Vocals. I love 'em.

As the son of a choir director and vocal instructor, my love for excellent singing is deeply rooted.

I have a distinct memory of a high-level training session my dad let me attend when I was 12, which covered the finer points of the psychological connection between the director's hands and the vocal cords of the singers. I learned that if a conductor's hands are closed, it can cause the throats of the singers to tighten.

So for me, the brain-voice connection is an amazing thing. If you have the chance to hear a singer with five or more octaves in their range, you might remember it.


What's so cool about the human voice as it pertains to music is that it is a computer-controlled, nearly infinitely variable musical instrument. And when it comes to developing skill in use, what you get out is what you put into it.

Don't let some of these recent singing-based reality shows convince you that anyone can sing like a star. Each of the performers who makes it invariably has been working at their vocals for years. And we really love the result of those efforts. The manner in which the pop-recording establishment treats its best singers, and the way those songs are mixed underscores this.


Listen to any Adele or Kelly Clarkson track and you can hear, in many cases, that the vocals are at least the same volume as the music, if not louder. Vocals like theirs, which soar above the arrangements, are supposed to take over the mix and be the "belle of the ball," so to speak. It's a general rule of thumb when mixing vocal pop that you should start with the vocals taking up half of the sound and work from there.

Pop music is where you find some of the most clear and forward vocals. It really is a different story for different genres, illustrating that the focus may be more on the instrumentation than the singing.

Picture a juggy, string-twang washboard bluegrass unit. Because of the tradition of recording as one around a microphone or a group of microphones, we often accept that bluegrass vocals will be farther back and softer in the mix. Even though they're playing acoustic instruments, without a dedicated vocal microphone the instruments are still plenty loud and the singer practically has to shout the lyrics to be heard. And it sounds like bluegrass. If the vocals took up more than half of the sound, you'd think something was wrong. When it comes to impressive scales and fast notes and screaming lead lines, these players rely on their instrument training, rather than their vocal training.

Not that Adele couldn't wreck house in a bluegrass group, but she lives in the pop world because that type of music is made to showcase what she has to offer. And it's no surprise that pop music sells more by far — it's called popular music for a reason. We all love it.

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