Our society doesn’t really respect singers. If you want to confirm that, just watch one of the TV shows that discover new vocalists. You will see that the styles are limited, the kind of thing the judges react to are predictably the same and the comments of the “coaches” or “teachers” have little if anything to do with vocal production. You hear about “really committing to the meaning of the song” and “not holding back at all”.

Here, on Broadway, it’s very typical to hire an actor to be in a musical and then send the person for singing lessons so they can “get better”. This assumption comes from thinking, “Well, it’s just singing, after all,” and it should be possible to sing really well by taking a few lessons with a famous singing teacher. As long as the person can carry a tune, that’s good enough, particularly if the person in question is famous. It’s just singing after all.

And if you listen to pop music, well, good luck hearing a human being who is only a human being and not a repository for an encyclopedia of electronic “enhancement”.  We all know that soft, breathy, nothing sound which is so popular because it is supposed to be cool or sexy or laid back. It is, in fact, just boringly the same in everyone, and it needs help but the kind it typically is given doesn’t camouflage the fact that, at the bottom, the artist really can’t sing in the first place.

There is a restaurant around the corner from my apartment that has live jazz every evening. They have a piano, a small stage and a sound system. Right next to it is a very large TV screen (10 feet across) and a bar full of people who are there to watch sports. There is no separation, and no attempt to have the jazz players not compete with the TV and “the game”. The musicians are paid next to nothing, but the place always has them. They are used to working for no to low money anyway. I never go in there because it offends me so much to see these people sitting at the bar, making a racket, while the musicians play away, struggling to be heard and to have the customers who are not at the bar hear them.

There’s a church here that used to have a sign on the outside above a door “Musicians and Deliveries”. We all know that people expect singers and musicians to sing “for fun” even when that’s what they do for a living.

The way for this situation to get better is for singers to do their best to respect themselves. We need to say no whenever possible to situations in which we are regarded as being less than the delivery person. Until our society has more general information about what good singing is and why it should be respected (and who knows when that will happen?) it is up to us to act like we deserve respect. Aretha had it right, all we are asking for is a little respect, but you have to do more than ask, you have to expect it.

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