G#2 ~ C#6 (3 octaves, 2 notes and 1 semitone)
F#3 ~ Eb4/E4
- Extensive mixed voice range
- Pitch is generally precise
- Able to produce a sound that projects quite well
- Has developed a part of his range with minimal tension
- Sings with a dropped jaw allowing more space for his sound to project
- Tends to sing straight from his throat
- Sings with a lot of air pressure over compressing the vocal cords
- Most of his range is sung with no support and tension
- His mixed voice is generally pushed, tight and shouty
- His head voice is mostly tense
- His lower range lacks development and becomes breathy quite early on
- Lower register: Generally quite breathy and underdeveloped. Sings without connecting his vocal cords nor supporting properly below F#3.
- Mixed register: His most used register. Tends to stay in this range for most of his songs and has a quite extensive range in this register, however support is rarely ever present. Almost always sounds compressed and shouty, even as early as D4.
- Upper register: His least used register, as he generally opts for staying in his mixed. He has sung quite high in his head voice, but tends to sing the same way he would in his mix; with over compressed and pushed air pressure and no true support.
As a rock singer, Lee Soo rarely ever sings songs that require any form of vocal agility. He is a vocalist who generally focuses on dynamics and range over vocal runs. As his influences are less geared towards R&B and genres that need runs, his vocal performances are focused more on singing in his mixed voice with power rock ballads. The few times he does attempt vocal runs, it’s possible to hear that he struggles to find the individual pitches for each note and slides generally off pitch, like in “고해.”
Lee Soo debuted as the main vocalist of band Moon Child in 2000, when the K-pop scene was still being established and solo artists were more common, prior to idol groups. Although their initial debut wasn’t very successful, after the departure of one of the original members of the band, they renamed their band M.C. The Max and re-debuted as a trio. Lee Soo is one of the four most prominent male vocalists in Korea, being part of the “Four Vocal Kings.” The group is named 김나박이 (Kim, Na, Park, Lee), in alphabetical order, referring to each vocalist’s first name syllable: Kim Bum Soo, Naul, Park Hyoshin, and Lee Soo. They are all known for their legendary status due to their extensive vocal ranges, having all debuted around the same time and grown in success over the years as prominent male soloists. Each of them has influenced the way current idols sing, as Naul influenced many with more of an R&B flavor, whereas Park Hyoshin inspired many vocalists to adopt a more husky sound, while Lee Soo also inspired a lot of the high belting that’s very common amongst tenors in K-pop nowadays. More interestingly nowadays it seems people are also including Ha into the name, referring to Ha Hyunwoo, who currently holds the record for longest winning streak on King of Mask Singer.
Despite being recognized as one of the four best vocalists in Korea, when it comes down to vocal technique there is very considerable gap between Lee Soo and the other three vocalists. As he is greatly known for his extensive upper mixed voice range and his high notes, his lower range is a very neglected part of his voice. With barely any development, his chest voice is very under explored and thus the thyroarytenoid muscles aren’t very developed. As such, he tends to sing without much projection in his lower range, unable to maintain proper chest placement or support. His voice becomes breathy, soft and foggy quite early on, even as high as F3 such as in “별“, where one can hear a clear lack of development in his chest voice muscles. This makes his chest voice possibly his least developed register overall. Examples of his chest voice lacking development include the Bb2’s and G#2’s in a low note battle with the other members of MC The Max, as well as the B2‘s and E3‘s in “사랑했지만,” and Eb3’s in “단 한번의 사랑.”
His mixed voice range is impressive in its extension. Although there is a clear lack of development of proper technique, his potential range is very extensive. This shows that had he developed his vocal cords properly, he would probably have an even larger range than what he currently uses. Unfortunately for many vocalists who debuted in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, including idol groups such as H.O.T., Shinhwa, Sechskies and G.O.D., they were all diamonds in the rough with a lot of potential but little to no understanding of proper vocal technique. Some have gone on to rework on their vocal technique and properly develop their voices, while others have not changed their vocal habits over the years at all and have been singing with unhealthy technique ever since their debut.
Lee Soo is no exception to this rule. When it comes to his mixed voice, he tends to overly compress his vocal cords together by keeping them very tight together while pushing a lot of air pressure from the diaphragm. When singing it is important to have a healthy balance between the amount of air being pushed from the diaphragm into the vocal cords while keeping a tight enough stretch of the vocal cords. However some vocalists teach themselves to push, not allowing the throat to stay as opened, so they over exaggerate the amount of stretch and air pressure and end up singing with a very shouty technique. This is exactly how Lee Soo sings. Healthy relaxed support is barely ever present in his voice. However since his mixed voice is well developed in range and is sung with minimal chest voice, he can push his range much higher than many vocalists with this technique. Arguably speaking, he is a gifted talent when it comes to his natural range. Nonetheless he is still a diamond in the rough even after all these years of singing with a very abusive vocal technique.
