What Broadway Singers Sound Like “off-mic”

All singers on recordings have been altered in some way.  Some are more altered than others, but even the microphone itself alters the signal we hear on the final recording as does microphone placement.  This video is NOT produced to critique these singers.  The goal is to help young singers (and voice teachers) realize that the pros do sound different off-mic than they do on the final recording.  Not only does the voice sound different, but the voices are usually not nearly as loud in a live room as they are in your headphones when you are listening to a recording on your iPod.  Please read the post below before or after you listen.  Better yet, watch the video a few times!

This video is for educational purposes. I find that young singers often attempt to sound like the recording, which is usually the reason they get hurt. Young singers need to realize that studio recordings are processed. They use compression, reverb, delay, equalization, and sometimes auto-tune. They have to. The modern microphones and the clarity of digital sound make every little imperfection of the NATURAL voice pop right out at you. In order to help smooth things out, engineers use these tools. So what you hear on the recording is not what the singers actually sound like. Most of the time, they are actually singing much quieter than the volume level we listen at when hearing a song through a stereo and especially through headphones.

iPods can easily reach 110 dB. Most studies suggest that 90-100 dB is the average volume level of singers in the mid part of their range. Since every 3 dB equals a doubling of sound, you are listening to these singers at around 3-7 times the volume they are actually singing. You also do not naturally sing with reverb, compression, equalization, and delay coming directly out of your mouth, so you CANNOT duplicate the recorded sound in person without equipment.

This does not mean these singers are not talented. In fact, its quite the opposite. I think all of these performers are incredibly talented. These singers tell a story. They sing from the heart. They are raw, real, and truthful – and that is why they get hired! There is nothing more beautiful than watching a real human being (I’m not talking jazz hands and tap shoes) standing on the stage and letting their soul out through their acoustic voice – What I am calling “off-mic.” I LOVE that kind of singing and so do the agents who represent these people and the casting directors who cast them. BUT there is an epidemic spreading like wild fire among high school students and undergrads. Its the epidemic of louder is better. ITS NOT! They believe louder is better because that is what they hear in their ears through their headphones. Then when they sing, if they don’t hear themselves in their own heads in the same way they hear the recordings, they are disappointed. So when they go to a voice teacher, the voice teacher has to try to convince them to not push. Then the student goes back home to practice and sings loud again because they have been conditioned by the recordings to do so.

My goal is to stop the unnecessary screaming and instead encourage young people to do what THEY are capable of doing and most of all focus on being who THEY are, speaking from their own special place as actors and actresses. If they naturally have a loud belt voice, awesome. If they don’t, they can still work professionally, but they need to let the equipment help them and just do what they do naturally.

Matt

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