July 10, 2022
For many new singers – and some veterans too – having a huge voice feels crucial, as if it were your only claim to fame. It is true – proving that you can belt it out so loud you don’t even need a mic can be impressive – and it can be handy in acoustic situations where you need to get heard.
But trying to go loud at all times isn’t always the best strategy. In fact, sometimes it can backfire on you and make you sound less professional, as well as taking a toll in other ways. Here are five reasons to back it down – at least sometimes.
First and foremost, as a singer, your voice is your instrument, and if that goes, you can’t sing at all. Obviously, you should always warm up before shows and rehearsals. But even warmed up, going loud all the time is an eventual strain on your vocal mechanism. This is especially true if your style is more about scream than projection. There’s nothing wrong that style – it defines rock and not all songs should sound operatic – but doing that a lot can wreck your voice. Do it too often for too long, and you might not be able to get it back.
Certain scream notes or loud belting notes can’t be done quietly. But on the other hand, attempting to get as loud as possible all the time limits control over your timbre. As it turns out, a lot of what you might be looking for is easier to accomplish at just a notch or two lower volumes. It’s not that you want to switch to whisper vocals ala Billie Eilish, it’s just about drawing back a little bit of the strain so you can find sweeter sounds.
The human voice is limited (unless you’re Freddie Mercury). It’s especially limited in the range of notes it can reach at top, full voiced, volume. Drawing back the volume can increase your range and make the switch between head voice and chest voice less obvious. If you sing notes in the sweet spot as loud as can be, when you get to a high note, you’ll either find yourself straining, missing the note entirely, or having to switch to a way quieter register. That could be weird sounding (it might also be cool, especially in the studio) – or it could cause that note to be lost in the mix, especially on a loud stage.
Recording vocals is a subtle art, and there’s a difference between stage singing and studio singing. Although you want to represent your act well, there are certain technical facts at play in the studio. One is the obvious – if you’re too loud when the engineer doesn’t expect it, you could clip and ruin the take. That’s certainly avoidable with good level setting and compression, but something else is less obvious and can make vocal mixing difficult. That’s a magical and dangerous area in the vocal range around 2-3kHz. Some vocalists tend to hit that frequency really hard when they go into full on belt mode – especially tenors. That frequency does make vocals cut through the mix, but it can also be a nightmare to mix, because it can hurt the ears.
There are some mix techniques to take care of this, like dynamic EQ, but even then, it can be tricky. As it turns out, though, dialing back the intensity of those belty notes can smooth out this problem without making the track less impressive. Just remember, in the studio, you don’t need to struggle to get heard. If you relax, your vocals will be easier to mix – even the loud parts.
Finally, there’s one thing that almost all new bands find out eventually. If you’re loud the whole show, people lose interest. That’s because loudness isn’t actually what keeps people focused. What really keeps people engaged is change. That’s why dynamic range is so important in mixing, song writing, arrangement, and in show craft. Building a compelling live set is all about keeping attention, so as a singer, if you’re a one trick pony who can only melt faces, you’ll be left with little way to keep attention. But if you can bring it down too, your loudness ability will be more impressive.
At the end of the day, singing is as varied as any other musical art. The more different things you can do, the better. It’s not to say you shouldn’t ever sing loud – it can be incredibly compelling when you hold out a note that makes you sound like Thor on steroids – it’s just that dialing it back is useful too.
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5