Overloaded high pitch screams in pop and rock music
December 7, 2017 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples and info on a kind of high pitched scream in pop and roc kmusic.

Some singers, usually female, can make a high-pitched enough scream that seems to overload the mic, for example Charly Bliss's Eva Hendrick .

Question 1: is this simply a function of volume and pitch? Is there some technical thing going on, mic distance, an effect, something?

Question 2: Please suggest other examples.

Caveat: i'm not looking for general examples of high pitched singing, but specifically ones like the link that have that overload sound.
posted by signal to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first song that comes to mind for me is The Sonics - Psycho. Best screams are right at the end of the song. In terms of how they got that sound, seems like it was a product of a very lo-fi approach. From here: "They hung a few microphones from the roof, tore the soundproofing materials from the walls, and then hit record on a two-track tape recorder. "
posted by Otis at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2017

It sounds like an example of clipping. When the audio signal (voice, in this case) exceeds the microphone's ability (physical or, more often, processing-limited) to capture it, distortion occurs. Explained another way: when I sing my voice causes soundwaves to move through the air. A microphone works by allowing its diaphragm to be moved by soundwaves passing around it. If the wave is too big (amplitude), the microphone diaphragm cannot move far enough to capture the entire wave, so the signal passing out of the mic sounds different than the voice itself.

This is really common and has nothing to do with pitch (frequency), and everything to do with volume (amplitude). It's a problem that will occur on any recording unless the sound engineer adequately adjusts the microphone gain to specifically ensure the loudest portion of the recording will be less than the microphone can handle. Most professional microphones don't ever actually reach their physical limits, as described above, but small mic's like in your phone or laptop do.
posted by smokysunday at 11:10 AM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

an effect

This kind of sound heard on (modern) recordings is almost always an effect, in this case probably (boringly) added by a "saturation" plugin that simulates the sound of overloaded tape or tubes. It can also be added by driving the mic preamp into distortion, or by driving a hardware compressor or limiter hard, or by recording too hot to real tape. I'd say that these are all "effects" for various definitions of the word, and are almost always added (these days) on purpose.

In almost no case can a singer actually overload a modern microphone (unless they can sing roughly as loud as a jet engine, which they can't).
posted by uncleozzy at 11:25 AM on December 7, 2017

You can overload almost any part of the signal chain to get distortion, on purpose or on accident. It's seldom the microphone. It's usually the mic pre. But part it's not an on/off thing. Every signal sounds different the more or less you push the gain into nearly every piece of gear, that's part of the process, but analog gear makes that change continuously whereas digital gear will sound very much the same until you clip it, and then it goes to hell quickly.

If you know guitars, think of a guitar amp. You turn it up and it distorts more. Most recording equipment operates like this. You find the level of distortion you like.

It is almost always done on purpose, and if not then it was an accident that they liked. It is not unavoidable, a consequence of pitch, volume, or intensity. It's an effect meant to suggest those things. You can do it with whispering, and it often is.

As for women singers, I haven't noticed it to be any more common than with men, but they often have higher ranges and purer tones. That kind of pure, higher pitched tone presented very clean can take your head off but not really give you the effect you want. It sounds more pleasing and sounds more powerful with the added compression and harmonics that come from distortion.
posted by bongo_x at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

smokysunday and bongo_x have it exactly right, albeit that "volume" overloading some part of the signal chain is usually how this happens.

In almost no case can a singer actually overload a modern microphone (unless they can sing roughly as loud as a jet engine, which they can't).

uncleozzy is overstating the case a little bit, here, depending I suppose on what you consider a "modern" microphone. While more and more mics are designed to handle high sound pressure levels without distortion, the venerable and still industry standard (for live use) Shure SM58 can absolutely be overloaded at below jet engine volume, or a variety of small-diaphragm condenser mics (which, to be fair, are not really intended to be used for loud singers.) Chris Spencer from Unsane specifically sings into a Shure SM57 because it will distort when he sings at maximum volume (which is most of the time.)

However, in the Charley Bliss video you linked, the scream (at about 1:18), is, I think, less "distortion" and more "doubling with pitch shifting", which is producing an odd warbling effect that is not quite distortion.

The canonical rock example would be in The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" - Roger Daltrey screams "Yeaaaaaaaaah" when the full band kicks in at the end of the synthesizer break. Happens about 7:44 in this version of the song. Daltrey's definitely overloading something there.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:34 PM on December 7, 2017

Eh, Shure themselves say the SM58 won’t distort below 150dB. Ain’t nobody singing that loud.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:53 PM on December 7, 2017

However, in the Charley Bliss video you linked, the scream (at about 1:18), is, I think, less "distortion" and more "doubling with pitch shifting"

Yeah that didn't sound particularly distorted to me either, kinda just sounds like someone screaming (on my laptop speakers anyway), but they didn't say where the scream was and I didn't want to watch the whole thing.
posted by bongo_x at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2017

Check out Nation of Ulysses or The Makeup.
posted by trbrts at 7:58 AM on December 8, 2017

The "Yeah!" in The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" (4:29) would be the canonical example of this.
posted by w0mbat at 12:48 PM on December 8, 2017

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