Published on June 23rd, 2010 | by Hugh Hession4
The Importance of singing style
Style is paramount when it comes to singing. It’s what ultimately defines you as a vocalist and has been responsible for making rock stars out of singers who most would agree are average at best.
Throw out all of the so called “rules” of American Idol. The definition of a great singer is a subjective matter in tumultuous portions.
It rarely has to do with how well a vocalist sings, but rather how well a vocalist sounds.
You see, how a vocalist sings focuses more on technique (proper breathing, use of vibrato, annunciation of vowels/consonants, accessing the head voice etc.). How a vocalist sounds is a different matter all together. This deals more with the tonality of the voice (the voice tone that a vocalist is born with) and how the vocalist manipulates that tone to create expressiveness and ambiance. The way a vocalist sounds is going to win out over technique every time.
Now I’m not downplaying the importance of technique. In fact, some of the most well-known singers don’t utilize proper vocal technique. As a result, they blow out their voices, become hoarse and sometimes get vocal nodules. Any vocalist who is serious about sustaining their career should be learning technique. However, style is something that needs to be shaped. Often you hear how a singer needs to find their voice, or conversely, how a vocalist has their own identity. This is all about style.
Examples of vocalists with an identifiable style
So let’s look at some examples of vocalists, both old-school and new, who (in my opinion) have developed and maintained their own style. Their voices have created a brand for their music and persona, making them household names. In short, they are identifiable. This is the ultimate dream for any vocalist in the biz.
- Bruce Springsteen. Yep. Love or hate him there is no doubt he has his own style. I know. I’ve heard it again and again. He can’t sing, right? Well, if you’ve been following me throughout this post, recall that technique runs a distance second to style.
- Steve Perry (Solo and Journey). Nothing like Steve’s smooth-n-smoky, sweet, hot and honey drenched melodies. It’s the best of all BBQ sauces combined. Doesn’t matter what song he sings, you know it’s him.
- Rob Thomas (Solo and Matchbox 20). Rob’s voice is very “now” but also quite unique. He can hang with the best of rock vocalists but also has a versatility that enables him to deliver pop music like no other. Either way, when you hear him over the radio…there is no denying: that’s Rob.
- Chad Kroeger (Nickelback). Wow. That sums up Chad’s talent. He cuts through the band’s infectious tunes with vigor and tonal bliss. Blend that with his penchant for melody and you have the makings of a singer who fans will remember years from now.
- Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon). What an original sound he brought forth to the world of rock-n-roll. Memorable and undeniably addictive.
- Chris Martin (Coldplay). His tone and style cannot be denied over the airwaves.
- Gwen Stefani (Solo and No Doubt). Place Gwen on a recording and there is no question who is on the mic.
- Bono (U2). Need I say anymore?
- Sting (Solo and The Police). The marvelous Gordon Sumner. Exceptional on Rock, Pop or Jazz. Who can mistaken that voice who made “Roxanne” so famous?
- Ozzy Osbourne. The man can’t sing. But that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most recognized voices in rock music history. Slap some delay and pitch shift on his vocals and you have the makings of an Ozzy studio album.
If you think about it, many of the above vocalists I mentioned above have survived and outlasted many. You can try and challenge me by pointing out who is current on the Top 40 charts (which really is irrelevant) but for the most part, I feel that vocals are now merely being treated as something that is part of the package rather than the source of identity.
Sure, you may be able to identify a top artist “now,” but let them fade off into obscurity within the next few years (and undoubtedly, most will) and then see how memorable they are. Because when the time comes years from now, when their songs are re-cycled by newer artists (just as many are doing now), most have trouble remembering the original artist (unless of course, you are a music buff, like me!).
Today’s singers play it too safe
My opinion is that much of today’s lead singers play it too safe. Vocalists tend to emulate one another, and record companies are too focused on churning out the stuff that appears to be working, rather than taking any risks on potential bankable vocalists and bands that sound unique and have tremendous future potential. The very industry that used to be all about taking risks, no longer does so. That to me, is its current problem. Listen to much of what is out there now. There is such a copy-cat attitude, repeating the same style of song where any comparable vocalist could sing it and with no problem.
My theory of vocal originality is this. If you can imagine placing another vocalist on a particular song and it sounds almost identical, then their isn’t much originality involved. Thus, the vocalist becomes secondary. Brand recognition on vocal style is a powerful thing that gives the vocalist a marketable name that can be carried on for the duration of their career.
So the question in your mind is undoubtedly, “how do I get that identifiable style?” I’m going to save this for another post, however I will say that the tone you were born with is what you have to work with and obviously, some are blessed more than others. However, there are certain things you can do or be aware of that can help you develop your own vocal style. Stay tuned. More to come!