'Losing' your singing voice is a very common transmasc fear; & it's maybe worth exploring a bit more, rather than instinctively validating people for it, because I think some of the ways we do that can agree to the bases of the fear. For a woman to lose her singing voice, it seems to mean the loss of being pretty; the loss of being appealing and consumeable to others, something others may have liked about you; and of course, irreversible damage - once tainted, you can never return.
Against that, I'd like to throw in some counterarguments.
Pretty voices are rarely interesting - regardless of your gender: Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Louis Armstrong, Bonnie Tyler, Nick Cave, etc. If transition introduces some rasp or even downright tunelessness into your sound, it is not the end of you as a singer. The inner sense that we exist to please onlookers is Strong in female socialisation, and perhaps all the stronger in trans people wrestling with a deep insecurity about our worth and our gender. Its bollocks, and a core plank of feminism is to resist it: we exist for our own pleasure. Intentionally wrecking your singing voice because it makes you feel good is punk. We're not here for men with bad taste to like us, or for our mother. And the fear of a changing voice is no different to the fear of change that all transition must confront and laugh in the face of.
I did once meet someone who would not transition because they could sing. this, i thought, was beautiful suffering for art. I now think that's terrible, both to do and to promote: to suffer is never beautiful, and there is no path to joy in hiding from your own desire.
So you're going to transition, and that means re-learning how to sing. Transition is puberty, and plenty of men can sing after puberty (and not a few of them are afraid of the change, for much the same reasons we are, if they had a much-praised voice as a child). Somehow, this never comes up in the conversation.
If the fear is, in part, that you will never have a cis-passing singing voice; then consider how many iconic singers have weird fucking voices. you do not want to sound like a reality TV show contestant; you almost certainly do want to sound like Bowie. I am not a singing teacher - I had lessons for a bit as a child which underscored how ropey my voice was aside from perfect pitch - but my contention is that if you can sing well pre-T, you can sing post. Because singing incorporates confidence, breath control, using your body as an instrument, performance, and understanding voice as a technical skill: and you lose none of that on T. You go into transition with those skills, and have them as a basis to rebuild your ability.
I've been reading a text for professional classical baritones that notes: the male 'instrument' matures more slowly than the female one (steady on there boys :wink:). That is - a (cis) female professional singer can train throughout her teenage years and into her 20s, but because a (cis) male voice drops then cis men tend to be back to square one and around 4 years 'behind' cis female singers of the same age in terms of the maturity of their voice. I think this is worth stressing, because most trans spaces are filled with people who are in transition - people 'post-transition' (whatever that means to them) tend to drop out and move on with their lives.
My voice got better on T, because I love myself. You can't sound like James Brown unless you know you are hot shit. Singing voice drop is always discussed as something to be feared - never a pleasure. But it is my joy - a dysphoria i never knew i had and a delight i never knew i could experience. the songs of my heart will be different from yours.
i am not a musical theatre fan, but it is a wellspring of joy to find that baritone roles include Javert and Marius, and the Phantom, and the Beast and Pontius Pilate. Perhaps i was never a musical theatre fan because my voice was all wrong. discovering I could murmur out Pilate's Dream and Stars and Empty Chairs is one of the happiest moments I have experienced; and so too finding I could sound like Peter Gabriel on an off day, or be close enough to sing along and feel right.
Comments on Early Transition Voice
Just based on what I've experienced (50mg testosterone cp per week, IM then SQ - 7 months)
Your notes are not gone. But you have to find them differently, they're located in a different place. The singing vocabulary of "head voice" was very evocative for me, and I found putting the real high notes into my nose, or just feeling them come up the back of my spine, curve round the back of my head and dropping down onto them was the way to go. I lost my high range for a couple of months, but as of now I can do 2 Become 1 and Barbie Girl. It sounds fugly, I wouldn't do it in public, but the notes are there and I know how to find them. That's the basis for building more power.
Breath was a huge probk
When I started karaoke, I immediately tried to hit my low chest notes - because those were most clearly in tune. But they had no power. Similarly, I wanted to play around with gender and do falsetto - with the same problem. I actually think rebuilding my falsetto is going to be the longest range project. Instead, something in the comfy middle is the place to go while re-learning.
Some ground rules
- Pick things you can sing on your worst days, not your best. Things where you need minimal vocal prep, the range is small, you can sing easily under pressure and at no notice.
