May 19, 2021
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A Cappella Queen McFerrin On the Voice As An Instrument


Soul singer Madison McFerrin is known for her a cappella harmonies, from which she creates entire tracks in real-time on stage with the help of her loop pedal. Music and singing were ingrained in McFerrin from birth by her father Bobby, a famous singer himself (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) and her grandfather, an opera singer. After studying at Berklee College of Music and briefly performing in a band and as a duo, she soon started performing solo with a loop pedal, and has since earned a reputation for her mesmerizing one-woman shows. In an interview with LOUDER, she reveals how technology informs her approach to singing and why she considers the voice as an instrument.

The Possibilities of Technology

The use of the loop pedal allows McFerrin to conjure complex tracks from her a cappella harmonies. She states that her approach to singing is influenced by the use of technology mostly in terms of how she sequences her songs: “When I compose these pieces, I make all of the layers and then I have to figure out what order I’m supposed to sing them in – not only from an interval standpoint of what’s the easiest way to find my next note – but also how can I build this so it sounds most interesting.” 

In addition, she appreciates the convenience of the loop pedal for touring: “I just have the one pedal and it fits in a backpack – everything I need to perform fits in a backpack”. Its use offers her a lot of room for experimentation: “I’m able to use my voice in a more technological realm outside of any other instruments, so I think it’s pretty cool.” 

The Voice As An Instrument

With a cappella recordings, there are no produced beats to build on, so McFerrin starts from scratch and creates that base herself with her voice. For her a cappella tracks, she records each track twice, doubled and panned. As a result, for some of her songs such as “Insane”, which has ten layers, twenty tracks need to be recorded, not including the lead and background vocals.

Also when singing more traditional songs with lyrics rather than a cappella, the singer regards her voice as an instrument: “It’s the first instrument, the one we get to carry around with us all the time. So, there’s nothing that I don’t approach from the standpoint of it being an instrument.”

The Calming Powers of Singing

What McFerrin loves most about singing is that music helps calm her mind down and brings her into the present: “Being on stage and singing is one of the most present feelings that I have”. Feeling connectivity with the audience is a big factor that plays into this. “There’s nothing like getting that feedback back and sharing that energy in the moment”, she says. 

Currently, McFerrin is working on a non-a cappella record, a five song EP produced by her brother. We’re excited to see where her path will lead her in the future! 


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Read the full interview with Madison McFerrin, which was published in SHURE’s LOUDER magazine here.
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