Multiple Factors Determine Vocalist Preferences

Emma Dahl

A&E_Rust_Singers_Issue12
Illustration by Emma Rust.

In this humble reporter’s music-going business, I’ve often stumbled upon friends and acquaintances with a preference for either male or female vocalists. Where does that preference come from? Do male and female vocals really make that much of a difference in the mood and essence of a song?

The obvious and simple answer is that it depends. It depends on the individual doing the singing, it depends on the band that’s creating the music and it depends on the particular genre––whether a male or female voice sounds better depends on a lot of factors.

But, it’s possible that certain kinds of voices fit different genres better than others. Usually, a melancholy, soft female voice can better fit a mournful folk song about lost love. Often, a male voice can fit a rap song about a hard upbringing. Certain genres seem to be dominated by one gender or the other.

But it’s also true that either of those examples can sound exceptional with the opposite sex behind the mic. Death Vessel, a fantastic “neo-traditional” folk band, is headed by male soprano singer Joel Thibodeau, whose voice is absolutely spectacular amongst all those acoustic guitar noodlings. Iggy Azalea, a female rapper, just released an album (“The New Classic”) that’s choc-full of songs profiling her rise to success and the struggles she went through once she immigrated to the United States. Obviously men or women can thrive in either genre.

Another factor that decides someone’s preference of male or female voices could be whether they can easily sing along with an artist. Female vocals might be more difficult for men to sing along with, especially if they’re in a high register, and the converse is true as well.

All in all, it’s hard to narrow down exactly what it is that decides people’s preference for male over female vocals. It might just be as simple as a partiality for the generally higher, smoother female voices, or for the generally lower, huskier male voices. Whatever it is, it isn’t easy to dissect.