What is the X Factor? Dictionary.com defines it as "a special talent or quality." I'm not sure how Simon Cowell defines it, but he seems to know it when he sees it, and so does the great British public.
Some people say that you've either 'got' The X Factor or you haven't. I'm a singer myself, but not the kind with the cojones to get onstage in front of a panel of judges on national TV. Still, I think that anybody can work on their singing overtime and perhaps gain that elusive 'X Factor...'
And how? With technology and hard work of course! So, here's a collection of apps, sites and software that'll help you improve as a singer, produce your music and gain exposure for your sounds.
Why: There's definitely a lot to be said about success in music being about who you know. So you gotta know people, right? One golden way to make connections who might be able to help in your quest to musical world domination is LinkedIn, the world's largest professional networking tool.
LinkedIn has it's own set of principles and etiquette and you won't get far spamming people links to your music. Check out this article on LinkedIn etiquette for more info on how to do it right.
On LinkedIn, I'm in a number of music industry groups. These are quite useful since they directly connect you to label A&R and music publishers, who are pretty good to know.
Use: Networking, Exposure
Why: Everybody knows what Youtube is for, and you are probably aware of the successes of the likes of Justin Bieber, and many others who were first 'discovered' on Youtube. Technically the world's second biggest search engine after Google, it is a fantastic and free way to expose your music to new listeners and make connections with other musicians.
In my experience, posting covers as video responses to already popular songs is one of the fastest ways to gain traffic to your videos. But be ready for the comment abuse that inevitably comes with Youtube.
Use: Downloading instrumental tracks to practice with.
Why: Putting these vocal skills of yours to use is easier with a song you already know and love. The easiest way to do this is to find a high quality instrumental track of the piece you want to cover, which puresolo.com has in abundance. It's basically karaoke as vocal practice. And, if you do ever end up on the X Factor, you'll probably be singing somebody else's song anyway. So get some practice in already!
Use: Producing your music
Why: As far as music production software goes, Reaper is one of the most powerful and easy ones to pick up. Using Reaper, a microphone and some freely/cheaply available VST plugins online, you can properly make music, if you happen to be a songwriter as well.
Like other software of this kind, with Reaper you can record, compose, mix and master an entire track on your own. Of course, this is no mean feat and you may opt for some professional help if you are putting together an album, but it's all in the program.
I've managed to do a lot with an old Shure SM57 microphone, my copy of Reaper and some plugins on OSX.
Use: Fixing vocal tracks or going full T Pain/Cher (etc) on your vocal takes...
Why: Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last two decades, you've probably heard Autotune in action. The basic idea? Pitch correction - any notes sung out of tune, are immediately corrected to fit it with the rest of the song. The uses of Autotune vary from hardcore T Pain/Cher style effects to more subtle work in tidying up 'off notes' in a take. Handy, if like me, your high range stretches you a bit a times.
If you fancy coughing up some money, and are comfortable with quite technical programs, this could be worth your time.
Use: 'Reverse karaoke' - it takes almost whatever vocal you throw at it, adding backing music and making it sound better.
Why: Wired.com said that LaDiDa 'turns bad singing into good songs'. We're hoping that your singing isn't actually bad, but still, this app could come in handy. So how does it work?
Sing or rap into your phone and it'll compose music to match what you've sung. Along with the ability to autotune your voice and fix those 'off' notes, it's also got some studio effects built in, such as reverb, flange, delay and chorus. All of which help your vocal takes sound like they've had more production work done to them, and hopefully more professional.
It's fun, but won't really do for creating something unique. Plus with that many effects, the je'ne'sais'quoi of your voice can get lost in all the technology. So use sparingly!
Use: Like having your own personalised vocal tutor, but without the hourly fees.
Why: Voice Tutor has a pretty impressive rep. Kelly Rowland says 'everybody' should be using it. The idea is simple, it analyses your vocal technique and then provides you with a series of lessons based around the aspects of your technique that need improving. Simple, but effective.
I like it because the idea of paying for lessons every week puts me off, but this is just a one off payment afterall...