At some point, the question always comes up.
We all revere our favorite singers and we think it would be so super totally amazing if we could sound just like them. So, at some point I am asked:
‘Why don’t I sound like [insert famous singer’s name] on the radio?’
While there are certainly people out there who have the ability to mimic the sounds of their favorite artists, there are a couple of really good reasons why the rest of us don’t, no matter how hard we try, have the ability to sound exactly like the radio version of our favorite song, by our favorite singer.
First: Because that singer is them, and you are you.
It’s obvious, and it’s also not so obvious to realize that each of us unique humans is having a completely unique life experience. These different life experiences are informed by an infinite number of factors such where you were born, what type of parents you have, whether you grow up rich or poor, what language you speak, number of siblings you have, the school you went to, etc, etc, etc. It’s also obvious and not obvious to realize that all of this impacts your body’s growth and development, your personality growth and development, as well as the color and style of your voice, speech, and singing. So, you became you, and your favorite artist became, well, them.
When it comes to opportunities to study singing and performance, you and your favorite famous artist have also been on very different paths. You began your singing journey at different times in your life, you had access to completely different teachers, completely different techniques, completely different personal and professional support networks, and completely different performance venues, opportunities, musicians, and other resources.
In light of all these differences between you and your favorite famous artist, it makes sense that you wouldn’t sound very much alike at all. This is a beautiful thing because it allows you to truly embrace your own uniqueness and bring your own cool vocal sound to the world.
And don’t worry, because you can still learn from your favorite artists. You can come to understand what techniques they are using to create their sounds, then you can turn around and weave those techniques into how you create your sound. It’s sort of the best of both worlds, because you get to do what they do, but with the focus of getting your best sound.
Second: Because that singer doesn’t necessarily sound exactly like that in real life, either.
Contemporary music that you hear on the radio, Spotify, or wherever you get your music from, is typically very well produced. This means that what you hear is not always an accurate representation of how that singer sings in real life.
Think of it sort of like an Instagram filter for sound. On Instagram, the underlying core photo is real, but the appearance of it has been modified to evoke a certain emotion, or to make it look more artistic, interesting, or popular.
With modern music, the underlying singing is real, but it has been modified to remove imperfections, fix pitch, adjust volume, and add effects in order to make the overall story of the song more dramatic and interesting. The types and amounts of modifications will vary by artist, genre, record label, production team, and other factors, but it is a rare occasion that a song comes out of the studio with zero production.
“Therefore it is a disservice to yourself to compare yourself singing in real life to a fully produced recording.”
This is also not to imply that all the singers on the radio can’t actually sing. It is simply to state that what you hear on the radio has been created under very different conditions than, say, the singing you are doing in your car. Therefore it is a disservice to yourself to compare yourself singing in real life to a fully produced recording.
Ok, so then what?
Here are some listening exercises you can use to help you gain some insight into how professional singers sound on studio recordings, versus how they sound in real life.
Listening with fresh ears and new information will help you separate your singing identity from your favorite singers’. This practice will help you begin to see the deeper layers of what makes a ‘voice’ sound the way it does. It will also help you see that there is so much that goes into a song to get it ready for the radio.
Listen to a studio recording of your favorite song, then answer these questions.
About the song:
What are the top 3 things you like about this song?
How does this song make you feel?
Why does it make you feel that way?
About the singing:
What do you like about the singing?
What do you not like about the singing?
Find a live version of the song and listen to it, then answer these questions.
About the song:
What are 3 differences between the live version and the studio version?
Does the live version make you feel the same way as the studio version?
Why or why not?
What do you notice about the music itself? Is it the same or different from the original?
About the singing:
How is the singing different from the studio recording?
Do you like it more or less?
Now some reflection questions:
What surprised you the most about the differences in these recordings?
Does this singer seem more human or real to you now? Do you hear more of their life story in their voice?
Has your overall feeling or affection for this song / singer been strengthened or weakened?
Respect, Relief, Excitement.
Whenever I have a conversation with a student about these reasons why they don’t sound exactly like the recording while singing in the car, there is always a mixture of respect, relief, and excitement.
Respect for their favorite famous artist, for sure, but also respect for themselves and their own unique life and singing journey.
Relief that there is no more pressure to have to sound like the radio in order to be a good singer.
Excitement for what they have just given themselves permission to explore in their own voice.
I hope that you, dear reader, are feeling some of these things, as well.
As ever, we’d love to hear from you! How do you feel differently about your favorite singer? How do you feel differently about yourself as a singer? Please share with us in the comments below.