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singer that cant sing

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by DoubleD, Oct 14, 2009.

  1. DoubleD


    Jul 23, 2009
    Southern Indiana
    I started playing bass a few months ago. I had wanted to learn an instrument and mentioned it to a couple of my friends who heavily encouraged me. One of them took me shopping and really got me going with it. He and I started jamming together about once or twice a week. He started showing me some things and teaching me some songs. It was a lot of fun. He's a phenominal guitarist - played for 20 years and can play anything. Great musician. Great friend.

    Eventually the 2nd friend finally started playing with us one night and we had a real good time. I was having trouble knowing when to switch chords, and the songs needed vocals, so we needed someone to sing. Well, "friend 2" jumped in with "i've got a mic and i can sing." (shortened version)

    So, the 3 of us played together the following week, friend 2sang and it went real well. We played against a drum machine. He wasn't the best singer, but it kept our place in the songs and it just was a lot of fun (I figured he'd get better too). Then we decided we needed a drummer. I found us one (related) and the following week, he jammed with us. He's an amazing drummer. Everything clicked that first night. It was just so much fun. We decided we would start a band, picked a name, and have been practicing about once a week for the past 3 months. We just play covers right now, but as I improve and we play more we'll start doing our own stuff. We've been thinking about the future when we'll do bars and such. We've all got day jobs, this is just for fun, but we take it seriously.

    The problem is...our "singer" (friend 2) really can't sing. We record our practices and anyone who's heard them says "get a new singer, but the music is awesome." So, I sent an email out to the band about maybe in the future we could look at getting a dedicated lead singer, maybe a girl who can play keyboards a little.

    Well, our "singer" took this the wrong way. Apparently he feels as if he sang because no one wanted to and his role in the band is being challenged. He feels like he is a very good singer, and he's far too talented to just strum chords and play backup for some singer.

    How do you tell someone who can't sing, that they can't sing, but their guitar playing and role in the band is still very valuable. He sings well enough he could do great backup singing, as does our main guitarist. I don't feel that not being the lead singer makes you less valuable. Our sound is awesome, and he's a good part of that sound. He's also a good friend.

    We don't want to lose him, but he's also a sensitive person who is difficult to talk to and say things like "play it this way" or "you're playing that wrong" or "we need a new singer." So, what the hell do you do? Good friend, good guitarist, good value to the band, but only wants to play if he's lead singer. Also thinks he's a good singer when he's really (really) not. And sensitive about perceived criticism.

    *edit* I should say, that 2 of the songs we do, he actually does a pretty good job on. Nothing outstanding or phenominal, but a pretty darned good job of hitting most of the notes. I think because there are a couple songs like that, he feels like he can do all.
  2. Tumeni Notes

    Tumeni Notes

    Jan 2, 2009
    Welcome to the "other" side of being in a band. There is never an easy way to tell someone that they are not very good at their respective instruments or singing ability. The good news is that he has other abilities and talents that benefit the band and that hopefully, he will be able to "see the light". Perhaps, he can do some lead guitar work on some of the songs or perhaps contribute to your original music (lyrics, guitar, etc.).

    Unfortunatley, from my experience, the longer you delay your decision, the harder it is going to be to let him go. Right now, his attitude has probably changed and he is probably a little more defensive and less likely to hear constructive comments.

    The bottom line is that if you are all playing together as friends and having fun, then keep him and have fun. However, if you want to play at parties and clubs, he has to stop singing (but perhaps he can harmonize a bit).
  3. MatticusMania

    MatticusMania LANA! HE REMEMBERS ME!

    Sep 10, 2008
    Pomona, SoCal
    Well, one way to pussyfoot around the situation is to explain to him that your band will draw better and get more/better gigs if you had a female lead singer (since you suggested so, and it does have some merit).

    Some people, especially singers, tend to have a hard time taking criticism, as it seems friend 2 does in this situation. Be diplomatic about it. It can be hard to tell a friend 'hey buddy, you just arent that great of a singer'. I was there once, it is hard to take, but as time goes on one can improve.

    Has he listened to the recordings that youve shown other people (the ones where they say you need a new singer)? If he has, and cant hear that his singing is bad, then eithere theres something wrong with his hearing, or he has very low expectations of what a singer should be doing.

    Another option, have him take vocal lessons.
  4. PBass101


    Jul 3, 2008
    There's nothing worse in music than somebody who thinks they're something that they're obviously not.

    If he does a good job singing lead on some songs, then go the Townshend-Daltrey route and let him sing lead occaisionally. But on songs he lacks vocal-wise, you need a better singer.

