Approximately in Tune

Comment about Nick Cave

Controversial Voices Part 1

by Boukje van Gelder

“I cannot sing! How can I dare to open my mouth if my sound isn’t perfect?’ – I heard you! This is the first thing that students think when they come to my lessons.  (Read also my previous blog.) We all want to sound like our favourite singers, with that voice that we love. But even they sometimes sacrifice a little (or a lot) of the “general technique” or intonation for different purposes, like the emotional message or the unique sound colour. I will walk you through examples of what I call controversial voices. Singers that are famous and popular, but don’t use the best vocal technique or use a sound colour that’s very bold. 

This post is here for the exploration of what we consider to be a beautiful voice. I don’t want to challenge anyone’s musical taste with this post. Please don’t feel insulted if your favourite singer is listed somewhere. Because I had so many wonderful examples from my friends, I will do two blogs about this topic. One about intonation and one about special sound colours. For some songs, the message is more important than the quality of the singing. And how beautiful or pressing that message may be, here I will just talk about the singing. This week it’s about singing in or out of tune. Let’s have some fun!

Out of Tune

The worst sin in singing

I start with singers that sing out of tune because singing out of tune is widely considered as one of the most important sins of singing. When you sing out of tune, you can’t sing and you shouldn’t start. Well, now I will show you a few examples of genuine and famous artists that to sing out of tune… a lot… Many people don’t care about it or just don’t hear it.

picture of a man singing out of tune performing

1. Nick Cave

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Into My Arms:

While not all completely off, the intonation is very shaky. I will give you two opinions on the video about Nick’s voice: “His voice is like liquid gold, so calming, healing every cell in my body!”; “Beautiful and sad. I love Nick Cave’s voice.” It’s hard to find comments that aren’t positive.

2. Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

It has 1,9 million likes and it’s consistently out of tune. Live she’s worse. To be fair, her fans also sometimes notice it’s a little bit off. A live performance of Lana got this comment: “Not to sound horrible because I love her too, but… hearing Lana sing like this gives me hope I could one day make it >.<” 

3. Siouxsie

Siouxsie And The Banshees - Happy House

I’m already singing ‘fun, ‘fun’, ‘happy house’, ‘oaoaaaa ‘ and I’m happy in my house. This person too: “the melody of the voice is incredible !” But yes, incredibly out of tune too. Another nice one: “Dare to be rare Siouxsie. What a stylish unique individual. What a voice! She influenced those of us who were a decade younger than her in the best possible way.” 

These three out-of-tune singers can touch people with their voice and their way of singing. Other examples of singers that sing out of tune are Lou Reed and Johnny Cash. 


In 1998 the singer Cher brought her song ‘Believe’ in the world. This was the first song that used the autotune software. Since then it became a very popular tool to correct out of tune notes. It’s also used as an effect because it makes the sound of the singer metallic and robotic. Nowadays it’s commonly applied in many songs. 

1. Cher

Cher used the software mostly as an effect. Listen to how it transforms her voice.  

Cher - Believe, with Autotune

Cher - Love Hurts, without Autotune

2. Emma Watson

Emma Watson – Belle

Here you hear the autotune used as a way to correct the pitch. In this example it’s autotune gone wrong. Here the software makes the voice of a good actress very straight and emotionless, but yes, in tune. We don’t know if Watson would’ve sounded terrible without autotune, but I’m curious to hear it.

If a singer is using autotune it doesn’t mean he or she is a bad singer. The tool can save a lot of time because a singer doesn’t need to sing so many retakes for one note that’s off. Take this quiz here to see if you can figure out if autotune is used or not. (Nee is ‘no’ and ja ‘yes’, fout ‘wrong’) 

Oh well...

Florence Foster Jenkins

Queen of the Night by Mozart.

One thing is that you don’t need to be a technically brilliant singer to become famous with it, another thing is that you become famous for your bad vocals, like Florence Foster Jenkins. She even gave a concert in Carnegie Hall, she has a Wikipedia page and a Hollywood movie about her life.

What can we learn from all these examples?

That we don’t need to sing in tune? No, because people generally prefer to listen to singers that sing in tune. If this wasn’t the case, we didn’t need a tool like autotune. But what we can learn is that you are allowed to sing even though you’re not mister or miss Pitch Perfect. Confidence and authenticity (using your own voice) are more important than always singing in tune, especially if you aren’t musically and vocally trained. Just sing!

Although now I convinced you to come to my lessons and say “I have my sound and singing in tune will destroy the message I want to communicate”, it’s really important that you will build awareness on your voice and to make that your first aim. A solid technique will reveal new sides of your voice wanting to be explored. The first step is to start your new journey of musical awareness in Studio MusicalMente, booking your first try-out lesson!

To end with a quote of Florence: “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” Too right she was.

Ok, one more and Merry Christmas!

singing santa claus

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