- Make it SHORT. Five minutes is a long time. Aim for a 3:30 single. Do NOT be the guy I once saw do attempt (7 minute) Bat Out of Hell AND (lengthy) American Pie in the same night. Sorry, Hotel California fans.
- Make it something everybody knows and loves. If the audience is going OH FUCK YES I LOVE MR BRIGHTSIDE then they will have a good time, regardless of your performance. A song everyone is going to join in with is an excellent choice!
- Pick something where the vocal performance is not the key focal point. Adele, say, is a vocalist first and foremost. You are not Adele. But the Smiths - say - where so much of the pleasure is in the guitar, you've got more room to be average. Ditto with performers: Kate Bush sounds distinctive, as well as being an incredible vocalist. On the other hand, if a performer does have a weird-sounding voice, mimicing it can help confidence and in building a character. You may find this easier. I think if you're less self conscious about "sounding nice" and trying to copy a voice, it can help you fake it until you make it with your sound - my sound becomes bigger and more resonant.
- If there's an instrumental, plan something to "do" in it. You can look up the performer and see what they do on stage. Really long intros, outros, or instrumental breaks rule out the song - sorry.
- Breath is going to be your big issue: both the ability to sing long passages without taking a breath, AND big powerful notes with lots of oomph behind them, or even songs with lots of sustained notes (like, Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics). In early transition, I had breath problems even when speaking. Choose songs which don't expose this issue! Fun fact about Send in the Clowns: it was written for Glynis Johns, and Sondheim noticed that she had a lack of breath power and chose to write it in these short phrases, and the lyrics a series of questions and pauses, to work with her voice rather than against it. This is why you can't do Mr Brightside: even though the pitch range is forgiving, those long hammering passages are just?? a mystery to me how you make them sound good.
- Songs get hard at their apex. Like Going to California, or Dream On. Don't choose a song that does this. If you can sing 90% of it but it's just that one bit near the end - that one bit is the emotional climax of the song and you don't want to fudge it. Don't be that girl who sets out on Phantom of The Opera with the whole audience sitting in anticipation of her fucking up the final note (FYI, perfomers don't even sing that final note on stage - it's prerecorded).
- Know what everybody else is going to sing. You might get gazumped. If you know your friend is the biggest Country and Western fan, it's poor show to prep Johnny Cash if you know its their thing. If you are in Wales, someone WILL do Delilah
Good Things to look out for:
- Small vocal range. Only going up and down a few notes. You probably can't do Mr Brightside, but that's an example - and my karaoke pick, Greased Lightning, is similar. You're really only doing a range of four notes which is more forgiving than something like Head over Heels, A Kiss from a Rose or Mirrorball where you're jumping up and down the range
- Something with a story or a character - to help you "perform" it
- Fast, fun, upbeat, silly is a lot easier to nail than a ballad or slow song
- No falsetto. You can rediscover your head voice, but it's going to be harder for a while - so nothing focused on a falsetto or high male voice sound. This means Sylvester, Freddie Mercury, and Jimmy Sommerville are right out; sorry. So much gay music rests on the unexpected genderbending of men/people perceived as men singing in a way reminiscent of women or of fey boy tenors, and you're just going to have to camp up some straight people music for a while and find the gay in it.
- Sexy. One thing I've noticed - perhaps because it adds a bit of rockstar confidence and swagger and, paradoxically, feels less vulnerable than sincerity - perhaps because I'm still learning to power a low voice and leaning into "sultry" helps make those notes feel richer - that making love to the microphone produces a better tone whenever I feel unsure
- Lots of speaking or near speaking. Rap if you can pull it off (you will know if this is you or not; it is so much harder than it looks), or singers with a speak-sing style, or that are a shaggy dog story set to music
- Make it something you like or connect to. Obvious statement, but if you're going to perform it starts by rooting in something you want to say. A lot of the songs I connect to are...very trans-oriented, because doing karaoke is a form of visibility for me, a moment of getting to be male in front of an audience of strangers. Some kind of camp, queer, hypermasc, or *interesting* masculinity is core to the songs I get excited to perform - but you may have different priorities, the point is to make it yours and to know why you're singing it, why that song matters. Know your own aesthetic.
And once you've found a song:
- Warm up and do vocal exercises
- Actually practice it! This is my karaoke hidden weapon: approach it like a performance.
- Learn the lyrics. They words will be there but knowing them by heart as well gives you that extra confidence to focus on your singing and movements. Without singing, just speaking through the lyrics with the karaoke track, can prevent overstraining your voice in practice sessions while still practicing something, to build clear diction and speed.
