Bono and the rock stars who can’t stand the sound of their own voices

In a rare moment of self-effacement, Bono has admitted that he hates his own singing voice and cringes when he hears U2’s songs on the radio. The 61-year-old also dislikes his band’s name and often finds what they’ve done embarrassing.

The Irish musician is not usually known for his bashfulness. After all, U2 are the band who unilaterally foisted their 2014 album Songs of Innocence on half a billion iTunes users whether they wanted it or not. But Bono is far from alone in disliking his own voice. John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix hated how they sounded on record. Indeed, musicians’ insecurities about their voices stretches back to the dawn of recorded sound. In 1904, London-based opera singer Nellie Melba would only agree to release records once she’d received the thumbs up from her old father back in Australia after he’d heard a test pressing of a Traviata aria.

“I’ve been in the car when one of our songs has come on the radio and I’ve been the colour of, as we say in Dublin, scarlet. I’m just so embarrassed,” Bono told the Awards Chatter podcast. While the band sound “incredible”, he said his “Irish macho” voice was “strained” and not that macho at all. Most of his older songs, he went on, “make me cringe a little bit”.

But there’s a simple reason why we dislike the sound of our own voice: it’s not what we expect. “The voice we hear when we talk isn’t the one everyone else hears,” explains Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist and author. “Obviously we hear through our ears and the sound is processed through our brain. 

“But the acoustic stimulus that we’re getting is coming from inside our own skull: our voice travels through the bones in our head, meaning the voice we’re convinced we have is never the one we hear when it’s played back.” This means that our self-image is challenged when we hear our voice. “Having your assumptions challenged is uncomfortable,” adds Burnett.

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