    Bad vocals trump everything else in a band. I don't know many people that would disagree with that.
  5. Send him a link to this post. You have written in a very neutral and non-attacking way the situation. If he reads it and understands than you will be able to move forward. You have made it very clear that you still want him in the group, and that you don't think any less of him because of his way of singing, so the best way to approach things is with the truth. If you try to sugar coat it or skirt the issue at all than you will probably have problems later on.

    If he cannot accept that he isn't working as the singer, and the rest of the group has any ambition to play shows and do anything more than just jam in the basement, than you will need to fire him from the band. It's hard, but you have to do what's best for the group if you want it to go anywhere, and the longer you wait, the harder it is going to be.
  6. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    No, don't do it! This is a matter for discussion WITHIN the band. If you think he's being defensive now, just try telling him you shared the situation, albeit anonymously, with several hundred strangers in a chat room!

    The decision/outcome tree looks like this:

    (1) discuss with him >>> (a) he accepts your opinion >>> you bring in a new lead singer >>> band moves forward with him in a slightly different role

    (1) discuss with him >>> (b) he rejects your opinion >>> band must decide whether to try to move forward without him

    (2) bring in another singer without first discussing it with him >>> (a) he steps back to doing fewer lead vocals >>> band moves forward with him in a slightly different role

    (2) bring in another singer without first discussing it with him >>> (b) he leaves the band with hurt feelings >>> band moves forward without him

    (3) do nothing to potentially upset him >>> band stays exactly as good as it is right now
  7. Sparkdog

    Sparkdog Supporting Member

    Sep 18, 2006
    Burbank, CA
    "How do you tell someone who can't sing, that they can't sing?"

    You can't...at least not in a way they will understand. If it were possible American Idol and all those other lame-ass shows would be off the air :)

    I don't know why, but more so than any other instrument, people who believe they can sing cannot be convinced otherwise. Look at all the out-takes of Idol that they love to show and humiliate people with...those poor bastards didn't audition to make fools of themselves and invite ridicule...they really BELIEVE they are good!

    Possible solution - record your rehearsals and then sit down and listen to them together. That's a good reality check for everyone. It's easy to let the excitement fool you into thinking a tune is really happening when you're pumping it out, but recordings don't lie, you get to hear all the things that could be better.

    Maybe your friend will recognize that the vocals could be stronger and take the band to another level that way, without any of the "you suck" implications that a band intervention can bring.

    Bottom line is that if you really want to play live and be payed for it the vocal thing is the most important aspect to polish up. IME most people sitting in a club will decide whether the band is good or not based primarily on what the vocals are like. That's just what they focus on.

    A great singer with a mediocre band will usually come off just fine. Virtuoso players with a hack trying to sing material he just can't pull off will not.

    I'm the lead singer and bassist in all my bands. I love playing bass and like everyone else on TalkBass I spend inordinate amounts of time and money obsessing about my chops, tone, and gear. BUT...I know that it's all for me and me alone. If I'm doing my job, anchoring the bottom and locking with the drummer nobody will even notice. They only notice if you screw up!

    But the vocals? That's what everyone comments on and forms an opinion about.

    For what it's worth...
  8. DoubleD


    Jul 23, 2009
    Southern Indiana
    Thanks guys,

    Also I should ad that there was a little tension between lead guitarist and 'friend 2' due to the fact that the lead guitarist wanted to sing some songs too. This goes back to the fact that we never really filled the "lead singer" position and we all kind of want to sing a little right now - be it backup, lead, whatever - just for practice of singing and playing. At this point in our band life, we are just learning songs and practicing this whole band thing - being together, how to sing and play, who does what, etc. We're not actually ready for a new singer right now. But, when we play gigs and stuff it will be a necessity, as none of us can sing very well.

    The other 3 of us kind of held the mindset that singing ourselves was a temporary solution to practicing together and down the road if we want to play live, we may want to revisit that. I always expected we'd all sing a song or 2, but the main singing would be by someone very talented at singing.
  9. DoubleD


    Jul 23, 2009
    Southern Indiana
    That's exactly what is in my mind. Vocals are so important. The person singing has to play their instrument (the VOICE) better than the guitarist has to play or the drummer has to. It's the most important and obvious part of a band. But, how to express that without hurting feelings, and without him running away I don't think can be done. He's a great guitarist, his tone is awesome, and he brings so much to the band (and he's a great friend). I hate to lose him, but his singing will not allow us to move forward. None of our singing will move us forward. It just amazes me that people think they're good at something they're really not. I mean, when I listen to our recordings they sound GREAT when no one is singing. When someone starts singing, it's rough to keep listening to, even if I focus on the music. When he listens to them, I'm not sure how he can't hear how bad it is.
  10. MatticusMania

    MatticusMania LANA! HE REMEMBERS ME!

