Objective opinions of one's singing?
May 21, 2019 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Simple question. If you have a fairly good idea you're a decent singer, but you need to make sure, where can you get some objective opinions?

So yeah, this is about me. I have an untrained folky sort of style. Is there an anonymous online place where I can get some opinions on how okay I am? I really don't want to post a link in here. Nor do I want to post a YouTube video. I won't be crushed by criticisms - I'm a middle aged woman over here who doesn't have that many fucks to give. Ideas? I'm thinking there must be a reddit forum or something but people expecting a pop vocalist - that's just not my audience. Thanks.
posted by kitcat to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I follow a few of the singing coach video channels on YouTube, and a bunch of those people run a paid service where they will basically do online lessons for you. That might be a route to go.

For that matter, a voice teacher will not only assess how you sound, but give you pointers on how to fix anything that may be weak
posted by twoplussix at 12:42 PM on May 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I once asked this question of a musician friend who helped me record my first album (not of my singing but the whole thing). "But is it good? Do you think it's good?" I kept asking. Finally, he kind of schooled me in thinking in a lot more sophisticated way about music (I have noticed that serious musicians shy away from using such binary evaluative terms).Under what aesthetic system would I want to be "good?" Would you call Bob Dylan's singing "good?" Even if his singing wasn't technically "good," would it matter? He is still a world-changing musical artist and startlingly original lyricist. Is a traditional Appalachian singer "good?" Is a Tuvan throat singer "good?" Is a modern-day, Auto-tuned pop singer "good?"

Do people enjoy your singing? Do you enjoy it? Do you find opportunities to do it? Do people ask you to do it? Do you love it? Do you deliver something authentic an sincere when you sing? Do you keep working at it to hone and refine your skills? Is your singing effective? If the answer to all that is "yes," then you are a "good" singer. Or better, you are a singer.

So you could certainly ask for opinions online, but those opinions will only tell you about that person's opinion. No one else can ever really tell you whether your singing is a worthwhile thing.
posted by Miko at 1:27 PM on May 21, 2019 [43 favorites]

That is extremely good advice. One way you can self-assess objectively is just to listen to yourself a lot on recordings. You'll catch things like lazy tone or out of tune notes, and then from there it is up to you to decide whether you want to do anything about it.
posted by twoplussix at 1:41 PM on May 21, 2019

Yeah, it kinda depends on what your goal is. Is it just that you’re not confident enough to audition for gigs without someone telling you you’re good enough first? Are you auditioning or sending out demos but not getting gigs? Where you are, and where you want to be, as a musician will determine how to move forward.
posted by outfielder at 1:42 PM on May 21, 2019

To be clear I'm just kind of looking to improve, work up the courage to busk, and maaaaybe do a couple songs on a small stage someday which would work out well since I'm currently in a tiny rural community that enjoys live music.
posted by kitcat at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2019

Miko covers a lot of this, but I just wanted to chime in and say that this is a very complicated question for singers in popular genres of music. For classical singers, there are well understood criteria for what is and is not good: is the voice clean, does it project and is it loud enough, is the vibrato even, can it reliably hit all the required notes, does it stay on pitch, does it conform to established notions for beauty of tone, and so on. For popular singers, there really are no generally accepted criteria for what is and isn't good. Sometimes, and I would even suggest often, it is more important for a popular singer to have an "interesting" voice rather than a "good" voice. Singers such as Billie Holiday, Tom Waits, David Lee Roth, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen and Janice Joplin don't have "good voices" in the conventional sense, but they have all been great singers in their genres. Conversely, there have been plenty of singers whose voices and singing were too refined to be "interesting," and as a result they didn't have success in the popular genres they were pursuing. It's frustratingly impossible to say why Billie Holiday's tendency to drift off pitch sounded cool but the same tendency in another singer is grating to the ear, but that's just how it is.

My experience is that a lot of people are more critical of their own voices than others would be. Why not start by making a recording of your own voice (even the "voice memo" function on a smartphone will suffice) , give it a listen and see what you think? If a recording of your voice in the genre that you sing seems okay to you, chances are that it falls within the realm of "acceptable" in that genre.
posted by slkinsey at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

In reading your follow-up, I wonder if there are any open-mic events or similar (hootenannies, bluegrass jams, etc.) near you that you could check out. You don't sound ready to just show up and sign up to perform, but you might find it a good way to meet other musically inclined people who you could get feedback from and possibly collaborate with.
posted by ewok_academy at 3:21 PM on May 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

It sounds like the question lurking in the background is "Can I be a successful performer?" That's somewhat different from sounding good in a recording - it's sounding good (or compelling, not the same thing), emoting, engaging with your audience, using your voice in the space, etc. The best way to get the answer is to try performing and to not give up if the first few times aren't all that you hoped for. Good performing needs a whole skill set that takes time to build up (for most of us, anyway).

