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Thread: Pop song where the vocals don't sing the melody?

  1. #1
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    Pop song where the vocals don't sing the melody?

    A couple questions I'd appreciate thoughts on:

    1) What are some examples of pop songs (with vocals) where the melody isn't sung by the vocalist but played by an instrument?
    2) How do you handle the issue having a song with a melody that sounds better played with a synth and not sung, but you still want it to be a pop song with vocals?

    Some background:

    I'm working on a song and I have a beat and melody (no chords, no bassline). The problem is the melody is rapid and wouldn't be able to be sung with the same punch and feel as the synth it's played on, so I want to keep the synth playing the melody.

    So what options are there if I keep the synth playing the melody?
    Option A) Have the vocalist sing the melody over the synth (matching note for note). This might make the mix too muddy.
    Option B) Have the vocalist sing some sort of counterpoint with the melody? I have no idea how/if this would work.
    Option C) Have the vocalist not sing the melody, but rap words while the meldoy is played.
    Option D) Only have the vocalist sing during the verses, and have an instrumental melody.

    Other options?

    I listed to a bunch of pop songs looking for an example where the melody is played by an instrument and still had vocals but couldn't find any. Hendrix's Voodoo Chile came to mind (where on parts the guitar seems to mirror the vocals), but I'd rather find some more clear cut examples. Anyone think of any other examples?

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Or just make it an instrumental. Do you need two people involved with the melody?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Or just make it an instrumental. Do you need two people involved with the melody?
    I thought about that, but I'm trying to avoid an instrumental as I'm going for a radio type pop song and you don't hear too many instrumentals on the radio.

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    A couple questions I'd appreciate thoughts on:

    1) What are some examples of pop songs (with vocals) where the melody isn't sung by the vocalist but played by an instrument?
    2) How do you handle the issue having a song with a melody that sounds better played with a synth and not sung, but you still want it to be a pop song with vocals?
    What is the vocalist going to do if not sing the melody?
    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    Some background:

    I'm working on a song and I have a beat and melody (no chords, no bassline). The problem is the melody is rapid and wouldn't be able to be sung with the same punch and feel as the synth it's played on, so I want to keep the synth playing the melody.

    So what options are there if I keep the synth playing the melody?
    Option A) Have the vocalist sing the melody over the synth (matching note for note). This might make the mix too muddy.
    Not necessarily - depends how the mix is handled. But the two would have to be exactly sync'd, and you say the melody is rapid and hard to sing.
    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    Option B) Have the vocalist sing some sort of counterpoint with the melody? I have no idea how/if this would work.
    You mean a harmony? Could be a good solution. It could be a simpler line than the synth melody. Probably needs to have a good melody itself though.
    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    Option C) Have the vocalist not sing the melody, but rap words while the meldoy is played.
    Good option. The words would need to be good, because a vocalist is still going to draw the main attention. Whether you think of the synth as the lead or not, any listener is still going to pay more attention to a vocalist.
    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    Option D) Only have the vocalist sing during the verses, and have an instrumental melody.
    Another good option. I presume you mean instrumental melody for the chorus. The vocalist would still need a melody for the verse, or they could just rap - but again the words need to be worthwhile.
    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    Other options?
    No vocalist at all? You're right instrumentals are rare these days, but they were very popular at one time (usually on guitar, but sometimes on keyboard or horn).
    If the tune is strong and catchy enough, it could work, as something out of the ordinary.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    I listed to a bunch of pop songs looking for an example where the melody is played by an instrument and still had vocals but couldn't find any. Hendrix's Voodoo Chile came to mind (where on parts the guitar seems to mirror the vocals), but I'd rather find some more clear cut examples. Anyone think of any other examples?
    Hendrix doesn't seem like a good example at all to me, but maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're asking. Voodoo Chile is a song, led by the vocal. The guitar has some strong riffs (including the hook intro), and sometimes echoes the vocal, but it's not the lead melody.

    Kraftwerk had a few where the synth(s) took more of a lead role than the vocals:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68C-r9kSLNE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXa9t...eature=related
    - but even in those, the vocal had the hook phrases. And in other tunes of theirs, the vocal led:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgS252XT_Ts
    But still a good example of how a synth can work in tandem with vocals. Of course, they deliberately made the vocal as mechanical as possible, as if it was just another synth.

    There are film themes, like Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western themes, where (usually) flute or guitar takes lead melody, and there are simple vocal interjections, or "ahh" backing chorus parts. The vocals really are secondary there - but then no one would describe them as "pop songs".

    Then you get irritating gimmick themes like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXlQh...eature=related
    (A few million people are praying you're not thinking of something like this...)
    Last edited by JonR; 09-05-2011 at 05:39 PM.

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    Thanks for the reply - the Kraftwerk examples help give me some ideas (and the minimalist videos are kind of funny too, especially compared to the sensory overload of today).

    And the crazy frog reference cracked me up. Don't worry, I'm not going to create anything that dizzying.

