Tone Deafness & Perfect Pitch
There is a popular myth that goes with the name of "perfect pitch" and says that only people with perfect pitch can sing. This article tries to point out some facts about being tone-deaf or having perfect pitch, so you'll have a better understanding of your condition if you're interested in one of these issues and then the article continues into some talk about authentic singers and their unique way of singing that doesn't blatantly steal/copy someone else's sound.
First about me: I'm a singer and I am still really tone-deaf. For some time now, I've been singing successfully on stage while being tone-deaf.
Tone deafness is a perceptual handicap that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recognize the specific pitch of a sound. It does not affect one's ability to identify sounds or environmental noises. The term is often used synonymously with "amusia", however, the extent and type of a tone-deaf person's understanding of music can vary from slightly below average to complete lack of comprehension.
Different people have different issues about being tone-deaf. Some people can't distinguish between similar sounds at all, while others might only struggle when specific frequencies are involved.
It is very rare for someone who has been identified as tone-deaf in childhood to develop a perfect pitch or vice versa.
Some tone-deaf people develop relative pitch, which allows them to match notes without having a perfect pitch. Relative pitch is the ability to identify intervals between two notes or chords, whereas perfect pitch lets you recognize specific frequencies.
An important thing to remember is that there are degrees of tone-deafness. Someone who is slightly tone-deaf will be able to distinguish sounds but fail in discriminating certain differences in frequency, while someone with more severe forms of tone-deafness might not even recognize environmental noises if they're out of tune.
However, all tone-deaf people can sing. It just takes a lot more practice for them to match certain notes. We are not naturally tone-deaf, but our brains have issues with processing specific frequency ranges. That means singing is possible even if you're tone-deaf because your brain can be re-trained to process sound in a better way.
The reason why someone becomes tone deaf has nothing to do with the fact that they can sing or not. This applies to both children and adults who become tone-deaf after acquiring an adult form of perfect pitch. Most people are born with absolute pitch (the ability to recognize pitches without reference tones) which declines over time as their brains mature, leaving only relative pitch behind.
Some theories state that this decline is due to the lack of interaction between neurons responsible for recognizing certain notes and neurons responsible for producing speech. However, this doesn't affect the ability to sing because singing is a muscle-driven task and we know how it works: you hear a tone and your brain sends signals to your muscles that make you produce the same sound.
In other words, if you're tone-deaf, it's not because you can't create sounds about certain frequencies. You just have issues processing them correctly, just like someone might have color blindness or other perceptual issues that don't mean they can't see colors at all or paint pictures properly. If you feel down about being tone-deaf, there's no need for that because nobody is perfect! Remember this when planning/practicing your next step in your singing career.
A Little Bit About Authentic Musiciains
You don't need pefect pitch to be an authentic muso, by the way.
Musicians often get accused of not being "authentic enough" when they cover songs, and people complain about their voices not fitting the original song's style. However, many musicians have gotten popular by covering songs in a new way and sticking to their unique sounds. It is only natural for someone who loves singing and playing instruments to copy other artists' styles in their early careers to learn techniques and develop character in their voice; copying styles alone is not responsible for bad singers becoming famous, but rather it gives young singers possibilities to find out what fits their vocal range/character/style best even when they don't know themselves yet exactly what that is. Lots of great singers such as Christina Aguilera (before her American idol days) and Lady Gaga (before she was famous when she still used her real name Stefani Germanotta) started out by covering songs. Some of these singers not only stuck to their authentic sound but also wrote big hits like "The Beatles" did (for example Celine Dion). It's true that if you want to make it in the music business, you need personality/a gimmick, good marketing skills, and good songwriters behind you; however, there are lots of great singers who don't have any of those things yet still manage to sell records because what makes them unique is their authentic voice. Authentic musicians: Amy Winehouse, Johnny Rotten, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Shirley Manson, Björk, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Kurt Cobain, Patti Smith, David Byrne (from the band Talking Heads), Nina Hagen, Björn, Ulvaeus (from ABBA, one of the best selling music groups ever), Dolly Parton, White Stripes, Johnny Cash
Warren Zevon, Jeff Buckley, Janis Joplin, Peter Murphy, Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver singer; deceased in 2015 from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.)
The Beatles, Mumford & Sons, Nirvana, Bon Iver, MGMT, My morning jacket, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, The Strokes, System Of A Down, Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab for Cutie, Kings Of Leon, Florence + The Machine, Iron Maiden Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Jeff Lynne (from Electric Light Orchestra), Gary Numan, The Stranglers, Joe Jackson, Bat For Lashes, Rammstein, Enya, David Bowie, Queen, Foo Fighters, Kate Bush, The Pogues, Mozart, Lorde, Tom Petty, Radiohead, Ween, Patti Smith, Madonna, Queens Of The Stone Age, Johnny Cash, Daft Punk, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles.
Not all of these people are my favorite musicians, they just show that there are lots of authentic singers out there who don't replicate someone else's sound or style.
