When I think back on the greatest singers of all time – many of whom have been notably documented in the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers article, published in 2008, I find it difficult to compare those vocalists to many of today’s popular singers due to the continuing trend of “overproducing” sound – and specifically vocals.
A handful of popular singers, including Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Alesia Cara, have evaded this technical tornado, but it seems to me that these days 95% of vocals you hear have been pumped through pitch-correction and other awesome, amazing audio algorithms that make a person sound larger than life and nearly perfect! Please understand, I hold music production as an art in a very high respect, I sincerely appreciate and adore hearing when my own voice has been produced well. Furthermore, among the many genres of music I listen to, I do very much enjoy electronic music with some dope sounding electronically filtered voice dropped in for periodic elevation in the journey of a song.
My current thought though, is this: the “Greatest Singers” over time (Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Karen Carpenter, Al Green, Steven Tyler to name a few) had no pitch correction, and often had a much looser sense of timing than is preferred in today’s market – yet their songs still proudly play. Even still, my mind is pulled back to what rings true in my heart, my professional choice for how to work, and to my experience as a professional singer over the past 15 plus years. As Rolling Stone discusses in Johnathan Lethem’s article highlighting time’s most shining vocalists, Great Singers give their passion, their vulnerability coupled with power, their vocal control and a feeling of intimacy which draws a listener in through understatement. As we evolve as people in a swiftly technically advancing age, will we lose the intimacy, the breath, the uniqueness of each voice – through overproduction of voice? I optimistically think not. Even if some avenues of music rely more on a quantized 4/4 timing, heavy beats, and computer generated sounds spawned from brilliant audio engineers, an intimate real vocal will be timeless and never obsolete. So – I will sing on, working diligently towards excellence, drawing upon my continually practiced technical skills, experience as a performer, and as an audio engineer; and I will allow vulnerability to remain in the forefront so that the journey of each song’s story can be told. That’s my job. And I love it.