    I did hear "Coldplay - Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" on the radio:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyMhvkC3A84

    and it's a good example of the dilemma I'm working with and how I could handle it. At 0:53 there's rapid guitar playing that can't be sung (kind of like my synth melody). What Coldplay did was simply let it play and don't sing over it. Then later when they bring it back they sing some "ahhhh waterfall" and "oh's" behind it.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rxkimo View Post
    I did hear "Coldplay - Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" on the radio:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyMhvkC3A84

    and it's a good example of the dilemma I'm working with and how I could handle it. At 0:53 there's rapid guitar playing that can't be sung (kind of like my synth melody). What Coldplay did was simply let it play and don't sing over it. Then later when they bring it back they sing some "ahhhh waterfall" and "oh's" behind it.
    Yes, but the guitar is really a secondary element. It's a hook motif, to be sure, but that's all it is: it isn't the lead melody in any way; the "song" is what the singer is singing.
    Of course, there are plenty of rock songs with distinctive guitar riffs, which may recur anywhere in the song, with or without vocals over them.
    IOW, however good your synth part, you still need a vocal to "lead" the song - at least if this is the direction you want to take, rather than the semi-instrumental Kraftwerk, where the interest is roughly equally divided between synth hooks and vocal hooks (the mix varies from song to song).

    That song reminds of the Smiths, who also worked from distinctive and often quite fancy guitar riffs, over which the singer improvised his parts. IOW, the guitarist wrote the chords and the guitar parts, the singer (Morrissey) came in later and made up his melody over the top. (Of course, the vocal melody was still "composed", and was the lead part of the song, but it began from trying stuff out over the guitar part.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh2bo...eature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGnjr...feature=fvwrel
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfkvP...eature=related

    There are also songs driven by a constantly repeating instrumental riff (all the way behind the vocal), but it's generally pretty simple in form: when the vocal is sung over it, that becomes the focus of attention.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rik7xV7Tj4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlpMs_R3P6U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ32lL4R970
    this one is a kind of duet between the strings and the vocal:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk2xaeXnxlM
    - worth sticking with it for the final section. (I guess the point is still that the singing is what everyone listens to and wants to join in with.)
    Last edited by JonR; 09-09-2011 at 12:49 AM.

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    Lots of good examples there - I like "The Beatles - I Feel Fine" how it almost has a call a response feel where the vocals stop singing, then the guitar's riff has a chance to stand out. I think I might do something like that where my synth riff gets a chance to stand out by periodic stopping of the vocals.

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    8 Ways to Sing Better Now -
    1. Open your mouth when you’re singing! Singers who keep their mouths mostly closed are likely tense in the tongue and are far from achieving maximum quality of tone. I like the two finger rule. If you can fit two fingers between your teeth while singing (esp on open vowels like “ah” and “oh”), then you’re good. If not, open your mouth more.

    2. Relax the tongue. After years of giving voice lessons, I’m convinced that 65% – 85% of all vocal problems involve tension in the tongue. Worst part is most people aren’t even aware of it. Look in a mirror while singing. If the tip of your tongue isn’t dominantly resting on your bottom front teeth then you’ve got problems. Relaxing the tongue more forward in the mouth will help.

    3. Don’t take in too much air. If you breathe in too much air, then you create pressure under the folds that can easily hinder you ability to sing freely. It can prevent you from singing high notes and it almost always causes tension in your neck. To fix it, become aware of just how little is involved in regular breathing and try to mimic that sensation when singing.

    4. Keep the larynx steady. If you don’t know what the larynx is, it’s where your adam’s apple is (or where it would be ladies). If this area of your neck is raising or lowering while singing, then you’re throwing off your whole vocal mechanism leading to many different complications. Rest your hand on your larynx while singing and make sure it stays steady.

    5. Open and relax the back of the mouth. This is equally as important as allowing the front of the mouth to be open, if not more. If the back of the mouth is closed off, then the quality of the sound is shot (and I guarantee you’re tense). To get a feel for it, hold the “ng” sound of hung and feel how closed that is. Now say “ah” like you’re in a doctor’s office… that’s more open. Leaving the back of the mouth open like the “ah” sound can help create a beautiful resonance in the voice.

    6. Sing with ENERGY. I can’t express this enough. Singing is a very physical activity. You must be energized and excited about what you’re doing or else it lacks passion (and it’s flat!). Singing with energy helps you hit higher notes and helps keep the sound out of the throat. Allow yourself to get excited before singing… do some jumping jacks or walk around a bit before getting started and realize just how much it helps.

    7. Believe what you’re singing. I once read a quote that has stuck with me for years. It was something along the lines of, “that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Music is a form of expression. It’s alive and has a great ability to influence listeners. But that’s only true when you believe what you’re singing. Try to connect to the song through some personal life experience and see how alive the music you’re singing becomes.

    8. Get out of your own way. Singing should feel like speaking. There should be no pressing, tension, straining, reaching, or grabbing when vocally active. These sensations usually happen when we try to force the sound out of us. If you’re not able to sing something, try to bring it back to speech first. You’d be surprised how easy that high “C” can be when you speak it.
    It’s important to mention that focusing on all of these tips at once isn’t going to be overly effective because our brains can only process so much at a time. Therefore, I suggest practicing one of these tips for a few days, then move on to another. What we do when we sing is largely based on habit, so be sure to practice consistently.

    Learn more how to become a famous singer here.

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