500 words or less: Five Favourite Lyrics

What are your favourite lyrics?

Now, despite loving singing and songs, and as well as having a near photographic memory, I do find it difficult to pick apart lyrics for an entire song in a first listen – finding favourite lyrics can be tough. So when a lyric really sticks in my mind on first listen I KNOW I’ve got something I want to listen to again and again.

Yes I know the name, sounds a little bit familiar, like a melody to a dream,
Yes I know, he wore the same face the same clothes, but that was so long ago

‘Ghosts’ – Chris Cornell

This one (today) is one of my favourite lyrics because I felt it ‘revealed’ the nature of the whole song in a single phrase (the bridge). I felt it summed up what I felt the whole vibe of the song was about… the idea that someone is looking for a person they knew, but that person has left their old life behind and ‘isn’t there anymore’. Beautiful concept and wonderfully captured in song.

Gentleness, sobriety, so rare in this society, at night a candle’s brighter than the sun
‘Englishman in New York’ – Sting

Ah another set of favourite lyrics. I like this one because for the longest time I didn’t understand the link between the first half of the line and the second half. Then it dawned on me that (at least in my interpretation) that it was meant to convey the idea that being something rare stands out like a sore thumb. Nice combination of literal and metaphorical in the same line as well… a real eye/ear-opener for me.

You can’t trust freedom when it’s not in your hand, when everybody’s fighting for the promised land
‘Civil War’ – Guns N’ Roses

I don’t know what it is about this line that I love, I think it’s the raw visceral energy of the line… coupled with the strong rhyme between ‘hand’ and ‘land’. It just resolves perfectly, both musically and lyrically… yea… it’s a great song!

You never thought you’d be alone, this far down the line, I know what’s been on your mind… you’re afraid it’s all been wasted time
‘Wasted Time’ – The Eagles

This is another one that just transcended words for me, I felt it captured a moment into the life of a person (or both people) coming out of a broken relationship. The idea that the time spent on that relationship is lost, dead, wasted time. But the song wraps around on itself by the end and says ‘y’kno what, maybe it hasn’t all been wasted time’. And I like that ‘turnaround’ aspect… a lot!

But is the best you can be, the best thing to be
‘Crossroads’ – The Offspring

Great songwriters. I just love the play on words. Is the best you can be, really the best thing to be? I stopped paying attention to the song at that point because I was just totally lost in the world of that one lyric. Wonderful stuff.

There we have it, my favourite five lyrics. Why not share yours below?

Adam Pascal – Pity The Child

Another great youtube video. This guy’s name is Adam Pascal, and you may recognise him from the movie ‘School of Rock’. He was the bassist of the band that fired Jack Black’s character. He is an excellent all-round vocalist and singer.

The top notes if I recall correctly are around C#5/D5, and the run up into them is tough, but very melodic.

Key Learning Point

I’ll be honest, as impressive as this sounds, it gets a bit shouty. It’s not the widest I’ve ever heard someone sing and by jove he’s doing something incredibly difficult… but does it sound good? If we stuck it down a minor third, I reckon he’d FEEL a lot better whilst singing, and it’d SOUND a lot better.

It doesn’t lack quality, but there is an easy way to MASSIVELY bump up the already existent quality in his voice. If he can make it sound that good in THAT key, how much better would it sound when he’s not working for EVERY note?

I know we harp on about that, but quality matters. It’s what makes the difference between great singers and “merely good” singers. It’s ALSO what makes the difference between singers who last 5 years and the ones who last 50 years.

Remember, put quality first and the rest will follow.

Queen – One Vision (Live)

Following on from my post on Five Great Male Vocalists, I couldn’t resist sticking this awesome live version of one of my favourite songs up there. ‘One Vision’ by Queen.

