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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City

The Digital Voice


Sailing down the freeway, top down, radio blaring – ah, summertime! Those days seem to be long gone with the arrival of ipods, giving us control over our musical choices, anytime, anywhere. Technology has permeated the music business, greatly changing the recording industry and what we, as listeners, actually hear.

In her article in the current Journal of Singing, Cathryn Frazier-Neely discusses the use of voice enhancing software such as Auto Tune, which has been in use at least since 1998 (remember the MOOG synthesizers from the 50s!). She coins the term “non-produced” to replace “live” because even live performances can be altered and manipulated by these programs. Today’s sound boards are very sophisticated and sound engineers are some of the highest paid people in the business. In addition to “tuning up” the singer, this software can shape the tone, adding bright or darkness, even out a vibrato, input resonance – virtually creating a voice within a voice. For example, although billed as singing “live”, the singers voices in the movie Les Miserables were “routed through audio processes and mixed with the orchestra”.

So is this good, bad or just a new genre of music? A hybrid of the human and the technical? And how does this influence the criteria for someone’s level of talent and skill? Can anyone become a “great” singer with enough digital help? Should the grammy for Best Vocal Performance be equally shared between the singer and engineer?

Nashville recording engineer and producer Jim Frazier says he prefers hiring studio singers who can sight read both written music and charts and sing in tune with a quality sound because it saves time and money. So maybe musical training is not yet absolete!

Voice teachers need to be aware of any tendency by students to try and  produce a digitally enhanced sound without the help of a software program. This can bring about bad singing habits and possible injury. One of the concerns I share Ms. Frazier-Neely is that today’s voice students/singers lack the kinesthetic knowledge so essential to  healthy, expressive singing.  This results in poor coordination between the breath and the release and production of sound, little sense of how to use the strength and energy of the body to develop a free, healthy tone and deficiencies in body alignment and physical awareness .  Good singing engages both the body and emotion!


Live vs. Recorded: Comparing Apples to Oranges to Get Fruid Salad. Catherine Frazier-Neely. Journal of Singing, Vol. 69, #5. 2013

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