- Spot any tricky bits of the song. Be honest. Is this tricky as in, you need to do another song? Or, can you target your practice at that? Breaking it down into chunks to practice, and looking up tutorials on the theme of what you're struggling with
- Look up how the performer moves and especially how they fill in any 'dead time' like a long instrumental
- Warm up before the party
- A bit of costume? If you have a plan, dressing a bit 80s or with a key feature from your performer can be fun to amplify what you're doing.
- Try it out: most people at karaoke will be drunk, or kinda sucky singers, and that's FINE so long as they slam it with enthusiasm. It's a pretty safe and enthusiastic environment to try out songs and find out if you can sing them. No one will mind how you sound so long as you've chosen your song considerately (i.e. not Bat Out Of Hell)
- Only one song per karaoke party is courteous behaviour. UNLESS the party is poorly attended and clearly struggling to maintain enthusiasm and momentum, where more than one song is the polite thing to do.
Singing Vids I'm Finding Helpful
Protecting your Voice on the Day
As your body is your instrument, get the edge on the day by....
Do not talk loud to other bar patrons before you've sung.
Things to snack on at the bar: the lead performers of the Queen musical would be glugging honey backstage to get their voices through the second act. I find that gloopy J20 drinks seem to be good for that. Loads of room-temperature water. Alkaline foods. And do buy something to keep the bar in business, but maybe after you sing.
Things NOT to snack on at the bar: avoid eating a big meal an hour before you sing (as your body is going to need to be internally agile). Dairy is bad for singers (causes mucus), chocolate (dries you up), cold foods and drinks (constriction and tension), hot drinks, salt and spicy food (inflaming and harsh; acid reflux), soda (gas in your stomach), coffee (dehydrates), excess tea, sugar sweets (mucus again), acidic foods, and alcohol (pretty sure the history of rock disproves this one; dehydrates)
WITH SOME SINGING:
Once In A Lifetime - Talking Heads
Rock DJ - Robbie Williams - rock?
One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer - George Thorogood - bluesy - REALLY long
Parklife - Blur (some singing)
Stand and Deliver - Adam Ant - Campy
Fire - Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Be Prepared - Scar/ the Lion King
The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers
Be Our Guest - Beauty and the Beast
- The Monster Mash - spooky
- I've Been To A Marvellous Party - Noel Coward (hard to find a karaoke track for) - campy
- Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick - Ian Dury & The Blockheads - punky
- I'm Waiting for my Man - Velvet Underground - sexy - long
- Art Brut - Emily Kane is a really good story-song - punky
- Jilted John - Jilted John - whiny
- double check this is lyrically appropriate for your party!
- the boomer punks went NUTS when i did this at my bar
- They're Coming to Take Me Away - ditto - silly
- Too Sexy - Right Said Fred - sexy euro90s
- oh my god when did right said fred turn into actual twitter fascists? nightmare
- Cha Cha Slide - DJ Casper - dance
- Private Investigations - Dire Straits - downer rock
- The Revolution will Not be Televised - Gil Scott Heron
- Wickerman - Pulp (REALLY long tho)
- Stray Dog - New Order & Iggy Pop - gravelly
- Teenager in Love - Jim Steinman - EPIC
- Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes - Kevin Ayers - groovy
- Baggy Trousers - Madness - silly
- Reasons To Be Cheerful - Ian Dury
- (GREAT but you have to learn it. I used to recite it whenever I did my shot as a distraction)
Classic cis drag
Already popular with cis men who can't sing, because of the limited vocal range, well-known songs and the ability to camp it up a bit
- Johnny Cash (tends low)
- Elvis Presley
- Early Elvis is both powerful and high, so don't do it if you're not ready (that rules out Heartbreak Hotel and Jailhouse Rock)
- Some good candidates - good songs with a forgiving, middle vocal range - include:
- Can't Help Falling In Love With You (tried it, went great, had people singing along, would do again)
- Little Less Conversation (there's a well known and very cool 90s remix, so plan in advance which one you want to do; FAST, learn the lyrics)
- All Shook Up
- Fools Rush In
- If You Talk In Your Sleep (great story!)
- You absolutely cannot do Queen and I'm sorry but if you want to anyway, Elvis-esque Crazy Little Thing Called Love might be your ticket
- Greased Lightning (my secret weapon. Tiny vocal range and tonnes of personality BUT you have got to practice the lyrics - they are fast! - and dance moves.)