Queen was a band that took the world by storm with ridiculous songwriting, vocal lines, guitar riffs and general bandcraft. This is one of my favourite songs of theirs, performed live at Wembley in 1986.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv1qcUAcIpE

Learning Points:

#1 – Live Vs Recording – Freddie was an outstanding vocalist, there’s no doubt there. BUT, what you record in the studio vs what you can actually consistently do live is another test altogether. Freddie was known for incredible recordings (as well as incredible performances), but he regularly had to alter the melodies of his songs to sing them live. Specifically, he would sing songs over 2nd bridge in recordings, but live would completely eliminate this in almost every song. The live version of ‘Hammer to Fall’ demonstrates this most obviously.

A key lesson from this is to not give in to ego, but to record songs only in keys you know you can do live. That way way you are never having to compromise on what you’d like to deliver.

#2 – Stage presence MATTERS – The above said, you can hardly complain about any of the performances by Queen – why is that? If the live performances deviate that much from the recordings, why is this not bothering anyone? Because stage presence counts for A LOT. Freddie was excellent at holding the audiences attention no matter how much he might have been reaching for certain melody lines or having to modify things to hit the notes. Yet, how many singers just stand still on stage? Plenty. There are the Adele’s of this world, but they MUST focus their efforts on their voice. Their voice sells the song completely, such that standing still on stage doesn’t detract from the performance.

It’s not that you have to pick one over the other (it’s more a sliding scale), but recognise that if you don’t feel comfortable throwing shapes to the extent of Freddie Mercury or the like, the less you want to move around, the stronger your vocals have to be. Ultimately, your stage presence should be a reflection of your personality, but recognise that the less energetic you want to be on stage, the tighter your vocals need to be.

500 words or less: Five Great Male Vocalists

Another 500 words or less blog post, this time on five great male vocalists. Now, this is not meant to be a definitive list, and I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow, but as of right this second, here are five great male vocalists I think you should have a listen to in more detail.

1. Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury

Utterly amazing singer and performer. He seemed to be able to hold an audience in the palm of his hand. One minute he’d be strutting the stage, the next he would a quiet reserved man sitting having a pint and a cigarette in the corner of your local pub. Mercury’s sound was and is instantly recognisable, with a very clear and pristine tone to his voice, unlike many rock singers of his day. His songwriting was also prolific and he penned many hits for Queen.

2. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is a long-time student and friend of Seth Riggs – if you want to know more about Seth and his contribution to the world of voice and how this has influenced my teaching, just click here to find out more. Listen to pieces like ‘Lately’ and ‘For your love’ to hear the pure quality in his voice at all points in his range. He makes it sound effortless everywhere. Stevie is a total monster on vocals. What is perhaps even more impressive is his ability to just serve the song, even if ‘technically’ he wasn’t doing it correctly… even though he could… he just ‘felt’ for the song and that showed through his voice.

3. Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

Already covered briefly in an earlier blog post, Bruno is an excellent singer and one of the few vocalists out there right now who do the voice real justice. He knows how to write catchy tunes, and deliver them with a real artistic flair. I think you’d struggle to find a more rounded artist in today’s current contemporary line-up. He is currently working on his next album, and I can’t wait for it.

4. Bono

Bono

Now, with the vocalists above listed, some of you might be surprised that I list Bono here. But great singing is far more than simply possessing great tone or great technique, it requires a sense of melody and an internal ‘feel’ for music and the piece you are singing. Bono not only writes great songs, but delivers them is a truly engaging manner. Check out any of their live DVDs to get a taste for how exceptional a frontman he is. His range, whilst perhaps more limited than other singers listed here, is more than sufficient to deliver the songs in his repertoire beautifully.

5. Bruce Dickinson

Bruce Dickinson

‘The’ frontman for Iron Maiden. Having seen these guys live, I think it could be argued that Bruce is the most energetic front man on the planet. I’ve been told he rehearses in advance of tours on roller skates so as to get his fitness up to a sufficient level to maintain his onstage antics. His range and tone is also closer to that of a skilled classical opera singer than some of the shouty or shrill singers that we might otherwise picture. Truly an exceptional singer.

Check all these guys out, because they are amazing.

Jessie J – Domino

One of the best vocalists out there today is Jessie J (real name Jessica Cornish). A contemporary of Leona Lewis and Adele, but with a far more eclectic and (I’d say!) interesting style. A little known fact about her is that during her teens she suffered a stroke!

