ! ahahaha!

Say a girl singing flat and just weak. She must improve So recorde her to de best of your ability as SERIOUSLY as you can. then listen to it with her. and teach while you can. Give. gentle honesty.. learn to teach.. Gently.. .

Even a small teach is better than a big laff at poor no singer person who MIGHT improve if given the correct advice.

then they be back spending MORE money..

win, win win win... ..

Frank Ranklin and the Ranktones

 

WARP SPEED ONLY STREAM

FRANKIE RANKLIN (Stanky Franks) <<<

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Very interesting replies. This topic is of great interest to me because I've always gone to great pains to try and figure out what I was really good and bad at. For instance, I used to love to draw when I was a kid. I took some lessons and studied people who draw well. When I looked at my drawings they just were really bad. I just had no drawing talent. As an artist I SUCKED!

 

Now I probably could have, if it moved me to do so, studied really hard and gotten much better with a lot of practice. That's kinda beside the point. The point is that I recognized how bad I was and I knew that to be good I'd have to work really hard at it. I felt that way as an engineer years ago so I enrolled in a recording class to get better. I've gotten much better and I still have a way to go and a lot to learn.

 

That's what's missing from these singers. They think they already can sing so they (generally) really don't work "really hard" at getting better. Instead they choose to disagree with anyone who says they can't sing, accusing them of envy or something of the kind. It's denial in one it's strangest forms. Hence the "psychology" question.

 

It's puzzling. ?????

 

I don't know Ashlee but I'd be willing to bet she suffers from that kind of denial whatever the cause. I think if someone sat her down and said... "your voice is just not very good. Perhaps with serious voice lessons you could be much better, but as it is your singing ability is not up to par." She'd freak out and think you were out to get her or you simply didn't like her. I think it would take something on the level of an intervention to make her understand that.

 

Lawrence

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Originally posted by LawrenceF:

Very interesting replies. This topic is of great interest to me because I've always gone to great pains to try and figure out what I was really good and bad at. For instance, I used to love to draw when I was a kid. I took some lessons and studied people who draw well. When I looked at my drawings they just were really bad. I just had no drawing talent. As an artist I SUCKED!

 

Now I probably could have, if it moved me to do so, studied really hard and gotten much better with a lot of practice. That's kinda beside the point. The point is that I recognized how bad I was and I knew that to be good I'd have to work really hard at it. I felt that way as an engineer years ago so I enrolled in a recording class to get better. I've gotten much better and I still have a way to go and a lot to learn.

 

That's what's missing from these singers. They think they already can sing so they (generally) really don't work "really hard" at getting better. Instead they choose to disagree with anyone who says they can't sing, accusing them of envy or something of the kind. It's denial in one it's strangest forms. Hence the "psychology" question.

 

It's puzzling. ?????

 

I don't know Ashlee but I'd be willing to bet she suffers from that kind of denial whatever the cause. I think if someone sat her down and said... "your voice is just not very good. Perhaps with serious voice lessons you could be much better, but as it is your singing ability is not up to par." She'd freak out and think you were out to get her or you simply didn't like her. I think it would take something on the level of an intervention to make her understand that.

 

Lawrence

bingo.

 

that and her dad is her manager.

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This is a great thread.

 

I have often pondered this very topic. I should ask one of my co-workers what goes through his mind when he 'sings'; he does not possess rhythm or the ability to even remotely find the proper pitches. Amazing.

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As I've said before, people's ability to judge quality is directly proportional to what they've previously been exposed to.

 

People with limited exposure are unable tell if something is good or not because they have nothing to compare it to.

 

If you grew up in a houshold with only a few records or cds and your only experience with live music was at church and the high school talent show, then your ability to tell if someone is a good singer is going to be poor.

 

Hence the small-town girl who's equally limited peers and parents think is a "natural" goes to the big city to audition for music school or American Idol or whatever and gets humiliated.

 

Or she goes to your studio to record a demo and you have to listen to her for hours. :D

"You never can vouch for your own consciousness." - Norman Mailer
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I started to respond to this and then had to go listen to my own music to see how brittle the glass was in my glass house was. Let's just say, I ain't no Betty Carter. But at least I know it.

 

Anyhow, I used to have my music over at the old mp3.com and participate in the forums over there.

 

There was a fellow there who'll go nameless. All his vocals were in a nasal, Neil Young-stamped falsetto, but with a pitch that varied sharp and flat with little predicatbility. Add to that that his guitar work was way beneath clumsy. His rhythm parts were stiff and often missed the rhythmic mark by near tennis-shoe-in-dryer measure. Sadly, he was also convinced that he could play lead guitar. Suffice it to say that he didn't even know where the notes were a fair bit of the time. And his words were pedestrian at best, often telling seemingly pointless stories from his everyday life [something I think I know a thing or two about, myself :D ] in which he was always smart and everyone else was always stupid.

 

But his self-promotion was relentless. He was prone to attacking other artists, most of them far, far technically superior to himself, or going to a genre board other than his self-chosen "alternative" classification, like hip hop or blues and issuing a blanket condemnation of the style or all the bb-local purveyors of it (in the case of the blues BB).

 

The flame wars were entirely predictable -- and usually ended with this person issuing schoolyard/gutter insults.

 

Yet, somehow, he had fans. Maybe not a lot. But they were there, and, bizarrely, one or two of them seemed otherwise rational.

 

Who knows why some folks like the stuff they like or think it's good. Certainly musical skill or what many of us consider artistry is often not much of a factor.

 

___________________________________________________

 

[Long story about self-deluded singer removed here to protect those who probably can't help themselves. Sorry. It was a good one.]

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