- Great Balls Of Fire - well at least it's over quick. You'd need to practice to get the patter correctly timed and have some 50s dance moves prepped for the musical break but i think if you run straight at this one and yell it'll be easier than it seems.
- Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Atley - hard
Tell a Story
- Common People - Pulp (last verses are high and harder - but I've done it as a duet and it slapped). Or Babies, if you're brave.
- Nick Cave - baritone, gravelly, often spoken or monotone - but his songs tend to be long, with dark content and an odd fit for a karaoke party unless you have goth friends
- Insomnia - Faithless (depending on the version, this is LONG. Is the dancefloor hot, are people dancing, are the kind of attendees the right age to throw down to Faithless?)
- Bob Dylan - #1 on the BBC list of Pop Stars who made it big despite being a lousy vocalist. Subterranian is short but you gota learn the words.
- Lil Red Riding Hood - Sam Sham and the Pharohs - aWOOOO! trans werewolves represent. I've done this and it was cracking
- George Formby - When I'm Cleaning Windows (you can straight up speak the lines if you have to. Blackpool Rock is too high for me)
- Pete Atkin - your karaoke machine won't have this
- Snack Attack - Godley & Cream (Spoken word and very silly, but it's about eating/weight and I suspect wouldn't pass muster for a lot of people.)
- Godley & Creme - and associated band 10cc - have some absolutely cracking lyrics, often including silly voices and characters.
- Some options include: Rubber Bullets and Good Morning Judge (about cops); I'm Mandy Fly Me (really long); Under Your Thumb (a ghost story about a woman going under a train); basically every song on 'Changing Faces', their best of compilation...
Blues, Country & Western storytelling
- Ghost Riders in the Sky
- The Highwayman - the Highwaymen
- Big appreciation of the trans resonances here. A ghostly story of archetypal downtrodden men through history singing about how they'll always exist even if their stories are forgotten
- Boy Named Sue (obviously, and it's spoken word.)
- The Gambler - Kenny Rogers
- Convoy - C.W. McCall
- Bad to the Bone - George Thorogood
Punk / Post-Punk
Not a genre known for focusing on its vocalists - the pleasure is the guitar and the synth sonics - with lots of performers who have a low, monotone, or speakish style. But with these I've struggled: the wall of guitar gives the songs a very thick texture that my voice isn't loud enough to overleap.
- The Killing Moon - Echo & The Bunnymen (long! high!)
- Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division (nice and gravelly. Doing this live, however, i found my low notes were too quiet to be heard at all)
- Under The Milky Way - The Church (long)
- How soon is Now - The Smiths (Has some high moments, but short and easier in terms of breath/rythm/pitch than other Smith songs)
- Perfect Day - Lou Reed (bit slow!)
- Passenger - Iggy Pop (tiny vocal range)
- Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
- Psycho Killer - Talking Heads (long; and a moodkiller)
- Gary Gilmore's Eyes - great story, bit dark, will the karaoke machine even have it?
- Milk and Alcohol - Dr Feelgood
- My Sharona - Kinks (the mood is so damn fun. Make sure you do something hot with your legs while singing this. I pitch it down an octave)
- Tom Waits
- Late-era Peter Gabriel (i.e. Book of Love)
- Leonard Cohen
- George Thorogood (Bad to the Bone...)
One surprise I've had is discovering a comfort and joy singing...(and none of these are easy, exactly, but I can get through them now; i wouldn't do them on stage necessarily)
- Shirley Bassey (I can do Big Spender, and Goldfinger except from that last note, which means I can't)
- There Are Worse Things I Could Do - from Grease
- yeah, Adele.
My musical theatre friend pointed out the Menzelification of modern musical theatre: jawdropping showstopping belters are the fashion, and it's unckind to perfomers voices who must be incredible virtuosos to pull it off at all (not to mention six nights a week). In contrast, classic musicals have a much more modest style to them.
Looking at the crooners, phrases are quite short - lots of room for breath; vocal ranges are traditional (few multi-octave-spanners); the lyrics seem rooted around oooos and ahhhh sounds which are forgiving to make; and the suave lounge sleaze style is fun and easy to mimic for confidence.AND they're mostly 2 minutes 48, the perfect karaoke length. These are classics and standards so LOTS of artists have covered them, giving you options for which of several versions suits your style. The only downer is they tend to be slow ballads.
The only issue here is that you have to get the recording backing track for the one you've practiced with. There can be wild differences between the tone, phrasing and mood for different artists (try 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' by Bobby Darin vs Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole). More tricky is that the singer often leads the orchestra on the original recording, so you'll be trying to follow a backing track that's really been written to follow you.
