I got this question from one of my All About Voice Tribe members, and thought that it would make for an informative Voicegram, even if you don't sing Karaoke. This can apply to anyone who sings with accompaniment, and it's all about knowing what Key you're singing in, and how to handle difficult stage situations.
The question was this:
"Do DJ's fiddle with the music when singing karaoke? I find it very easy to sing out of tune when I sing with karaoke music because I think the DJ fiddles with the music. Could I be right?" - N
Oh, yes, you could certainly be right!! Let's take a light-hearted look at several things that could be happening, and again, this goes for anyone singing on stage with a P.A. system to tracks or live music.
ONE: Having done a bit of 'secret' Karaoke myself, I know that most Pro Karaoke rigs have a 'transpose' feature, which means that you can change the key up or down, on the fly when someone is singing. So probably, the well-meaning Karaoke Host changed the key while you were singing to help you out, and maybe put the song in a more comfortable range for your voice.
By doing this, though, he totally threw you off because your ear was accustomed to the 'original' key, and your head got completely twisted when your helpful Host kicked you up or down a couple of steps! Alas, one would hope that people were talking so loudly over your song that they didn't notice your major vocal train wreck!
Solution: Before you begin singing - tell the Host you would like the song to be in the original version's key. If you can't sing it well in the original key, pick another song!
TWO: This next common mistake that people make when choosing backing tracks, or songs at a Karaoke bar is a biggy! Many times when I'm coaching a singer, they will bring in a track to a song they love, but the original song was sung by the opposite gender! This poses a serious problem, because 99% of the time, women and men sing in different keys and registers. So if a woman shows up at Kupid's Karaoke requesting to sing a Frank Sinatra song, it will be annoyingly high for her (since it's in Sinatra's original key!), and she will fall victim to #ONE - the DJ may attempt to salvage her performance by lowering the key while she's singing. Even trained ears are challenged by weird modulations, so a beginning Karaoke Queen will be deer-in -the-headlights, scrambling to find some shred of tone to hang on to! Or she will be stuck on stage screeching out a song that is not suited for her voice, too high, or too low!
Solution: If you're singing to tracks, pick tunes that were originally done by your own gender, that are in a comfortable key for you! If you're singing with real musicians, know your Key!
THREE: If you aren't used to singing onstage with sound equipment, the problem could be as simple, but as important as not being able to hear yourself! If you can't hear your own voice in relation to the track, or can't hear the track well enough to determine your relative pitch to it, you're in big Karaoke doo-doo! Having worked many loud establishments (that's a nice way of putting it), I can tell you that being able to have good sound is paramount to actually sounding good! Many a singer has been deemed 'difficult', 'a Diva', or worse, simply because they demanded that they have the proper EQ and reverb on their voice to make it sound great; as well as a good balance of voice to band/orchestra in their MONITOR.
Ah yes, the monitor! Most Karaoke bars won't have an elaborate enough set up to have a monitor, and woe-is-you if not! This is where you have to learn to run with the big dogs and do your best to sing on pitch, without pushing or screaming over the band. So what's a 'monitor'? A monitor is simply another speaker that's on the floor, or on a mic stand (small), turned towards you so that you can hear the track, or the band, and your own voice accurately. Nowadays, most artists have an in-the-ear monitor, but I wonder how well those actually work. Most of the time I see people ripping them out of their ear on TV or in concert because they don't seem to be doing them any good! The bottom line is - if you can't hear yourself, or your voice sounds bad, your placement, volume and overall performance will be affected. Over time and with experience you will be able to sing under most extreme conditions, but why work so hard??!
Solution: Drink a lot of beer before approaching the Karaoke stage so that you will think you sound good no matter what. (Just kidding!) Or just become proficient in knowing your voice and how to sing correctly so that nothing, not even poor sound, can throw you off of your brilliant execution! Gigging musicians, invest in a good monitor, and use it, no matter how small the venue.
I've been a bit glib in this Voicegram, but having worked gigs where the stage fell down; the mic cord came unplugged mid-ballad; there was so much stage 'fog' you couldn't breathe; and a revolving stage caused me to have motion sickness, I can say that gigging is always an adventure!
Whether it's Kupid's Karaoke or Karnegie Hall (oh, Carnegie Hall!), get to know how to talk to the sound person; learn the terminology; know your keys; go with the proverbial flow; and above all else.....have fun singing, no matter what happens on stage. Ride the bumps without showing your pain, and no one in your audience will be the wiser! Happy gigging!
�2013 Beth Lawrence