Thus whenever Lee Soo sings in his mixed voice, he tends to sound rather bright and considerably projected. However this is all achieved by singing with a high larynx and a pushed amount of air pressure, which causes him to sound pressed, tight and strained even as early as D4 in his mixed voice, as heard in “사랑했지만.” Below F#4 he may also at times push his larynx down, as heard in “붉은 노을.” As he sings higher, his voice starts to only become louder and louder. He shows a lack of ability to sing in his mixed voice without being loud, because his vocal cords have never been properly developed to mix in a healthy way, so due to the over excessive air pressure, he can only sing high when he sings loudly. The higher he sings, he tends to lower his jaw and allow the sound to project better, but he becomes shouty quite quickly. This can be heard with the Eb4’s and E4’s in “고해,” F4’s in “별,” F#4’s in “Lonely Night,” G4’s in “잠시만 안녕,” G#4’s in “그대가 분다” and “붉은 노을,” A4’s in “그대는 눈물겹다” and “사랑했지만,” Bb4’s in “그대가 분다,” B4’s in “One Love,” C5’s in “그대가 분다” and “행복하지말아요,” C#5’s in “붉은 노을” and “그대그대그대,” and D5’s in “어디에도” and “그것만이 내세상,” and Eb5’s in “단 한번의 사랑.” The only range in which Lee Soo is able to sing with some form of relaxed support, although shallow, seems to be only up to Eb4/E4, as heard in “그대가 분다” and “행복하지말아요,” although the consistency is questionable due to his choice of pushing most of the time.
His upper register mostly consists of a head voice. He doesn’t often use this register but has shown that if he needs to sing softly within the fourth octave of the piano, he is able to switch into this register when unable to use his mixed voice. An example would be “행복하지 말아요.” Most of the time he avoids using his head voice, instead opting to sing as high as possible in his mixed voice. His head voice as he gets higher shows the same issues that he has in his mixed voice, over compressed air pressure. The higher he goes, he tends to attempt to emulate the sound of his mixed voice in his head voice, so he places his sound in the mask and pushes with more air pressure and a high larynx, becoming shouty and strained as he switches into his head voice. This can be heard in “잠시만 안녕” when he transitions from his mixed voice at D5, to F5, G5 and Bb5 in a very pushed and shouty head voice. His highest head voice to date is said to be C#6. Much like the rest of his range, support is barely present in this register as well.
His biggest asset aside from his extensive mixed voice range is his natural musicality. He knows how to use his voice dynamically and knows how to soften up his volume for the verses of his songs, while becoming very loud and emotionally climatic during the choruses and bridges of songs. Despite the unhealthy technique he uses, this seems to captivate most of his listeners and translates well into the average person’s perception of singing. Perhaps not the most technical vocalist out of all Korean legends, he still stays true to the essentials of Korean ballads and what it means to sing Korean music. The focus on dynamics and “emotions” is very important to the average Korean person, as well as big high notes during climaxes of songs. So he’s able to bypass his technical flaws by doing the bare minimum of what most people perceive as “emotion” in singing.
When it comes down to vocal technique, Lee Soo doesn’t quite fit well in the group of 4 big vocalists from Korea. He is not an example of healthy technique, nor an example of a well developed overall voice. However he does deserve the respect of many for his legacy and his artistry. Differently from many 90’s vocalists who have changed their technique, such as Park Hyoshin, who received backlash for not sounding like they originally did when they debuted, Lee Soo chose to stick to his musical roots. It would be advisable that he changes his technique before it’s too late for his voice when it’s damaged beyond repair, as singing Rock does not mean a vocalist has to sing in a unhealthy manner. Every genre can be sung in with healthy technique, all it takes is discipline and the willingness to change. Changing his approach would not affect his overall sound and would not interfere with his artistry, even if at first it may be hard to adjust to.
Lee Soo is more of a musical vocalist than anything else. He may at times add changes to his own musical compositions, but tends to stick to the original written melody of a song instead. He is always a lot more focused on singing softly during verses and allowing songs to grow into dramatic rock ballad climaxes throughout the choruses of his vocal performances. There is a clear preference for dynamics over musical changes in songs, they all seem to follow a specific formula that works for him and the musical image he’s built over the years.
Best Vocal Performance(s)
Vocal Range Video(s)
video by: 쌈자를 몰랑ᄏ ᄏ
Analyzed by Ahmin (Kitsunemale)