    Sep 10, 2008
    Pomona, SoCal
    Sparkdog is right. Early on, at the start of my bass playing/singing days I didnt know quite how bad of a singer I was. Until one day I listened to a recording of us and couldnt help but cringe all the way through, at my vocals.
  11. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    How does Simon Cowell do it? "You can't sing!" ;)
  12. bobunit

    bobunit I'm here. Now what? Supporting Member

    Jul 15, 2008
    +1. Sparkdog is on target. People who believe they can sing cannot be convinced otherwise. Very true. This lady I know left her husband and moved to Nashville to make it as a singer. Nice lady, but tone deaf. I heard she is working at IHOP. :D
    If you record your rehearsals and have a multi-track setup, in the mix, bump the vocal a bit higher than the instruments to make it stand out so you can present the 'vocal' issue.
    Good luck.
  13. Kipaste


    Jun 27, 2006
    Helsinki, Finland
    I'd probably keep him for now. As you said, you've just started out and judging by the fact that everybody's doing a little singing at the moment the whole concept is still growing and sort trying to define itself. So keep it fun and try to work your angle with some time. I've been in a somewhat similar situations before and I've learned that taking some time to get the point across doesn't usually hurt peoples feelings as badly as just going "your singing isn't good enough, please stop." Mentioning the female singer idea every now and then would atleast soften the blow if it comes to that. And if singer loses motivation because of such ideas thrown around then the decision is even easier.

    And here's another way I've used once: I recorded a vocalist, ran it trough melodyne and showed the results to the singer so he would understand where and how much off he was. Unfortunately he just asked me to hit the pitch correct button ignoring me saying it would sound like crap. Oh well, I was just recording them so it really didn't matter to me but I will never go see them live..
  14. a lot of folks never fully get where determination and persistence end and self delusion begins
  15. klokker


    Jan 7, 2009
    Steele City, NE
    That's worth thinking about for everyone.....
    By the way I've run into a few singers who were pretty dang good but thought they were terrible.

    Point is, you can't convince some people that they are GOOD either.
  16. Sparkdog

    Sparkdog Supporting Member

    Sep 18, 2006
    Burbank, CA
    There could be an upside to this situation -

    I'm a firm believer that recording and listening back to rehearsals can really help a band get better much faster. If your friend is motivated and can have some degree of objectivity, he could really improve by hearing himself and working on his vocal abilities.

    "Objectivity" is the tricky part.

    Most people are utterly shocked the first time they ever hear their own voice on a recording...it sounds nothing like it does when they hear it coming our of their own head!

    But assuming they have some natural talent for it, things like pitch, phrasing, vibrato, etc can be practiced and greatly improved.

    I don't think you can ever "make" a great singer out of someone who isn't born with a great voice. (I could practice the bass 12 hours a day for the rest of my life and I will still never approach what Jaco could do with it). But you can certainly improve your technique and style by working on it.

    It's amazing to me how many people who consider themselves singers don't do vocal exercises, take lessons, or study the nuances of singing. They just assume you walk up to the mike and magic happens!

    Good luck, I hope you guys can work it out.
  17. bearshimmy


    Feb 14, 2005
    record yourselves and play it back to him
  18. DoubleD


    Jul 23, 2009
    Southern Indiana
    We have. There are a couple songs we do that are "okay" singing-wise and because of that, he feels like he can sing really well. And, it's not just hitting the notes, it's the tonality of the singing, the "nasal" sound of it, along with missing 20% of the notes. It's just not an appealing sound at all.

    I think Kipaste makes a good point, and really the one that right now friend 2 needs to understand - this is still early yet, we are all still defining our sounds and our roles, and we all need to practice everything we can.

    I think for now we'll just try and have fun with it. I know that mentioning another singer, especially a female one, does not go over well. I don't get it, really.
  19. Jack017


    Dec 18, 2008

    ask them "Do you take singing lessons? You don't? Yeah I thought so"
  20. JUST had that situation. Explain to him that you guys love him on guitar but want to bring in someone with experience singing to make your band great, also when you get a new singer let your buddy sing a few. We just finally got a real lead singer and now were really on the move. a good singer is a HUGE morale boost. Just be courteous about it

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