By overwhelming popular demand, The V Files is back from a long hiatus – it’s time to look at more of the
bullshit terminology and general lies paranormal mysteries surrounding k-pop vocals!
PREVIOUSLY ON THE V FILES…
The previous episode of The V Files was dedicated to “vocal injury”. How much are k-pop’s lesser singers hurting their voices by not using “correct technique”? Not any more than the ones who are using “correct technique”, as it happens. Humans aren’t actually designed to sing, and singing – of any type – might cause injury (but it also might not – just like how smoking causes cancer, but cancer doesn’t manifest in every long-term smoker). This means that all the “concern” about the vocals of certain singers is either sheer ignorance, or a load of bunk that has everything to do with trashing those singers due to the normal emotionally high-strung k-pop fandom love/hate shenanigans and nothing to do with any real concern about vocal health.
Naturally, this observation went down like a lead balloon with k-pop’s “highly invested” fanbase. The best comment I received about this, and probably the only one even worth addressing at all (because most others were completely off-topic as usual and just focused on how I was a “bad person” because I use a few naughty words and occasionally admit to liking boobs), was this:
I had promised to address this, and had a really large and boring response all prepared, when I received this submission from a reader via the Qrimole series that was much more succinct and said everything that I wanted to say in response:
Just to add to your last V Files post and “vocal damage”, in Korea there’s a particular folk style of music called “pansori” that is basically a form of musical storytelling with only one singer and a drummer. Pansori requires their singers to, in short terms, fuck up their vocal cords to achieve the specific sounds the style demands and the road to that is actually pretty difficult, with hours and hours of crazy training, counting coughing blood as a signal of good progress, outsinging waterfalls and other similar shit like that. These people spend YEARS and a whole lot of effort trying to develop vocal nodules, proving that maybe completely “ruining” and “killing” one’s voice just from singing “wrong” (like those concerned NB commenters said) is in reality a little more difficult than they believe. Here’s a video that explains it better than me and some reading. Also a kpop example, Suzy did a movie about the first female pansori and took a whole year previous to the shooting, practicing the singing style, she also had a personal teacher with her at all times so she spent about two years deliberately practicing unhealthy singing that promotes vocal nodules, her voice? Well, she said sometimes her throat would hurt at the time. I know she probably wasn’t trained at the same level as a true professional pansori singer and she’s had years of miss A hiatus to rest, but still that’s just another testament of the unlikelihood of anyone in kpop losing their voice from taxing their vocal cords with bad technique.
I have to hand it to my insightful readership for filling me in here. Anyway, I rest my case.
EPISODE 5 – PROJECTION
Apparently projection is one of the criteria that people who care about k-pop vocals use to assess vocal quality. But what actually IS vocal projection? Is it even a thing, and if so, why does it matter? Does it even matter? Are people just making these terms up or what? Let’s take a look.
My first stop, was naturally, kpopvocalanalysis.net because why not? They claim to know some stuff, and would probably like to be considered an authority on the subject, so let’s indeed consider them such an authority on this subject with no intended shade whatsoever, and see what they have to declare about projection. From the terminology section of their homepage (I’ve highlighted the word “project” to make this chunk of text a bit more digestible):
Okay, so that’s a lot of words about projection but it doesn’t really tell us anything about what projection actually IS. Projection seems to be connected somewhat with that great mythological vocal term “resonance” (debunked and generally shat on in a previous episode) and the terms “resonance” “support” and “projection” all seem to be conflated a bit here. You could certainly be forgiven for reading the above and getting them mixed up with each other, however on closer reading it’s clear that the author is suggesting that projection and resonance are not quite the same. The above states that a “resonant sound is always going to be a projected sound” but also that “you may project but still have tension, but in true resonance tension should not be present”. So it seems like according to the above, all “resonance” is projection, but not all projection is “resonance”. Following so far?
Since the results from kpopvocalanalysis were not conclusive, and since nobody else in the world of k-pop is even really talking about this, it was clear that I would have to go further afield than the world of k-pop to find some actual hard information here. I found the following video from a vocal coach which demonstrated “projection” and that “projection is so much more than volume, projection has a sense of movement to it”.
However “sense of movement” and the “fluidity” described in the video doesn’t seem to fit with the kpopvocalanalysis.net idea that “you may project but still have tension”. In fact the above vocal coach seems to suggest that it’s a lack of tension in the voice that partly defines “projection” and makes projection distinct from just “being louder”. She also talks about “pushing the voice to the mask” and that the volume in a projected voice actually comes from the head, not the throat, along with a practical demonstration that clearly works.
The next video I looked at was geared more toward theater performers, also said that projected vocals didn’t come from the throat, but from the chest, ribs and diaphragm (and of course good old “resonance” makes an appearance even though it isn’t really defined). No mention whatsoever of the head or “mask” at all, like in the previous video. So who’s right?
