The Trannex

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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:

  1. 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
  2. Something with a story or a character - to help you "perform" it
  3. Fast, fun, upbeat, silly is a lot easier to nail than a ballad or slow song
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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:

  1. Warm up and do vocal exercises
  2. Actually practice it! This is my karaoke hidden weapon: approach it like a performance.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. Look up how the performer moves and especially how they fill in any 'dead time' like a long instrumental
  6. Warm up before the party
  7. 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.
  8. 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)
  9. 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

Spoken Word

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

Tell a Story

Country & Western storytelling

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.

Gravelly Guys

Brassy Girls

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)

Crooners

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.

I'm a baritone, so that includes:

Unsorted

on my song watchlist atm

Good genres

Punk, post-punk, folk, protest songs, country-and-western, some singer-songwriter (not Joni Mitchell), rockabilly, crooners

Bad genres

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