You would think you’d know it when you’re a good singer or instrumentalist.
But what shows like American Idol and The Voice have demonstrated time and again is that some people think they’re great performers but are in fact terrible. And, sure, some have even made a career out of it – like William Hung.
But overall, I don’t know of too many professions that require the level of mindfulness that being a musician does. If you want to be good at music (or any creative work), you must bring your full attention to it. You must be willing to be self-critical and uncover your weaknesses for yourself.
In my early days as a singer, I thought I had a good voice. Well, maybe I did, but I didn’t know how to end phrases, I was straining to reach higher notes, I was singing from my throat instead of my diaphragm, and I was often off pitch. I’ve worked on a lot of these issues through the years, but even then, I wouldn’t call myself a great singer.
Fortunately, I’ve gotten my vocals to a level where my singing doesn’t get in the way of the message and emotion of the song I’m playing. As someone who considers guitar their first instrument, I would say I’ve gotten pretty good at singing.
This isn’t to suggest that singing doesn’t come naturally to some people, because it does. But even people with natural talent could benefit a lot from developing their raw talent.
So, how do you know whether you have a good singing voice? Here are several ways to test and rate your singing.
Self-Assess How Good Is Your Singing Voice Is
Self-assessment is unreliable at the best of times but recording yourself and listening back to your singing can bring some much-needed perspective to the matter.
This is how many react when they hear their voice for the first time:
“Do I really sound like that?”
Some people end up blaming their equipment for their lackluster performance.
Look, no recording device is perfect. And, the voice you hear through a pair of speakers is a little different from how you hear your voice with your own ears. But consider this – your ears are not pointed at your mouth! Meanwhile, a microphone is. And, while a microphone is going to color the tone of your voice a little, it’s probably not going to make you sound off pitch.
So, if you’re listening to a recording of your voice, in some ways, you might be hearing your voice for the first time.
Some people “wake up” when they hear their recorded voice and begin to confront the truth of where they stand as a vocalist. Others remain in their delusion.
Self-assessment is not enough, but it’s a starting point. And, if you truly have the desire to become a great singer, you’ll need to develop your self-assessment skills.
But there are other places to gather feedback from, so let’s look at those.
Perform In Front Of An Audience
Performing in front of an audience can help you determine how people are responding to your voice, but again, it isn’t the most reliable method of testing and rating your voice.
For one, audiences tend to be polite. They will often clap and cheer for you if they see you’re giving it your best effort (although there are always gigs where no one responds, even if you’re good). I’m not trying to be controversial here, but watching a bad vocalist is like watching a cute little kid or mentally challenged person perform. No matter how bad, you can’t help but admire someone who’s putting their best foot forward.
I’m not saying you suck. I’ve never even heard you. But just because you’re receiving encouragement from an audience doesn’t mean you’re an amazing singer. That assumption can lead you down some dark places.
I’ve seen some performers who’ve been part of an encouraging community (such as an open mic) receive a lot of encouragement for their performances. But when it came time for their CD release event, they were disappointed by the number of people who turned out. After that experience, they felt like a lot of people were just paying lip service to them instead of speaking honestly about what they actually thought.
Just because people are encouraging doesn’t mean you’re good. But it also doesn’t mean you’re bad or that you don’t have potential.
So, getting an honest reaction from an audience can be a little challenging. But if you know what to look for, you can see it on people’s faces and body language.
Still, some singers aren’t very mindful and can’t tell the difference between people who are just being nice and those who are genuinely complimenting them on their skills. So, if you’re still not sure after performing in front of others, it’s time to…
Ask Your Collaborators How Well You Can Sing
Are you in a band or a choir? Are there instrumentalists that back you up when you perform? If not, could you join a group or begin collaborating with other artists?
Inevitably, there will be those who want to collaborate with you and those who don’t. But that may not be any indicator of your overall talent. Some people will like you, others won’t. That dynamic doesn’t change no matter what, even if you’re the nicest person on the planet.
But if nobody wants to work with you, that might be a sign. Not in every instance but other musicians probably don’t think too highly of you if they’re all trying to avoid you (though there can always be other reasons).
It’s also important to recognize that collaborators work with you for a variety of their own reasons:
- Their vision matches up to yours.
- They like you as a friend.
- They see you as a stepping stone onto other, more lucrative projects.
- They just see you as a paycheck.
- They are people pleasers and can’t say “no”.
- And so on.
In some instances, you may be able to get honest feedback from your collaborators. Again, there’s a chance they’ll hold back though, so don’t count on it.
Don’t worry – there are still more ways to determine where you stand as a vocalist. So, let’s keep going.
