Nothing can win you quite as much glory — or hurl you to the depths of shame — as karaoke night. It’s the everyman’s chance to grasp a fleeting taste of rock stardom. A crack in the voice means a crack in your pride, a sharp note cuts worse than any knife. So, yeah, it’s important to be prepared. For that, we turned to Vancouver vocal coach Spencer Welch for advice on how to own any stage.
Preparation, Spencer says, should start long before showtime. “Singing is an athletic activity, but with tiny muscles,” he says. Hyrdation is paramount. “Don’t wait until you’re onstage doing Dark Knight impressions to finally drink some water. Start sipping hours before showtime.”
Think about skipping the draught and order a highball instead. You’ll want the straw that comes with it. “While you’re waiting for your moment, take that straw out of your glass and hum into it,” Spencer says. “Don’t let any sound come out your nose, just sing everything straight through that bad boy.” This will prep your vocal chords for their debut.
But physical preparation is useless without the proper mindset. “Stage fright is real. So before the first bars kick out the speaker, you need to focus.” Visualize, Spencer says. “Picture yourself in the room. Hear the pretentious DJ announce your name. Watch yourself walk up, start the song confidently, sing through it masterfully. See yourself saunter off that stage to a standing O from the adulating masses.”
Of course your success all comes down to song selection. How do you find a track that compliments your voice? Should you go for the obscure deep cut or the beloved standard? “Song selection is like picking out a good suit,” Spencer says. “First, does the thing fit? Second, does the suit suit you?”
“Study the list of tired, clichéd tunes and avoid them. No, there will be no ‘Stairway,’ no ‘No Woman, No Cry.’ Your song selection will be the source of her tears. However, there is nothing wrong with a sing-along. You can’t miss with Neil — Young or Diamond — you make the call.”
You’ve chosen your Neil (Diamond, obviously), your pipes are warmed up, your name has been called, the time is now. So what’s the protocol once you’re onstage? “First, the microphone is your friend. Eat it like an ice-cream cone; you should have the top rounded portion pointed straight into your mouth about one or two inches away.”
Assume what Spencer calls the “Noble Posture.” “Keep your chest comfortably high, shoulders back and down, head balanced over your spine. This frees up your breathing to be natural and supportive of your vocal needs.“
Save the Song
And if the worst should happen? Your voice begins to shake, sweat streams down your temples. Somehow you’re sharp and flat at the same time. How can you salvage a rapidly tanking performance?
“Two things,” Spencer says. “Simplify your approach and focus on your audience. Sometimes we’re just doing too much on stage: fancier riffs, higher pitches, louder ‘money’ notes.”
It’s too late to back out, so fake it till you make it. “Instead, project confidence. Ever notice it’s not the best singer that gets the biggest applause? It’s the guy who performs the bejesus out of the song. If you look like you’re having fun, that gives the audience permission to join you.”
Finally, what’s the proper way to humbly accept fan love after the final note? “A simple ‘thank you, glad you enjoyed it’ goes a long way. Don’t feign humility by cutting down your performance: ‘Oh no, I really sucked.’ Unless you did.”