This is one of my favourite pieces of hers, and grew on me within a few listens. Yes, it is a pop-piece, but it’s a lot of fun.

FYI the reason she is sitting down in this video is that she broke her foot around the time of this tour, and a throne was brought in to create a suitable place to rest her leg while also keeping the setting appropriate for the gig.

Five Vocal Misconceptions – Think you can’t increase vocal range?

Things like ‘I can’t increase vocal range’ are just not true…

To increase vocal range, you just need the right tools, it’s not something you’re stuck with. While we’re on this topic, let me tell you about some other misconceptions…

Here’s another short and sweet post on some interesting points. This one is focusing on five misconceptions about the voice, but I’ve left the more controversial misconceptions for longer posts.

 

1. I’m stuck with the range I’ve got = WRONG

 Range is NOT static – Many insist that the range you have is the range you are stuck with, and that you cannot increase your range – end of. This is simply not true. Singing is a matter of improving the co-ordination of your voice as an instrument, from your vocal cords through to your vocal tract and everything else… but that’s ALL stuff you have already. It’s not a question of strength as much as it a question of ‘balance’ and muscle co-ordination. Since starting to study effective vocal technique my useable vocal range has increased by over an octave and a half, all with quality, and adding to that daily. The same result can be achieved with any singer over time.

 

2. I struggle with the high notes, I must be an alto/bass = WRONG

Range does not determine voice type – You may know that the bass guitar is an octave lower than the guitar, but they share LOTS of notes in common with one another. Common notes do not make a bass into a guitar, nor vice versa, they sound different. Likewise, many male singers with large ranges can hit soprano notes. This does not make them sopranoes. Similarly, sopranoes share notes with tenors. This doesn’t make them tenors.  Similarly, just because you struggle with high notes doesn’t mean you are (necessarily) a lower type of voice. Voice type is not determined by range but the specific mechanics of a person’s voice, as these are distinctly different in the separate voice types. You can absolutely increase vocal range from where you currently are, you just need the right tools to experience it.

 

3. That guy/girl can sing so loud! They must be amazing singers = WRONG

Loudness does not reflect skill – We are all impressed by loud singers. And confidence in (good) singing is a big part of that. However, as we looked at in the explanation in the beginner course on the engine of the voice, loudness can come about not because of skill, but because of a lack of skill. Many singers cannot help but be excessively loud at the top of their range because they lack the balance to control that co-ordination. Now, skilled singers can and should be able achieve a high volume and a true forte in their voice, but volume alone does not reflect skill.

 

4. I can rely on the microphone and sound engineer to fix my voice = WRONG

Microphones cannot replace correct singing technique – In the same way that a guitar amp reproduces what is going on at the guitar and can complement what is going on at the guitar, a microphone reproduces and complements what the voice is doing… but it cannot compensate for weaknesses in the voice. Don’t think that autotune can fix something where you need to increase vocal range or improve your technique. There is simply no substitute for having good vocal technique and a balanced vocal ability.

 

5. Wow! That artist sounds amazing on the album, they must sound that way all the time = WRONG

The tape recorder doesn’t lie, but albums do – What we hear inside our own head when we sing is not what the audience hears. When we sing we need to record ourselves and listen back to hear the truth. However, when we listen to produced vocals on an album, we are NOT hearing the truth. We are hearing vast amounts of compression, multiple takes spliced together, and professional mastering on a singer’s voice, that masks and hides many of the problems we might hear in our own voices when we record one-take at home. The message is, we need to record ourselves to hear what we really sound like, but we cannot trust this same principle when listening to recorded albums. Don’t think that your favourite artist sounds that good with perfect pitching and nuance all the time – albums lie. Here’s a video to prove it to you.

Learn More: Related Articles

If you want to learn more about voice and recording, you can find out more by visiting these related articles:
Recorded vs Live Performance: Which is harder?
Recording Studio on a Budget
How to Sing When Recording
Vocal Comping to Get the Best Vocal Take
Live vs Recorded Vocals: Our own double standards