Vocal Points: Good Voice/Bad Voice

In the music world, people toss around the term, “bad singer” pretty regularly. While artists in the public eye are familiar with public scrutiny,  criticism as bold as “___ artist can’t sing”, can be tough to swallow.  Obviously if a person is categorized as a singer, he or she must be capable of using their voice to produce sound and, therefore, carry a tune. So, how does someone get categorized as having a bad voice?

Most times, when someone refers to a famous singer as “bad”, it is a matter of preference. For whatever reason, the listener does not think the artist’s voice is enjoyable to listen to. It could do with the quality of the voice; maybe the voice is high-pitched, breathy, gravelly, nasally, thin.  Still, there are artists with high-pitched, breathy, gravelly, nasally, thin voices who are  successful.

What makes audiences like and appreciate particular voices can be hard to determine, but it is clear that expectations of voices are different depending on genre of music. For example, folk music is a genre which tends to feature voices with more character and less technical training. Why is this? Well, folk is a genre which has always been about telling real stories about real people. Therefore, the quality of the voice needs to portray the tale in a realistic way, whether it is rough or soft and sweet.

Bob Dylan is a great example of a singer whose success came from how well his voice conveyed his message. He was most popular during a time of social unrest, and the expressiveness and roughness of his voice worked in his favor. While Dylan’s voice has often been criticized, it is one of the most well-known, distinct voices in music history.  Tom Waits and Kris Kristofferson have similar vocal notoriety. Both have voices which are gruff and worn, but they use these qualities to tells their unique stories, oftentimes tales of heartbreak and hard times.