It’s Your Voice, Not Your Pitch.

Bob Dylan. Billy Corgan. Kesha. Conor Oberst. Ani DiFranco. Neil Young. Picking up on a theme here? All are fantastic artists, and all have been accused of being “bad” singers. Yet they still connect with millions of fans and are able to stand out from the crowd, in part because of the unique qualities of their voices.

“Beautiful” voices are everywhere. You might have one or know someone who does. But a beautiful voice will only get you so far. Can you remember the winner of American Idol in 2009? Probably not. That’s because American Idol and its ilk are heavily focused on finding and promoting “beautiful” voices. No doubt you can find some exemptions to this rule, but generally speaking mainstream audiences know and are comfortable with “beautiful” voices. The problem is that this comfort can breed fan apathy and disengagement, meaning you’re forgotten in a sea of other beautiful voices.

But if you look at your favorite artists, I bet there are voices that many people would find “bad” or “ugly” or “off-key.” That’s because a unique voice has a higher likelihood of connecting, if only because it forces fans to make a judgement call. It provokes a question. Is Dylan singing off key? Or is he singing in his own unique key?

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In the beginning, when you are developing as an artist, it’s likely you’ll begin by copying someone’s vocal style. As you progress you will learn the characteristics of your own voice. When you embrace your own unique qualities and truly embellish them, you will begin to find a fanbase that appreciates those qualities. That allows you to be more “you” and stand out in today’s oversaturated world.

Obviously singing the “right notes” and being in the “right pitch” have been proven to connect with people but beyond the technical pitch of the notes you’re singing, the characteristics of your own voice is what will really get you to connect to fans.

Also, it’s important to remember that what you are singing is as important, if not more important, than how you are singing.

You can’t separate Bob Dylan from his visionary lyrics. Nor can you separate Kesha’s delivery from her lyrics. I think you’ll agree with me that in both cases the content of the lyrics are as important as the voice.

So how do you find your unique voice? From what I’ve researched it seems to come down to the following basic principles.


Sing a lot. In a lot of different styles. Record your practice sessions. You’ve probably been singing and writing lyrics for a while. Now make a goal of getting as many hours in as possible. You need to practice to get good at this and figure out your personal style.


Listen back to your sessions. What do you like? What do you not like? Jot down your thoughts and sing again. See if you can remedy the parts that you don’t love. Record those results. Listen. Repeat. Ask others for feedback.

Test your song with a targeted sample of real music fans and get unbiased feedback.

Go Natural.

After all the singing and testing you should get a sense of where you feel the most comfortable. Embrace that place and work on making further strides down that road. If you’re a solo artist, consider joining a choir, or an acapella group, or a band to get exposure and feedback from other singers.

Sing More.

Did we mention you just need to keep writing and singing? Yeah, keep that up and you’ll find what you like and what you don’t as you steadily experiment and improve.

Once you think you’ve found your voice let it inform your entire artistic direction.  Your voice is a huge part of why people are into you so embrace all aspects of it. Tom Waits has a distinct voice and style, and makes musical choices that all fit together. He’s able to let his voice be the jumping off point to many parts of his artistic world. Like him, you should create, explore and share your voice with the world. And remember that your voice is ever evolving so keep working on developing your unique sounding voice rather than a perfect sounding one. Embrace the imperfections and make your fans remember who you are because the sooner you do that the sooner you’ll be able to separate yourself from the noise.


Matt Voyno is the Editor of NueAgency’s Beats + Bytes Music Tech Newsletter that includes over 10,000 music industry insiders like Lyor Cohen and Bob Lefsetz.

DaveIt’s Your Voice, Not Your Pitch.


Join the conversation
  • Des Chisholm - May 26, 2017 reply

    Rubbish! That seems like a tone-deaf’s charter. If you can’t pitch correctly, then you’re out of tune. What’s the point in musicians buying good equipment and tune up to go on stage, only to have someone sing out of tune (singing the wrong pitches)?

    I once had to tell an idiot that his guitar was out of tune just before the band struck up. He grumbled . “What’s the tuning got to do with it? it’s the feel, man! I walked out.

  • Julie S. - June 4, 2017 reply

    Practicing is key as mentioned in the article. One aspect I keep emphasizing during my lessons to my students is proper breathing which is mostly overlooked by beginners

    Mark Otten - February 17, 2021 reply

    I agree with you. My mother is also a vocal teacher. And since childhood I was told that breathing should be correct and that’s where it all begins. Since then I have gained a lot of knowledge in music and at the moment I share them on my website. Follow the link if you are interested

  • SustainPunch - Vocal Processors - July 2, 2017 reply

    There’s a limit to what’s slightly flat or sharp, to what sounds completely off-key. With the development of autotune and sound enhancing (voice enhancing) technology, both used in the studio and live onstage, I think our ears have become more accustomed to hearing really “in-tune” singers. Where 50 years ago, we could make allowances for being slightly off-pitch, now that just isn’t the case. That’s precisely why singer use live autotune and some even mime. The best songwriters aren’t the best singers.

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