Will the real singer please stand up?

Something that’s starting to agonize me: singer/songwriters who deliberately try to sound raspy all the time when naturally they don’t. When you hear them talk, they have a very warm, relaxed and clear tone…until they start to sing, and they make it constantly raspy. It’s not like they insert a little growl here and there for emphasis; they make it sound like a buzzsaw from beginning to end because they really like that “raw” sound.

I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that’s a raw sound. If you’re adding something to your voice to make it sound raw, it isn’t raw. You’ve refined it, which is the exact opposite of raw.

Now, singing isn’t like talking – singing itself is a refinement of our vocal instrument. But there’s a difference between singing raspy because your voice is just that (whether it’s a result of smoking, fatigue, or abuse…or being Rod Stewart), and making your singing voice sound raspy when it naturally isn’t, and thinking you’re making it MORE “natural.”

Speaking as a teacher, that sound tells me that you’re self conscious about your real voice. Are you hiding your voice behind a certain kind of sound because you don’t trust it? Do you think your natural voice is boring, or incapable of doing certain things you want to do? Are you trying to imitate a vocalist who is naturally growly or raspy because you just admire them? Well, what is there not to admire in your own voice? Have you been told that you can’t sing blues or rock if you’re not raspy?

Listen to Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin’s first album. Most of the time, he’s not raspy at all – he glides smoothly throughout his range (every inch of it) and only applies friction for emphasis. There’s still a remnant of that little-boy voice in there, and no one mistakes it for being the least bit fey. Of course the subsequent albums get a little more hairy, so that by the time you get to Physical Graffiti, he’s lost a bit of clarity and range. But one thing the man never does is get in the way of his own voice.

So cut out that business of being raspy ALL the time, if for no other reason you don’t want to be accused of being a one-trick-pony when it comes to your voice. More and more, singers should be as stylistically flexible with their instruments as guitarists and drummers are with theirs. And above all this, you want to sound like yourself. Find your own raw sound. And if you want to get growly with it, do it responsibly so you don’t sound like you’re trying to hide something. We want to hear YOU.

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3 thoughts on “Will the real singer please stand up?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this lately. As a gal who is more rock and roll, I get annoyed when every single female rocker is compared to Janis Joplin. I mean, I love Janis and well, she rocked and is one of my idols. I just think it’s an unfair comparison. Not all of us smoke or drink a whole bottle of Southern Comfort to get that rasp in our voice. I like a little rasp as an accent. I guess I’m still silencing my inner critics. I think some expect me as a female rocker to sound like Janis. I tend towards a more clear, girlie voice at times and border on having a bit of soprano. I tend to enjoy singing tenor the most for rock and roll, but at times, I like to let my feminine edge out. Some try to impose on us female rockers that we need to be or sound masculine. I mean, we all have male and female energies, but yet, still the expectations of others get to me at times in my genre. I decided to just go with being authentic. Any time in the past I tried to sing like someone else, it didn’t work at all. I find myself these days most comfortable in the blues and rockabilly genre, but I sure can belt out a good Black Sabbath song too 🙂

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