Bass or tenor voices for rock bands

A question is asked by Snejk at ‘s forum   “As a bariton, I have noticed that it’s WAY harder to find a band to sing for. I know this because I am a FAIRLY good singer, but I can not sing the high notes the bands want in their songs.

Now this has exclusively been the case. Since I love rock and metal and want to front such a band, there is no way I’ll turn to country just because my voice isn’t high.

I can start with answering why I prefer high pitched singing over middle/low; ENERGY!!! EMOTION!!! SMOOTHNESS!!!”


These are my thoughts, obviously these are generalizations:

I question whether it’s true that tenors have the advantage while IN a LIVE band; I believe they have a stage presence disadvantage; but tenors do have an advantage in recordings and song selection. 

Prior to Rock and Roll, we had crooners, frequently baritones.   Rock and Roll can be understood as a youth rebellion to big band music.   (When R&R’s era expires, it’ll be baritones again).

With R&R, came the electric guitar, bass, and drums and major influencers such as the tenor Beatles.   The tenor fits in better with these instruments.  The drum and bass provide the low undertones-–the tenor voice generally has to break through the bass and drum to create the “voice” of the band.  The baritone competes against the drums and bass.  Telephony can further explain this.   Telephones cut the bass notes and carry the treble, so as to reduce bandwidth requirements, and because the treble is what articulates the vocal understanding.  The tenor voice can “articulate” better against the electric bass and drums.

(Weak sound cards also don’t carry bass well.  And unfortunately, to capture bass well usually requires condensor mics.)

Furthermore, R&R and younger people’s music frequently are rebellious– a yell, a scream–the expression of the youthful rebellion.   Tenors again fits in well with younger pop music style.

Then, there’s the impact of recordings.   Back when R&R started, audio speakers were small, and most still are (excluding the high-end audio equipment, e.g. your clock radio, mall music speakers, which are much more common).  Bass doesn’t carry as well in these small speakers.   So, historically, get air play to sound good, tenors worked a lot better.  So, much more songs were written for and promoted for tenors.

Live music works differently.  A deeper voice expresses more power, more leadership, more variety of moods, and can create stature, fear, and respect.  Unless a tenor voice is really loud (very rare), a baritone has stronger stage presence and audio effects.

Audio tastes continue to evolve.  The R&R era is ending (it took 30 years for the crooners to go too).   This means that emotions of rebellion (screaming, yelling) are becoming less popular. 

And more importantly, women’s taste have changed.   Starting in the 60s, young women expressed their rebellion in part through their music selection.  Whereas women traditionally loved the male baritone, starting in the R&R era, many women preferred also tenors.   The aging of the women also affect strongly.  Younger women prefer higher pitch male singers (in part because they’re babyish cute); older women prefer more standard male baritones (in part because this is a gender differentiation).   As the population gets older, bassier male voices are more preferred.

So, the era for the high-pitch tenor Beatles has already ended, and it’s also time for you, as a musician, to move on.  Audiences come to be entertained (not to hear tenors or baritones).   What has not ended in audio-appreciation are novelty, breaking taboos, creating emotional impact (even if it’s done by shock).   Though music has often become more complex, these are also evolved to be cruder.   

So, your job as a musician, is to convince auditioning bands that they need to go toward a newer sound–one that’s beyond the high tenors they’re familiar with.  One that creates different types of emotions.  One that works for live music instead of recordings aimed at small audio speakers.  Because society is getting more vulgar, I suggest the emotion to utilize for baritones is fear or power.  Shock too—big speakers.  Of course, a smooth male bass always goes over well anytime.

Bottom line.   Jim Morrison (Doors), John Caye (Steppenwolf) were rock stars with bassy voices.   Better still–full voices:   Gary Puckett (and the Union Gap), Eric Burdon (and the Animals), Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink.  (Is it just a coincidence that Morrison’s and Caye’s bands had keyboards?  I think the other male singers also relied more than guitar-bass-drum)   In short, male bassy voices have lesser song selections, but are bigger, more powerful vocal stars, particularly live.


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