This guy talks more about tone, and that a “twang” to the voice is the key to projecting sound and making it louder. He seems to think it’s all… in the throat, and about manipulating vocal folds (with a token mention of “resonance” or course – lol). This completely contradicts the information in both of the two previous videos that said the throat wasn’t a factor in projection! However it’s quite clear from his demonstration that his technique works. So… what the fuck is actually going on here?
Here’s a woman who trains public speakers and emphasises breathing properly and having more air to work with as the big determining factor. She also says that using all your body’s cavities is important, and that using the “head” is the wrong way to produce projection (at 6:00) even though her result with the “head” actually seems louder than the “right” way she demonstrates later. Hmm, maybe it’s a bad recording, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.
Speaking of using cavities, now let’s have a laugh at these dudes who are incorporating vocal techniques into their get-girls-at-the-club lessons. The guy on the left says he’s checked out other vocal coaching stuff and found it “glaringly unscientific”, and then later talks about opera singers cutting above the audience.
Here’s some more because, fuck, this is hilarious. Just watching this guy in the seminar section at the end of the video making a whole bunch of other guys who can’t get laid do “silly mouth noises” is funny as fuck to me. Look at those poor audience members and pity them – you can practically smell the stale semen and desperation emanating from the seats in this video. I guess you can sell anything to a lonely guy if he thinks he’s going to get some action out of it – even vocalfaggotry.
Back to the topic at hand, and the more research I did on “projection”, the further away from a definite conclusion about what it meant I became. None of the videos above seemed to be completely nonsense (at least not as far as vocals are concerned), and if anything they just demonstrated that different techniques are able to get effective results. However, the only aspect that all of the videos did have in common was that they agreed that an increase in vocal volume was the desired result. It seems that “projection” in vocals, while definitely a thing that exists, is somewhat of an inexact science that seems to vary based on the individual and the desired result. So in the absence of any clear consensus among vocal instructors among various disciplines, I’m going to define “projection” simply as “making your voice louder so it can be heard further away – nicely”.
Now, is that a thing that k-pop vocalists actually need?
Tristan Paredes is interesting to me simply because he’s devoted a bit of time (as I have) to debunking a lot of the bullshit surrounding k-pop vocals, and even had a legal threat from kpopvocalanalysis so I think that’s got to be worth some sort of achievement award. Anyway whether you love him or hate him, the point he makes from 3:00 in the above video is true. You don’t need to project your voice if you have a microphone in front of you that is switched on plus an engineer who knows what the fuck they’re doing.
As Tristan touches on, vocal projection was actually worth something back in pre-amplification days when opera singers would sing in big halls to a large audience and rely on their voice plus the design of the building to do the hard work. Singers back then had no choice if they wanted to be heard, but now with the ability to have a microphone pressed right up against your face, you only need to project your voice as far as it needs to go to vibrate the diaphragm inside the microphone (not far). In fact having an acoustically loud voice is probably detrimental if anything just because of the headaches it can create for whoever is doing your mixing. Good singers will physically back their microphones away from their lips when they do the loud notes, but sometimes that kind of “manual gain control” isn’t enough and engineers have to come in and compensate with extra compression and sometimes even riding the volume manually to get a good result – and then there are headset microphones where no manual gain-riding is possible due to having the thing strapped to your head at a fixed position. Also there’s the aspect of “spill” which is singer A’s voice being loud enough to be finding its way into the microphone of singer B, causing both volume and phase issues.
Now imagine that you’re in a group like Twice with singer A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I, and one or two people start “pushing” their vocals at times when other girls’ heads are right nearby due to the nature of the dance routines. It should be pretty easy to imagine the logistical audio engineering nightmare that mixing a large group of singers might entail if they’re all singing in a loud “projected” style during close-movement choreography and their voices bleed into each other’s headsets when they bop their heads next to each other and do the cute thing. Loud voices might sound and look impressive when experiencing a soloist like Ailee where her vocals are the sum total of what anybody cares about, but for a group densely packed with multiple singers, a voice that projects further just means more work for everyone involved. No wonder audio engineers in k-pop tend to lower the volume of the singers’ raw voices to a trickle and let the singing in the backing track do the lion’s share of the work. The singers in Twice therefore aren’t singing “badly” due to lack of projection, they’re probably singing exactly as instructed.
So in summary:
- Yes “projection” is a real thing, however…
- There’s no clear consensus on what it means or how to get it, results seems to vary based on the individual, so therefore…
- There’s no objective “one size fits all” technical standard that can be applied to “projection”, and…
- While it’s handy if you’re an opera singer, a public speaker or you just want to pick up sluts at a club somewhere and be heard over the karaoke, if you’re a k-pop singer you definitely don’t need vocal projection, and if you’re in a group you’re probably better off NOT using it.
That’s all for this post! Hopefully you enjoyed this episode of The V Files!