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Disortion/Screaming in Modern Radio Rock

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Simon Magus
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I've noticed that many of the rock singers that are on the radio these days often use a similar sound, and I'm not sure if it's been discussed much here. I'm thinking in particular of bands like Shinedown and Nickelback. Now, I'm not really a fan of these bands, per say, (although I do like "Sound of Madness") but in my quest to attain some sort of singing career, I figure learning how to produce different popular sounds can't hurt.

Or can it? I guess that's what I'm getting at. The type of distortion these singers use sounds quite different than the distortion common in classic rock and 80s metal. Whereas in those eras, the distortion had a somewhat thinner "buzz" (I'm thinking of Sebastian Bach and Axl Rose as good examples) to it, these days the common form of distortion seems to be more of a gargle sound, with wider vibrations. I don't know if these descriptions make any sense.

I've experimented with this type of sound both recently and in the past, and have found that it seems to basically just be shouting on a ton of air pressure. Further, I have discovered that a little usage of distortion in the classic rock sense will usually (via slight swelling of the cords, most likely) allow one to effortlessly continue this effect as the performance rolls on. On the other hand, this modern distortion seems to require constant effort.

I call it modern, but I believe this typical radio rock sound actually has some similarities to the distortion used by the likes of Rob Halford and James Hetfield. I remember auditioning for a cover band years back, and blowing myself out with one go round of "Metal Gods." Trying to go into "In My Dreams" by Dokken afterwards just wasn't happening. It was quite embarrassing as I sold myself on being able to hit those high notes. As modern rock doesn't seem to rely much on range, I'm wondering if these singers find that a continuous swelling of the vocal folds doesn't really affect them much. Although, I'd be very surprised if none of them have ever experienced any problems.

I guess my questions boil down to: Is there a healthy way to produce this sound? Is the distortion created by the vocal cords themselves? To me, it feel like it's in the throat, but I suppose the necessary air pressure to get that big vibration is what is irritating the folds. Does anyone even find this sound enjoyable?

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absolutely possible.......it all depends how you approach it.

dave brooks sells a video exactly on this topic. he goes through how to sing "the best of me" by the foo fighters....it's only $4.99 and it really gives you a lot of help.

so much of this kind of singing is "overdoing things safely." you have to remove reservation and fear from your mindset....it's so attitude driven singing.

i've learned once the onset is set up correctly, assuming you've trained a while, and you apply the folds (rather than slap them together) you can lean into them with good support and compress them strongly for these types of sounds.

the key is to isolate them so only the key musculature is involved and not extraneous musculature.

definitely not for beginners.

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I have heard that the guy from Nickleback uses some kind of effects pedal. I do not know if this provides the distortion or if he actually distorts his voice to sing like that. Or it could also be as in the case of Steve Tyler that he has to sing like that because his vocal folds are made that way.

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absolutely possible.......it all depends how you approach it.

dave brooks sells a video exactly on this topic. he goes through how to sing "the best of me" by the foo fighters....it's only $4.99 and it really gives you a lot of help.

so much of this kind of singing is "overdoing things safely." you have to remove reservation and fear from your mindset....it's so attitude driven singing.

i've learned once the onset is set up correctly, assuming you've trained a while, and you apply the folds (rather than slap them together) you can lean into them with good support and compress them strongly for these types of sounds.

the key is to isolate them so only the key musculature is involved and not extraneous musculature.

definitely not for beginners.

Oh, I'm quite an experienced singer. I just haven't had much desire to explore this style of singing in the past. Anyway, what you wrote makes sense and actually sounds alot like what Mark Baxter teaches. Basically, you need a strong foundation of support and relaxed technique. Then, to distort you apply as little pressure as necessary to create the sound you want and right after you do it, relax the throat again. And of course, an aggressive personality is necessary as well, as any reservations will cause additional constriction in the throat.