I'm a baritone, so that includes:
- nat king cole (unforgettable, nature boy - backing track too loose and formless, absolutely unforgiving song)
- Bobby Darin (when i fall in love, mack the knife)
- Bobby Vinton (Blue Velvet - just! on high days!)
- Frank Sinatra (some of his songs: Strangers in the Night, I'll Be Seeing You)
- Al Bowlly (Midnight, the Stars and You)
- Bing Crosby (apparently he's a bass? but some of his songs i can do)
- Roy Orbison (no point unless you have his range)
- The Ink Spots (if you can sing one of these songs you can sing them all, but the lead vocalist's voice is very high)
- Nick Drake
- Paul Giovanni (do it sing Gently Johnny in the pub i dare you)
- Phil Ochs
- Bob Dylan
- Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon - right in my range, short, and I love to do some gender. Verses need lyric speed practice
- You Spin me Right Round - I think my voice is improving tbh
- Hozier is a baritone, as is John Legend
- Children of the Revolution - T-Rex - short!
- Jack's Lament - Nightmare before Christmas
FOr example, if you really want to sing some genesis
- Land of Confusion - but it drags!
Duets for a woman who can sing (and a man who can't)
- Love Shack - B52s
- Some Velvet Morning - Nancy & Lee
- Macarena - Los Del Rio
- Where the Wild Roses Grow - Kylie Minogue/Nick Cave
- Dark content - check this is appropriate for your party
- Barbie Girl - Aqua
- Rasputin - Boney M
- Here Comes My Girl - Tom Petty
- Fairytale of New York - the Pogues
- I thought of this one when I was invited to sing a duet on xmas eve by a woman who can really sing. I can't really sing, I can just do the songs I can do so well that people don't notice. 'What duets are there,' I thought, 'for a woman who can sing and a man who can't...?'. This song is iconic. Every year in the UK we have some culture war bullshit about one character drunkenly calling her husband a 'lousy faggot', and it sucks because culture war media coverage does nothing but rile up resentment against the group in question. I don't know any gay people who actually think the lyric should be changed or banned on radio (tho I read one take which was that he loved the song but did NOT love straight people's enjoyment of roaring the word at the pub). Talk with your singing partner & consider your audience: in more recent years, MacColl changed the lyric to "You're cheap and you're haggard". But if you ask me? I think the song is fucking perfect as recorded.
- I Just Can't Wait to be King - the Lion King (you play Zazu)
Duets for two people who can sing
- Something Stupid - Nancy & Frank Sinatra
- Dammit Janet - Rocky Horror Picture Show
- I've Had the Time of my Life - from Dirty Dancing
- Summer Nights/You're the One that I Want - Grease
- Especially for You - Kylie and Jason
on my song watchlist atm
- Smokin in the Boys Room - Brownsville Station (rock-high)
- Homosapien - Pete Shelly (camp-high)
- Come to the Sabbat - Black Widow (rare)
- Going to California - LZ (make octave adjustments, work on mix voice)
- Battle of Evermore - ask [redacted] for a duet?
Punk, post-punk, folk, protest songs, country-and-western, some singer-songwriter (not Joni Mitchell), rockabilly, crooners
Metal,soul, funk, disco
Singers on my no list
George Michael, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Sylvester, Erasure, Bronski Beat, Billy Idol, Robert Plant, Rick Astley, basically any Soul singers, Prince, James Brown jesus fucking christ, Gloria Gaynor, Teddy Pendergrass (oh honey no)
Songs I'm really excited to do in future
- Never going to give you up
- literally any led zeppelin
- literally any peter gabriel
- I've Been to a Marvellous Party
- In Dreams - Roy Orbson
- This Charming Man/There Is A Light - Smiths
- Kiss from a Rose or Crazy
- Rasputin - Boney M (August: getting there!)
- Adriano Celentano - prisencolinensinainciusol
- Babe I'm GOnna Leav You - (needs swagger, but even pitch shifted dwn nobody wants 6 minutes of me doing this)
Songs I've actually done!
- Grease Lightning
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Nature Boy (nightmare)
- Crazy Little Thing Called Love
- Reasons to be Cheerful
- Can't Help Falling In Love
- Common People
- Carpet Crawlers (so lovely)
- There are Worse Things I Could Do
- I Can't Dance (ropey but the audience loved it)
- Cruella de VIlle (OMG)