I’m a journalist rather than a professional singer, so I’m not qualified to speak about vocal technique.
But I thought you singers might hearing why my favorite artists have struck a chord with me:
Thom Yorke – being himself
Radiohead is a band with more than three decades under their belt. But with vocalist Thom Yorke at the helm, they’ve managed to stay away from stagnation and remain in constant motion.
Every album seems to be a pivot from the last, always outdoing itself with every track they release. Many fans hail “OK Computer” as the band’s magnum opus — and for good reason.
Released at a time when technology was still starting to rear its head, the album was simply ahead of its time. New York Times writer Jon Pareles notes how their songs speak of algorithms that ruthlessly tabulate every available metric and glorify perfection to a robotic level.
But it is Yorke’s vocal shivers that paint each lyric in a certain shade of melancholy that really gets to you.
His voice is hard to define — teetering on the edge of a falsetto but can also sound like transmissions from a distant planet or its own disembodied instrument.
But always, always with a tinge of longing for humanity — a recurring theme you’ll notice in any Radiohead or Thom Yorke song.
This probably stems from how comfortable Yorke is with himself.
Artists who know themselves and their personal musical flavor are every bit of themselves when they sing, never trying to be like anyone else.
Like Yorke, they allow their internal sentiments to fuse with their music.
Robbie Williams – the power of conviction
Robbie Williams is a performer known to grab audiences with a fist. I remember seeing a video of him on tour, and it was nothing but pure electricity as soon as he introduced himself as “Robbie F—ing Williams.”
Some might argue that he’s a bit of an acquired taste, but his trademark flamboyance bleeds into his vocal chops.
It translates to a galvanizing stage presence that is unforgettable, but perhaps most notably is how he doesn’t take himself too seriously with his songs.
‘Party Like A Russian,’ for example, is teeming with cultural clichés and stand-out lines like “Ave it like an oligarch.”
Not to mention its chorus even samples Prokofiev’s ‘Dance of The Knights’ (The Apprentice theme), which only adds to the cheesiness. Despite that, Williams knows we can’t turn our ears the other way.
How can we, when he is able to belt out his songs with so much thumping confidence and colorful bravado?
The former Take That star went on to have a highly-successful solo career and has since won awards for his lasting impact on British culture.
With 11 studio albums and two decades as a solo performer, Williams knows what he’s doing.
Budding singers can all take notes on how to electrify their songs from Williams, but if there’s anything we can all learn from him and other high-voltage performers like Beyoncé, Prince, and David Bowie, it’s that self-conviction is non-negotiable.
Björk – passionate dynamism
When Björk broke out into the music scene, hers was a unique flavor previously unheard of.
Extremely distinct and immediately arresting, her voice embodies the same magical atmosphere of her Iceland home.
As such, her songs are just as much of a trip; almost as if you are taken around the idyllic snow-capped mountains of Reykjavik, or watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky.
But my favorite thing about her is the dynamism she achieves.
One of her more popular songs, “It’s Oh So Quiet,” is pretty much a masterclass on how to take your vocals from zero to 60 — starting with soft and subdued tones before ricocheting from emotion to emotion.
The starting note in no way prepares the listener for what follows: a larger-than-life symphony that gives a brilliant contrast from the placid tones to the in-your-face jazz chords.
And in true Björk fashion, you can feel intense passion in every key. Björk has shared the challenges of getting her vocals into character, like with her performance in the film Dancer in the Dark.
It usually entails tapping into someone else’s pain to provoke empathy, which she did in the movie.
Sure enough, she and her high-octane vocals delivered. In a similar way, injecting memories and real soul truly makes a world of difference to how you project your voice, making the song that much fierier with soul.
James Taylor – truthful
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1973, James Taylor said that he uses songs to express himself when other modes of communication seem hopeless.
“Perhaps that’s why songs are written,” he shared. “Perhaps that’s the way paintings are painted, or photographs taken.”
True enough, Taylor’s songs are as raw and soul-baring as they can get, with each line taking listeners deeper and deeper into his life and psyche.
It hasn’t been an easy climb for the singer. Having battled drug abuse and depression, Taylor had a wealth of experiences to draw from, using music as therapeutic release.
But ultimately, Taylor is unequivocally himself, never attempting to cover up his imperfection or sadness.
He approaches his songs with a certain tenderness that makes you feel his eagerness to be a better man.
His steadiness as a terrific singer has allowed him to deviate between folk and R&B, to rock and roll and country — something he makes look so effortless.
These four singers remind me that few musical instruments are as powerful and impactful as the human voice.
Sure, guitar strings and drum solos might deliver a shot of musical adrenaline, but they pale in comparison to the dripping emotion that can be conveyed in a single note.