The Good Singers Vs. Bad Singers Debate

Trying to label something as unique as the human voice as either “Bad” or “Good” is a very difficult thing to do.

Bob Dylan - Good Singer or Bad Singer?
Bob Dylan - Good Singer or Bad Singer?

   Today I’m going to address a topic that is a personal pet peeve of mine. I personally don’t like labeling artists as either “Good” or “Bad”. That goes for anybody that creates a work of art including painters, writers, musicians or any other person that creates something from nothing. Art is subjective and what’s beautiful to one person, may seem ugly to another. But, my real pet peeve is the labeling of something as unique as an individual human voice as either “Good” or “Bad”. The sad thing is that I hear comments from the crowd about good vs. bad singing every time I watch a live band play.   

   The reason this bothers me so much is the fact that no two individual voices are the same. Your voice is the one truly unique instrument you possess. There is no possible way to sound “exactly” like someone else. This has been proven by computer voiceprint analysis. Voices are unique and this presents a huge problem in the labeling of a “Good” or a “Bad” singer.

   The only way to even begin to label a singer as either good or bad is to have a pre-determined set of criteria that would define a good singer. For example let’s say the criteria for a good singer would be the ability to sing in tune, hold the pitch, have proper pronunciation of the lyrics, and project their voice at a certain volume level. Using this criteria we can say that Bob Dylan is a “Bad” singer since he does none of the aforementioned criteria. Yet he has sold millions of recordings and his singing has evoked an emotional response directly as a result of his singing.

   I’m not trying to make the argument that Bob Dylan is a good singer but I am saying that his singing is touching millions of people. One of the reasons he is successful is because his voice is unique and he is using that uniqueness to deliver his songs. I say it’s at least unfair to label Bob as a “Bad” singer when he is only being himself. The key is getting an emotional response from others when you sing.

   Let’s take a look at the American Idol phenomenon which represents the dregs of the Good Singer Vs. Bad Singer debate. It’s fascinating to watch season after season as some very unique singers get trashed to pieces because of their “lack of talent”. Take William Hung for example, he is technically not a good singer at all. But William is a case of a “he’s so bad, he’s good!” style singer. I think that in some weird way, his honesty comes through on his album that he is trying his best to sing from his heart.

   In the end, even American Idol voting comes down to which individual voice the voters prefer. The final singers all have the ability to sing at a level that would meet the technical criteria of a “Good” singer. The winner is the person that draws the biggest emotional response from the voters. That’s all Bob Dylan does when he makes an album sale but I doubt Bob would win American Idol.

   My point is, don’t be afraid to use the most unique musical instrument you will ever possess. Nobody will ever have your voice so you may as well sing the best you can and get out there and share it. One of the most important things I looked for when putting my band In Stereo together is that everyone in the band was not afraid to sing. We all sing and it really makes our band more unique than the rest. Even if you aren’t the lead singer, singing backup can completely change the sound of your band for the better.

   If someone tells you that you’re a “bad” singer then just shrug it off. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about obviously. Just keep singing and working on your pitch and the ability to sing in tune. Working on your ability to harmonize will serve you well when you play in a band. It’s your voice, use it!!

Author: Live Musician Central

My name is Matt Rushton. I have been playing in bands for 27 years. I've been playing professionally for 21 years. I have opened for Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Little River Band, and Quiet Riot.

8 thoughts on “The Good Singers Vs. Bad Singers Debate”

  1. Granted, singing is about emotional response rather than skill, but there are still certain techniques to learn.

    Yes, Bob Dylan is a bad singer- but this has almost nothing to do with how popular he is. I think the two things become confused too often.

  2. Rob, I’m not saying that Bob Dylan is a “Bad” singer. I’m saying that labeling a singer as either good or bad is unfair because every human voice is unique. It’s like labeling snowflakes as good or bad. Bob Dylan is a unique singer, as are we all.

    Now, that being said you could put in place a bunch of technical standards like being able to hold a note in tune or singing a scale over a certain number of octaves. But the point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t let someone elses evaluation of your singing skill deter you from trying to sing. Singing is still an art form and as such shouldn’t be held to a set of standards and rated.

  3. Matt, I know you’re not saying Bob is a bad singer, but I’m saying that.

    I agree that people shouldn’t be put off singing by other peoples evaluations of your skill- but that doesn’t mean there aren’t techniques to be learnt, and a certain amount of dedication involved in practicing them. I wouldn’t call them a “set of standards” though.

    Singing is like any instrument, you can either learn to do it well, and practice hard, or you can just say “this is what my voice sounds like”. Even if you sing with proper technique you will sound like your own voice. I just don’t think people should get away with saying “oh, well this is how I do it.”, when, in reality, they could be improving their technique.

  4. That’s a good point Rob and I do agree with you. Everyone who wants to sing, especially in a band should do everything they can to improve their singing technique. My point is don’t give up working at it and trying to improve just because you might think you’re a bad singer or if someone else has told you that you can’t sing. I’ve played with too many musicians who won’t even try to sing because they believe they’re bad singers.

    So you’re right, trying to sing and improving singing technique is definitely the way to make the most of what you have.

  5. Bob Dylan is a bad singer. But it is not his singing that makes his music so beautiful. It’s the lyrics and his incredible ability to write songs. Bruce Springsteen is the same way.

  6. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. What sounds good to one person, won’t necessarily sund good to another. Hence the saying…To each his own.

  7. Quality is something that cannot be quantified. We all have an internal, automatic meter for instantly recognizing a thing with quality and making that judgement call (do you like a painting or not?…you somehow instantly know the moment you look at it), but what makes something beautiful is completely subjective.

    So if a singer sucks…it’s probably because he actually sucks…not because he can’t imitate another singer well enough. If his unique voice was so precious, we’d all be swooning no matter how well he can imitate another.

  8. What a bunch of windbags you are. Bob Dylan is a terrible singer. Only sounded good on one album. Tom Petty and Neil Young also bad. Talent apparently made up for it, though. Sometimes thats how it goes. It’s not rocket science.

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