Many years ago I found myself doing back-to-back ‘Reality Talent Search’ shows. The schedule then was grueling, I often found myself working on ten to twelve arrangements in a week… aside from the long studio sessions with the contestants and the countless emails from the producers of the shows.
Back then, the one thing that perplexed me was always that comment about ‘tone’ being the first prerequisite to being a great artist. I mean, I recognized ‘tone’ being important but being a musician myself, I often held ‘feel’ & ‘pitch’ on equally high regard.
Before I go any further let me roughly clarify what these 3 words mean in the music world. Vocal tone is the color, the character and timbre of your singing voice. Feel is the natural ability to inject some form of expression to the music. Pitch, on the other hand, is the ability to sing in tune.
Over the years working more and more in the studio and seeing how my productions have fared on the market, it has become quite apparent that tone is indeed a ‘make or break’ factor in how well the artiste does eventually.
Tone is instant recognisability! Fans of Celine Dion, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza & Dayang Nurfaizah will immediately recognize the artiste even if they hear a new song for the first time. This alone is probably the best reason for all budding singers to start working on your unique tone. Wouldn’t it be sad if you had your first single released and everybody thought it was someone else? Someone more established?
A great tone is like a passport into people’s hearts. It’s almost like a great smile on a new acquaintance’s face that immediately puts you at ease when meeting for the first time. A horrible tone, well, will get people turning off even before they hear the rest of your vocal attributes. Now before you say “my tone, my prerogative”, please bear in mind that you sing to an audience. Unless of course, you’re totally ok singing to a crowd of one or two!
With the current advancement of technology it gets easier to fix pitch problems whether it be ‘live’ or in the studio. Even my 9-yr-old has heard of Autotune. No great mystery there!
Additionally, put in some hours into pre-production and a great producer can add a whole lot of expressiveness into an otherwise dead vocal performance. Sure, this is a little tougher to do, but doable nonetheless.
Tone, on the other hand, is all the artiste! You can’t fake a great tone. Worse still, with all the great microphones we have at our disposal, the flaws of a ‘less-than-desirable’ tone will be even more pronounced… more now than ever before.
Good news is… tone, once achieved, becomes a part of you. Granted, a great tone doesn’t come naturally to most singers. Not even to the great ones! I recently heard a very early recording of the late Whitney Houston and at first I didn’t recognize the voice at all. Sure, when I listened to it properly you could almost hear some of the now famous Whitney characteristics, but it was underdeveloped and kind of ‘raw’ at best. Point is, she must have worked on it a whole lot to become one of the world’s favorite voices. Consequently, that vocal recording of “I Will Always Love You” will be a part of music memory.
So to all budding singers, (actually this pertains to ALL instrumentalists too!) do take time to work on your tone. Build on your vocal strength with correct exercises, take care of your vocal cords, listen to your tone constructively, take up some lessons with a vocal coach, stop smoking of you have to, do whatever it takes… cos at the end of it all it’s your tone that will make people remember you, follow your career and be part of your fan base.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
If not for anything else, do it to keep your music REAL!