Jenks Voice Studio

A Sing-Along Culture

Published on March 14th, 2013 by Brad Jenks

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Oh, if only life could truly be like it is in the movies........

Well, maybe not. For one thing, life would be a lot shorter. “Cut to....” takes out quite a chunk. But what is being cut? Answer? Real life.

In my time as a teacher, a student of singing, and frankly, as a person in the 20th and 21st century, I have both felt and witnessed the effects of popular culture media on my life and others’. And as much as I am a media consumer (sometimes too much so) I find there is a direct correspondence to the number of disappointments based on false preconceived notions. If you doubt me, just ask yourself about the last time you watched an action movie and got all jazzed up about being strong and capable, hit the gym with some zeal, only to find out that it takes far longer than the standard movie montage to get oneself in that kind of shape. Darn you, Rocky Balboa!!

But I believe that something similar is the case in music. More specifically, with the constant digital availability of music to the masses. Music has always been available in one degree or another. But a culture has developed that I refer to as “The Sing-Along Culture”. I believe this culture to have 3 defining characteristics (so far):

  1. The aspiring singer wants to sound like their favorite song/singer, having little notion or care to sound like themselves.
  2. The aspirant swears to you that they sang it better at home than they did just now (at home they were no doubt singing along to the recording.)
  3. The singer struggles with consistently putting forth the appropriate physical exertion required of of them because, ultimately, they want for singing to be as easy as listening to singing.

I want to say that last one again, because it bears repeating. They want for singing to be as easy as listening to singing........ and it simply is not.

There are many, many people who think that they want to be singers because they are so moved by listening to it, and they enjoy singing along at home. And this is wonderful. But when a person is singing along at home, they have no responsibility to an audience. No responsibility to be accurate, communicative, or even audible!

Those were the issues, here are the realities:

  1. Imitation is a big part of both the inspiration and the learning to sing, it’s true. But it needs to be kept in check, attentively. And for a very good reason- If I want to listen to Adele, or some other singer, I will. Specifically, I will listen to them, and not you. Don’t be them. Be you.
  2. You did not sing it better at home (chances are). You thought you did, because you were listening more to the recording than being attentive to your own singing.
  3. Listening to singing is wonderful, and easy. You can do it lying on a couch. Singing, by contrast, is work. It is athletic, and the better you get at it, the more detailed it can be (For those not suited, this work is tedium). But it has it’s own kind of rewards.

Sadly, as I have pointed out in other writings, our pop-stardom culture is currently promoting a model that has innate talent as the highest goal, almost to the point of shunning hard work as antithetical to talent. And this may be where we see it the most. These shows are replete with the failure clips. The clowns who are convinced they are stars, but only make the blooper reel. But from the worst to the best, are any of them disciplined singers? Have any of them bothered to learn a thing about vocalism, the thing they say they want to do more than anything else? Usually no. Any raw sound will do, as long as it is a moderately in-tune, exposed-nerve sort of experience. And as I understand it, people with training in the field are actually denied entrance to many of these competitions!

We tend to absorb what Hollywood and its ilk feed us. But they never show you the morning after the happy ending, where Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock survive the danger in Speed, but then find out he is a Scorpio and she is Sagittarius, and it will just never work between them.

This is not really meant to be a cultural critique, of these shows, or of people’s tastes. But perhaps a reality check? These shows are what they are, But even they are edited and chopped. And the result isn’t even a diamond at the end of a montage. It’s just a slightly cleaner stone than the dirty one that came in. To really consider singing as a craft, as a skill..... it’s a lengthy process. And it has a great deal of value. Any skill of that sort is going to teach you something about life, and work, and investment. But if we as a culture could perhaps keep our heads about us, we might minimize the gap between popular culture and skill. We might actually begin to value people for being good at something again.