I'm just wondering if this style of singing is compatible with a wide range, including head voice, and long career (sans deterioration). Both Hetfield and Halford no longer possess the vocal strength they formerly had. David Draiman, in an interview on his vocal technique, preaches about singing from the diaphragm (although some throat is, of course, necessary as well), but he suffered a vocal hemorrhage a year or two back, I believe.

I would imagine much of the issue is to just prevent any short term swelling from turning into a more serious injury. As for the short term, I can create the effect without any discomfort, but my head voice usually diminishes once I've been at it too long. Maybe I'm still pushing too much. Maybe I should continue to ease into it gradually. Or maybe my cords just aren't naturally as strong (Halford seems to be a freak of nature, particularly, although even he hit his limits eventually). It's just that for me, a strong head voice is more important than implementing this type of effect, so I'm a bit weary of any changes in the voice it might cause.

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I have heard that the guy from Nickleback uses some kind of effects pedal. I do not know if this provides the distortion or if he actually distorts his voice to sing like that. Or it could also be as in the case of Steve Tyler that he has to sing like that because his vocal folds are made that way.

Tyler wasn't born with a natural distortion. His folds are riddled with scar tissue from years of screaming, which allows him to produce that sound now without much effort. Listening to the early years (the studio version of Dream On, for example) and then to some of the stuff from about the 80s on, is like listening to 2 different singers, imo. He's lost the purity in his voice, but gained effortless edginess in the process. I don't think I can afford to have all the laser node removal surgeries he's had, though! haha

Edit: Thanks for the tip, Daniel! Care to provide a link? I can't seem to find it in your youtube stuff...

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I believe that I must have "twang" to sing in head voice and add distortion in it the way I do, although I've never really done exercises for that specific purpose. Perhaps I shall give it a try. Thanks, jonpall!

I watched a bit of a Nickleback performance on AXS tv last night, actually. I may take back the comparison I made to Hetfield and Halford. Somehow, the screams of a Grohl or Kroeger sound "cleaner" than those two singers. The best description I have is the vibrations seem "wider." At first, I tried to emulate this with a raised larynx "Christina Aguilera-esque" blues distortion, but that obviously wasn't right. And when I try to just support and make these modern rock yells it usually ends up coming out too gritty. Maybe I need to hydrate better and cut back on the AC. Or maybe getting a cleaner sound is incompatible with the other gritty singing/screaming I do.

Sorry for thinking out loud. :|

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I believe that I must have "twang" to sing in head voice and add distortion in it the way I do, although I've never really done exercises for that specific purpose. Perhaps I shall give it a try. Thanks, jonpall!

I watched a bit of a Nickleback performance on AXS tv last night, actually. I may take back the comparison I made to Hetfield and Halford. Somehow, the screams of a Grohl or Kroeger sound "cleaner" than those two singers. The best description I have is the vibrations seem "wider." At first, I tried to emulate this with a raised larynx "Christina Aguilera-esque" blues distortion, but that obviously wasn't right. And when I try to just support and make these modern rock yells it usually ends up coming out too gritty. Maybe I need to hydrate better and cut back on the AC. Or maybe getting a cleaner sound is incompatible with the other gritty singing/screaming I do.

Sorry for thinking out loud. :|

Go ahead and think out loud. It may help some of us.

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Haha, believe me, it's been necessary to survive this summer in Jersey too. I don't think it's been affecting my voice much, though. I've been abstaining from alcohol for the last couple months, and that has greatly improved my "morning voice." Still, I feel I am not as hydrated as I could be and do suffer some minor GERD...

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Ok, after playing around a bit today, and watching some videos of Foo Fighters, Shinedown, and Halestorm, I'm pretty confident that this type of screaming is basically a spin off of the old Louis Armstrong blues sound, but placed a little bit more forward in the soft palate. It actually doesn't feel too damaging either - much less so than the Tyler, Rose, etc distortion, which does feel like it grinds on the cords a bit. I wonder if there's some type of vocal health motivation behind this sound or if it's simply fashionable at the moment.