Also, "authentic" doesn't mean that you can only sing in your natural voice tone when you don't replicate another singer's sound but means that you stick to your unique style of singing instead of copying a certain other singer's sound or techniques. It's a combination of natural voice characteristics and personal taste/style. Also, authenticity doesn't mean that if someone isn't an entirely original artist, they're not authentic at all - for example, Celine Dion covered others' songs - but she did it in her way and stuck to her distinctive soprano voice range. In addition, there are lots of good bands whose singers aren't the best vocalists in the world, but they're still great bands with authentic sound. This article is not a list of my favorite singers/bands - these people just show that there are lots of authentic singers and bands out there, such as Iron Maiden who don't need to be "perfect" singers. And lastly: Just because someone can sing or write songs doesn't mean they automatically have marketing skills and songwriters waiting in the back for them. But without those three things (marketing skills, songwriting, and a good voice) it's very hard to make a career as a musician.
People who've been told by professionals that they should change their singing technique: English boy band One Direction were told after one of their concerts that Harry Styles' voice wasn't going to last until he was 30 years old if he didn't change his singing technique. English singer Adele was told that she should lower her voice or else she'd be stuck singing in bars for the rest of her life. Amy Winehouse admitted that a record company producer wanted her to drop out of high school at age 16 and become a stripper instead of pursuing a music career. Lots of singers have been told by professionals that they would never make it as a singer, so don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
Speaking from someone who has been practicing singing techniques and vocal warm-ups for over 15 years that has a very bad perception of notes, harmony and quite a long history of tone-deafness and still do to this day. Also as someone who has listened to music every day for 27 years with a developed sense of his preferences of what makes a good musician (in other words; my own opinion) with people like Damien Rice and Rachel Sermanni being some of his favorite musicians because of their unique voices and styles of singing: When it comes to singers, about 50% are really good, but 50% are pretty bad - just like in any other profession.
The sound of the 70s singers: Of course, people should sing how they normally do/want to do, but if you listen carefully to old recordings of these singers from the 1970s their voices don't match up with how they sounded on new songs recorded after 2000 for example. This has led many people (including professional musicians) to believe that artists' voices have been digitized, but this is not the case.
Introducing some of my favorite authentic singers/bands that don't need to be perfect singers or copy other people's styles etc. :
Iron Maiden - one of the all-time best heavy metal bands with great songs and albums, but they're no virtuosos when it comes to singing (Steve Harris can sing passages on "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son", but Bruce Dickinson was forced by management to do it even though he didn't like doing it himself). Also as an example: A lot of professionals were surprised that their 1988 show at the Donnington festival wasn't as disastrous as they expected, because Dickinson had developed his voice technique to make up for his bad habits.
Bruce Dickinson - one of the greatest and most authentic heavy metal singers (he's not a classical singer nor can he sing like Freddie Mercury, if that's what people expect) who works hard to improve. He knows how to mix his voice for it to work with Iron Maiden songs, but he'll never be able to do things like Freddie Mercury. Even though he had problems with the range at times, he was still able to pull off their more difficult songs live until they were canceled because of his diagnosis of cancer.
Bruce Dickinson & Steve Harris are two master songwriters/bass players who don't need any record company executives behind them for them to make good music/write great lyrics.
Rachel Sermanni - a talented Scottish folk musician who's been compared to Vashti Bunyan, Judee Sill, and Joanna Newsom. Her voice is gentle with the right amount of quivering in it without being too much like Enya or Joanna Newsom (her style of singing often makes her sound a bit nervous). She doesn't try to be perfect for her music to succeed, but she uses her disadvantages as an advantage for it to stand out from others instead!
Joanna Newsom - she has a unique way of vocalizing and doesn't need any producers behind her. Also, not many people know that she had some problems with stem cell disorder which caused bleeding on the throat when she was younger (which almost killed her and weakened her voice), but even though she can't sing like other virtuoso classical singers she still has a very unique way of singing.
Damien Rice - an authentic Irish musician who doesn't rely on autotune, producers, or record labels to make good music! His voice is gentle in some parts, but he knows how to mix it with his songs for them to sound powerful when needed, not that it's necessary with his vocal power in some of his performances. He also backs off if the song doesn't call for loudness which makes him stand out from most singers.
The Corrs - they're an authentic Irish band who don't need any producers behind them and many consider them one of the best bands ever for their ability to harmonize together. Even though Andrea has a more classical voice than Sharon, she knows how to mix her voice with Sharon's vocals so that they both work well together! These sisters even harmonized on the song "Only When I Sleep" without Andrea's lead vocal part (some think this is why they broke up because she's not a good singer) and Andrea sang the harmony on her own without two vocal lines of hers.
Elisa - an Italian folk musician who doesn't need any record label executives behind her for them to get airplay or for her albums to get released! She has a rare ability similar to Vashti Bunyan where she can get chest voice and head voice mixed easily, something that not many people including professional opera singers can do naturally. Even though she sometimes hits some bum notes live, she still has a great sound which sets her apart from other people (she doesn't try to force herself to sing high like some pop singers).
John Smith - one of the greatest authentic English folk musicians who hasn't ever needed a record label to make good music and has been compared to Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. His voice is gentle but also powerful and he knows how to mix it well with his acoustic guitar playing which makes him stand out from other singers. Even though he doesn't have a very high vocal range, he uses what he has well for it to work with his style of singing!
All of these musicians mentioned above have one thing in common: they're all authentic singers. This means that they don't replicate someone else's sound - they have their unique voice drawing from other musicians, but they're not straight-up copying them. Also, most of these singers use their vocal abilities to the fullest even though some have had medical conditions that limited their ability - this is why it's important to know your limits before you attempt singing "outside of your range" so that you don't risk damaging your voice !!!