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Selective Hearing Explained

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If you’ve ever watched one of those ‘Popstars‘ / ‘Pop Idol‘ programmes then you’ll have come across an interesting phenomenon. Pop Idol was a show where wannabe pop stars would turn up to auditions, sing to a panel of judges, and the best ones would be invited to a further audition and so on until just a few remained (all in front of the cameras). These few would then be judged by the nation on television and each week one of the wannabe’s would be sent home. Eventually one remained and they’d get a record deal and with all the publicity they’d be a hit overnight. But the best part of the show was the earlier episodes where people would walk into the auditions.

The fun wasn’t in watching future stars being discovered, but in hearing the stinging criticism of the judges and seeing the tears from people whose dreams of being a singer were shattered in a matter of seconds. People would turn up and believe that they’d go all the way. They didn’t think they were great. The knew they were great. But they weren’t counting on one simple fact… They were utterly terrible singers. The judges didn’t help much by playing up to the cameras and coming up with lines like “you should get your lawyer to sue your singing coach”, however the point remained that loads of people who clearly had no musical talent firmly believed that they did. Why?

I’ve experienced this disillusion myself. If I’m very very drunk and you manage to get me to sing on a Karaoke machine (just you try it when I’m sober and we’ll see how far you get) then I’ll sound great, hitting every high note and singing in perfect key. But I’ll be alone in that belief. If I sing in the shower (drunk or sober, it doesn’t matter) then again I’ll sound fine – Robbie Williams eat your heart out. So if a couple of my friends or family also say that I’ve got a great voice then I could be forgiven for thinking that I do (don’t panic, it’s never happened yet). But I’d be dead wrong.

To help me out I’ve enlisted the help of 21st century technology. I played a nice easy sing-along song on my stereo – ‘Back For Good’ by ‘Take That’. I then switched on my computer and recorded myself as I sang along to the song (in perfect key, or so I thought). When I played it back I heard what I actually sound like – and it wasn’t pretty. It would be fair to say that I’m no future singing star and you wouldn’t want me to sing at your wedding – not unless you want to try and have the shortest marriage in history.

But the paradox is that I can tell a good singer from another. I can tell when an instrument is out of tune. But I can’t tell how bad my singing is until I record it and play it back. I’m convinced it’s something to do with evolution.

Imagine that a pack of wolves was moving in on your ancestor’s cave. But your ancestor was singing because, to him, it sounded like the voice of an angel and it kept him in good spirits. As soon as the ravenous wolves heard this wailing they high-tailed it out of there. If the caveman knew how bad his voice was he wouldn’t sing and the next pack of grizzlies to pass by would eat him for breakfast. But deluded into thinking he was great guaranteed his survival.

Okay, I admit it, I’m no historian. And that’s about the most unlikely sequence of events ever. But there has to be some reason for it… Anyway, I’ll give you this warning. If you think you’re a good singer then just make sure that you actually are by recording and listening to yourself. If you still think you’re good then you’re either a liar, or you actually are. Either way, you should get out more.

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

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