Open Mic: What Makes A Great Lead Vocalist?

Jon Ostrow on Mar 1, 2012


Freddie Mercury (Queen) had a vocal range few could match

Many songwriters are also in fact performers: be it a solo singer/ songwriter or as a member of a band.

While it is crucial that the songwriting itself be of the highest caliber, it is also important to focus on the performance of these songs. More specifically, the way the songs are sung in order for them to be delivered properly.

So, therein lies the question at hand for this week's Open Mic discussion: What makes a great vocalist?

By understanding and dissecting who the best vocalists were and what made them so great, we can gain some insights as to how you can apply their genius into your own work.

1. Vocal range

Having a strong vocal is important part of making your songs diverse. Without a range to be able to sing in different keys or octaves, you may run into the issue of your songs all sounding quite similar.

Example: Freddie Mercury (Queen)

It is said that Freddie Mercury had a 4 octave vocal range. While this has been disputed by many (claiming his voice was a still incredibly impressive 3.5 octave range) there is no doubt that the Queen frontman, vocalist and songwriter was able to produce quite an amazing range of songs, each sounding unique from the others.

2. Vocal timbre

The timbre of a voice is the tone and color, which is what gives it a unique sound. Having a distinct timbre will make your voice, and thus your songs, instantly recognizable.

Example: Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)

There are many vocalists who posses a strong vocal timbre, but few have as strong and instantly recognizable a voice as that of Led Zeppelin's vocalist Robert Plant. The color, the tone and the depth of his voice are all obvious and consistent from one song to the next.

3. Vocal style

Having distinct style in your voice is necessary in the exact ways of vocal range. Unlike range where it can help to diversify your sound, style will help to keep the songs sounding like you, no matter which direction the song takes you.

Example: Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys)

One of the biggest factors in the current success of the Akron, OH based blues-rock band The Black Keys is the vocal style of lead singer and co-songwriter Dan Auerbach. The distinct warm, soul and crunch of Auerbach's voice gives him a style that is undeniably his own, which remains consistent throughout the entire Black Keys' song catalog, ranging from raw power-blues tunes to high-production pop-rock songs.

What Do You Think Makes A Great Lead Vocalist?

This is, of course, an open discussion! While the vocal characteristics and the examples above are all important, there is no doubt that there is more to be discussed. Give us your examples of your favorite vocalists, and what has defined them as so great in the form of a comment below!

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