Get Feedback From Your Studio Engineer/Producer
So, you’ve listened to yourself sing, but you’re not sure if you’re a good singer. You’ve played in front of an audience and you’ve talked to your collaborators, but so far no one has had anything negative to say. Maybe you’ve even asked your friends and family.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your voice. But what if there is?
If anyone, your engineer or producer would have the guts to tell you the truth, right?
Well, while I am suggesting that asking your engineer or producer is a good idea, whether they tell you the truth is six of one half dozen of the other.
Why do I say that?
Because these people have a job, and they need clients to survive. What good would it do for them to tell their clients whether they’re good or bad? What matters most is they can keep the lights on in their studio.
Now, that’s not how every engineer or producer would approach the matter. I’m sure there are some that would be more inclined to tell you the truth. But if someone’s on your payroll, don’t count on it.
So, even at this stage, it might prove challenging to cut to the core of the matter. No problem. If you can’t get honest feedback in the following two ways, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Hire A Vocal Teacher/Coach
You can get feedback on your voice from your vocal coach, and there’s a chance you might be working with one already. They’re an expert on voices, so who better to ask than your teacher?
Now, earlier I said if someone’s on your payroll, you often can’t trust their feedback 100%. That still applies here, as any vocal teacher that’s honest with themselves doesn’t want to take a pay cut by turning down students. Oftentimes, music teachers will keep students just because it helps them fill out their schedule. I know because I’ve been there.
But here’s the difference:
A vocal teacher will provide you with feedback as they’re teaching you. After all, it’s their job to help you improve. They’re not necessarily going to tell you that you suck, but they are going to point out areas where you could be doing better.
Likewise, you can ask them what you can improve upon. By the way, if they begin listing off everything (i.e. pitch, tone, dynamics, breathing, vibrato, enunciation, range, etc.) as being a problem, you probably have a long way to go before you hit your peak as a singer.
Now, just so you know, asking whether you suck isn’t going to be terribly productive, because your teacher is going to assume you’re dealing with some self-image issues, and they’re going to attempt to deal with that before moving forward with your lessons.
A good vocal teacher won’t put you down. But they will tell you what you need to work on. If you combine their feedback along with everything else you’ve learned about your voice and how others rank it, you may be able to rate your voice relatively accurately.
But if you still haven’t woken up, or you’re just not sure, there’s one final way to get feedback on your voice. Are you ready?
Ask For Feedback Online
Asking for feedback online isn’t for the faint of heart, but it might be one of the more reliable ways of getting feedback you can do something with.
People online tend to be blunt, and sometimes even brutal. That’s why I say this method isn’t for everyone. You must be prepared for the onslaught. If you think you might be discouraged by negative comments, then don’t ask at all.
There are so many great singers on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify and beyond. And, inevitably you’re going to be compared alongside other people’s favorite singers.
Now, if you’re an amateur, ultimately, it’s not a problem if some people think you’re not the best. You might still be growing as a singer. You might have some of your technique down, but still need work in certain areas. We must all start somewhere, and I don’t think anyone becomes a pro overnight.
Still, if you’re going to get feedback online, it might be helpful to ask for a rating on a scale of one to 10, because otherwise you’re left with rather subjective comments like “pretty good” or “not bad”. What does that even mean? You can’t do anything with that!
If you’re daring, you should upload a video to YouTube and share it on Reddit. Ask for people’s honest opinion. Be prepared to be torn apart, because you probably will be. Don’t take everything to heart, especially if it’s not constructive. But also try to be realistic.
If people say you’re “just okay”, and that’s the overall impression you have of yourself, then go with it. You may have worked hard on your voice to this point, but clearly there’s still room for improvement. That’s not a bad thing – it can actually be quite motivating. You may be able to set a new goal for yourself.
But there is one danger in getting feedback online in that you might get people who are on the far side of not liking you. Their opinions might be extreme, so beware.
How Good Is Your Singing Voice, Final Thoughts
You may have heard before that musical tastes are subjective.
That is true, but even an untrained ear can often pick up when they’re hearing someone talented versus someone who’s not great at what they do.
There are some things you just can’t fake, and pitch is one of them (except with the help of auto tuning). People often notice when a singer is off pitch.
Subjectivity exists more in the realm of likes and dislikes. When I first heard Geddy Lee, I didn’t like his voice. I didn’t think he was a bad singer, it just wasn’t my style.
In time, I came to appreciate his voice more. And, clearly there are a lot of people that appreciate his voice worldwide.
So, focus on the core elements and best practices that make a good singer. Go back to the basics over and over again until you master them. It will take time, but if you keep at it, you will continue to improve.