If you are still hesitant to give it a shot, take a few voice lessons. Let your teacher know what your goals are and ask them specifically how they can help you get there.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:04 PM on May 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you're feeling self-conscious about vocal intonation, then you're in good company, some of the great vocalists in recorded history had wierd intonation (yeah, other famous singers had good intonation too). The thing is that they framed their vocal performances in a context with their personality & character. Some of my favourite famous singers tended to sing kinda flat sometimes. Also, Practice helps a lot, intonation can improve noticeably with a bit of work.
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on May 21, 2019

You might check out a karaoke night near you. Lots of people start by figuring out how to work a crowd by any means necessary. And usually the crowd is pretty supportive since they're all committing the same musical crimes.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:54 PM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I ran your question by my friend who owns a vocal studio. She would be happy to do a pro bono lesson over Skype just to get you started. She's kind, thoughtful , and loves helping others find their best musical self. Please feel free to memail for contact info!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 9:37 PM on May 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

So I've recently started taking voice lessons. I'm in my mid thirties. Never taken voice lessons before. I've done some choral music with him, and I've done some of my own pop stuff.

I have always had an IDEA of myself as a good singer. I thought I had a great voice, right? I thought my range was pretty impressive, and that I sounded pretty great. I've done open mics, that kind of thing.

Here is my experience from this whole journey I've been on lately:

1. I actually haven't gotten much "How good is my voice?" feedback. I haven't asked, to be honest.
2. I *HAVE* gotten lots of actionable feedback on what I am physically doing with my voice. Crutches I didn't realize I was leaning on; new techniques I didn't know were possible.
3. By delving more into cover songs, I can now better see where I stand versus other artists as far as what I am physically capable of doing. (Elvis Costello, Guided by Voices: no problem. Radiohead, Sunny Day Real Estate: pushing it a little over the line)

So to return to this question of whether my voice is "good" or not:

My voice teacher can probably answer this question pretty clearly: "How would I do in a tryout for the SF Bach Chorus?" or something like that. He can say whether he finds my songs entertaining when I sing them, and he can offer performance tips. But is he going to say whether my voice is "good" or not? Probably not, no.

Do I know what my voice is capable of now better than before? When I hear another vocalist, can I tell when they are doing something that will always be beyond my capability? Do I know exactly what I want to improve on when I practice singing a song now? Oh, absolutely.

Good luck! Keep singing, whatever you do. Having people think you're good isn't all it's cracked up to be, anyway. Not compared to the pleasure of the thing itself.
posted by billjings at 10:39 PM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wow, thank you all! I think you've really figured out what my main issue it - I personally like my voice and I can feel if I'm knocking it out of the park in terms of my own standards - which you're telling me is all that really matters. I do need help making choices - like - is it ok if I really belt out this note and take a chance it's going to be flat or do I move into a different register and let it be soft and vulnerable, is this occasional smokers hoarseness ok, can I keep trying with that Joni Mitchell song, or give up on it because the range is too large, or adapt it to my capabilities. I never would have thought to seek a vocal coach because I don't want my idiosyncraticies trained out of me, but I'll give it a try!
posted by kitcat at 4:08 AM on May 22, 2019

A vocal coach can help but I recommend avoiding a classical vocal coach, who will do what slkinsey describes - and since you're not interested in classical stylistically, you don't want that.

But yeah, it is OK for you to make intentional choices like you're describing. You will be experimenting for a while and you'll see where you get an audience reaction and where you don't hit the mark you were hoping for. Watch your audience and listen for their reactions.

The suggestion of playing an open mic is a great one. Look for a low-key open mic, not the one where all the professional musicians hang out on their night off, but like a small cafe with a relaxed open mic. I have seen some really un-enjoyable (to me) performances at open mics, but the atmosphere is generally supportive and it is an easy venue to practice, try things, and refine over time. Many of them will let you do only 1-3 songs. THere is no feedback like the direct audience feedback you will get by being in front of the public. That is going to be telling you all you need to know about your singing in order to keep going and keep working on your voice. And you'll have a chance to watch and learn from other performers, too, which is invaluable.

is this occasional smokers hoarseness ok

Hoarseness, as a sound, can be totally OK. But if you value your voice, stop smoking. Smoking absolutely destroys voices. Cautionary tales include late Mary Travers and late Joni Mitchell. JOni can't even sing many of her great songs anymore without completely resetting them for her smoking-induced limited range.
posted by Miko at 4:41 AM on May 22, 2019

Everyone has great comments here. All of the choices you are contemplating totally depend on the given song, genre and style you are working on.

Another aspect that I think is interesting is to think about not just the musical sounds, but the relative importance of other adjacent kinds of performance and creative endeavor that overlap with what you are doing. Why could Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen be as legendary as they are with the voices they have? Because their work is as much about poetry as it is about singing per se. A friend of mine is a great cabaret singer even though she only has an okay voice, because what she does is as much about theater as it is about singing. She makes her characters come alive on stage, and commits to them even when they aren't necessarily great singers.
posted by umbú at 9:15 AM on May 22, 2019

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