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The soft palate cannot produce grit. It's a placement strategy, what phil us doing in the clip is creaking. A slight unbalance that makes the folds vibrate irregular, and the grit is produced. It's not dangerous if youve got the feel for it.

cool vid phil :)

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The soft palate cannot produce grit. It's a placement strategy, what phil us doing in the clip is creaking. A slight unbalance that makes the folds vibrate irregular, and the grit is produced. It's not dangerous if youve got the feel for it.

cool vid phil :)

So regardless of where you "Feel" the creaking, the sound is produced by an imbalance in the vocal folds?

The placement is to redirect and control the breath flow? Creating a "Buffer" of sorts for the vocal folds?

They may seem to be dumb questions but when you don't know the answer, ask.

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If it is creaking it's produced by the folds, but distortion can also be produced by the falsefolds and you can have stuffs such as rattle and vibrations of tissue in the troath aswell.

In some sounds all these are apparent

You have the placement high so you dont squeeze on thefolds. Then your (*auto edit*), all sorts of effectsgruntsgrowls distortion ect you wanna have the mentality that your out of your throat, its kindo easy you slip down there and because effects require alit extra support youll be slapping your folds

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:) I actually did this effectively today. Bad Co's "Can't get enough of your love" was playing. I usually have a clean thin sound on that last chorus/outro. But today I got the grit going still singing in a head voice configuration and it souded OK to me. :) No one else was there to tell me different though.:P

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:) No one else was there to tell me different though.:P

That's the best kind of audience, the one that doesn't complain. :D

Although, in my case, I think they are just afraid of me. Many of you may think I am kidding but I really am tall and scary-looking.

An effect that is lost on words typed in a forum.

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As Jens points out, there are different ways to make distortion. The way Phil shows imo is the safest way to get what CVT calls "Creaking" distortion. Creaking usually happens to say it in simple words if some element of your coordination doesn't fit it. In the case of Phils video it's the airflow. He uses a "chesty" coordination but supports so much (holding back the breath) that the airflow is insufficient to make the folds vibrate regularly.

Personally, this is my favorite kind of distortion for chesty phonations. However, if you go up to head voice, the false fold distortion becomes more available. This kind of distortion you can make by opening the glottis slightly (which means that air is "lost" during phonation). Then you narrow the area above the throat which makes the "lost air" activate the false folds.

This kind of distortion is more easy to use in head voice imo, because in head voice it is easier to open the glottis without completely disturbing the underlying note you sing.

A slightly different version of this is created if you just twang so hard that the epiglottis narrows so much that the false folds get activated even during full cord closure. But for me personally, this type of distortion feels more straining.

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As Jens points out, there are different ways to make distortion. The way Phil shows imo is the safest way to get what CVT calls "Creaking" distortion. Creaking usually happens to say it in simple words if some element of your coordination doesn't fit it. In the case of Phils video it's the airflow. He uses a "chesty" coordination but supports so much (holding back the breath) that the airflow is insufficient to make the folds vibrate regularly.

Personally, this is my favorite kind of distortion for chesty phonations. However, if you go up to head voice, the false fold distortion becomes more available. This kind of distortion you can make by opening the glottis slightly (which means that air is "lost" during phonation). Then you narrow the area above the throat which makes the "lost air" activate the false folds.

This kind of distortion is more easy to use in head voice imo, because in head voice it is easier to open the glottis without completely disturbing the underlying note you sing.

A slightly different version of this is created if you just twang so hard that the epiglottis narrows so much that the false folds get activated even during full cord closure. But for me personally, this type of distortion feels more straining.

Yeah, this is the sort of thing that led me to injuring myself, twice. Trying to narrow and "engage" the false folds. The false folds, after I learned a little anatomy, and I do mean, a little, is a mucus membrane bump just above the true folds. As a membrane, it's job is to release mucus to lubricate the folds. How does one "engage" a membrane? Just as, how would one engage the sinus membrane, for example? Membranes are simple tissue, not muscle or ligament.

So, only as an academic interest, it would be neat to hear a sound file of this being done.

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