Kpopalypse did a post recently where he brought up one of his big pet peeves: People putting an enormous emphasis on vocal technique. He’s written about this many times–basically his attitude is that vocal technique developed back before projection technology existed, and now (unless your voice is going to shit) it’s unnecessary.
And he said something in his recent post that really struck a chord with me:
[Park] Bom’s weakness is also her greatest strength – she sounds unique and interesting even on ballad material precisely because she’s just not capable of doing it right.
I really object to the idea that good vocal technique = good singing, in part because I’ve seen what an obsession with vocal technique does to people’s musical judgement.
When my parents got older, they got very, very into performing classical choral music. On the whole, this was a good thing: They would do these tours (which they paid for–they weren’t that good) where they’d perform in Asia and Europe–I even saw them at Carneigie Hall.
Since they were performing European choral music, my father especially got hugely into vocal technique. This was helpful to him as a singer of this particular genre of music–he was able to expand his range and all that good stuff.
But it really contributed to a closing of his mind to vocals that were not very strictly in the tradition of European classical music. So this:
was not a classic of American country music, it was Willie Nelson singing through his nose. Which meant it sucked–along with all American country, blues, pretty much all traditional music from all parts of Asia, etc., etc., etc.
The focus on vocal technique also blinded my father to what singers did well–Exhibit A being Frank Sinatra. Now, according to my father (and I’ve certainly heard this from other people), Sinatra at one point had a “good” voice.
And it’s true–for about five minutes in the 1940s, Sinatra had a very sweet voice, and he was positioned as a cute and innocent
K-Pop–I mean, teen idol. (Mafia connections? What Mafia connections?)
He did very well for those five minutes. And then the teenagers moved on to the next thing, and Sinatra’s career went straight into the toilet.
His reaction to this was the same as his reaction to everything else: intense rage. He did manage to channel some of this rage into a productive channel, though–Sinatra figured out how to resurrect his career.
And he did this in spite of the fact that his voice had “gone bad.” He had lost his sweet voice, but instead of focusing on good vocal technique (relax the throat!) in an attempt to get it back, he deliberately roughed his voice up more, worked on his phrasing, and created the signature Sinatra sound we all know today.
None of that mattered to my father. The popularity of Sinatra after his voice “went bad” was a complete mystery to him. As far as he was concerned, the general public just needed to be better educated so that they wouldn’t enjoy it any more.
Vocal technique obviously affects vocal sound, which is why people can listen to your voice and criticize your technique. But–and this is what these people don’t want to tell you–it also means that if you practice “good” technique, you may end up with a voice that doesn’t fit a particular song or even an entire genre or tradition of music!
Try a thought experiment: Imagine the “good” Sinatra voice from “You’ll Never Know” on “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” and decide whether or not that would improve the song. Or you go see one of the more-famous opera singers out there (who all have top-notch vocal technique) do a solo show. After doing a fantastic job on a bunch of very difficult opera songs, they often wind down their concert by doing some “easy” show tunes or soul songs.
This is an excellent time to leave early and avoid the rush. I have seen some very famous opera singers completely fuck up some very good non-opera songs with all their “marvelous” vocal technique.
Or let’s take a K-Pop example: Taeil. Taeil gets dinged all the time for straining his voice–screaming, shrieking, whatever. And he has had issues with his voice going out, so sure, this could be a problem for him somewhere down the line.
What about the song? Would a more “relaxed, opened, supported and even resonant sound” work with this particular song? Or would it be like the “good” Sinatra voice on “Chicago (That Toddlin Town)”?
Look at the Luna and Taeil versions of “It Was Love.” Luna of course was very good, but her version of the song wasn’t something I was particularly crazy about, precisely because she was so, you know, “good.”
Are we supposed to buy that she’s upset over anything? Or passionate? Or that her heart is running wild? Or that she’s going crazy?
Of course Luna used excellent vocal technique–that’s the problem! When people are actually emotional, they don’t sing very well.
Which was why I liked Taeil’s version so much better–yes! for the very reasons other people hated it! He stresses and strains! His vocal technique is poor! It’s like he can’t do himself justice!
It’s like he’s actually upset. This is a guy who can get tears streaming down his face during rehearsals.
But emotive quality does not equal vocal technique, so yeah–I guess it must suck, and this isn’t some arbitrary and narrow definition of “good” that people pounce on to justify their personal preferences. Good to know….