The men’s publication Sharp Magazine interviewed Spencer to get the skinny on how to up your karaoke game. Here’s the Q&A that the article We Asked a Vocal Coach to How to Suck Less at Karaoke by Grady Mitchell is based on:
Grady Mitchell: I’m a novice. How should I be warming up for my debut performance? Is there something I should eat/drink beforehand to prepare my vocal cords?
Spencer Welch: So you’ve finally mustered the courage to drag yourself onstage to belt out your favourite karaoke gem. Congrats! Now it’s time to bring your A game, Champ. The road to karaoke glory is littered with wanna-bes who uttered the three deadly words: “I’ll wing it.” Don’t be a wanna-be.
Singing is an athletic activity, but with tiny muscles. And just like Sydney Crosby preparing for the Olympic Gold Medal match, there is a definite pre-show regimen you need to run through.
First, sounding like Tom Waits is cool if you’re, well…Tom Waits. But not when you’re trying to croon some Bublé. So don’t wait until you’re onstage and your parched throat begins emitting Dark Knight impressions to finally drink some water. By then, it’s too late! You need to start sipping that H2O at least three hours before showtime. That’s hydration, my friend. That’s the commitment every aspiring rock god makes.
Second, one does not simply walk into a gym and immediately lift the heaviest object in near proximity. (Ok, granted, when you were 18 that worked, but now you’re a grown man, and exercising without a warmup is just asking for a lifetime membership at your local physio.) So why wouldn’t you warmup your vocal cords too before the main event?
How about some good warm-up exercises?
An athletic warmup is comprised of lighter activity and stretching. That’s also what the muscles inside your voice box (or larynx) need before you take on “Take On Me.” Here’s a quick, nifty way to warm up:
As Ryan Gosling taught us, straws in drinks = bad. But straws for vocal warmups = amazing! So while you’re in the karaoke bar waiting for your moment in the sun, take that useless straw out of your glass and hum into it. Yes, you heard me right, hum into it. Don’t let any sound come out your nose, just sing everything straight through that bad boy. Then slowly start to glide up and down with a buzzing siren sound.
No, I’m not trying to squelch your social proof with every female in the room. There is actual physics behind this madness.
Any foolproof pre-performance rituals to prepare yourself and quash the butterflies?
The final frontier is the game between your ears. It doesn’t matter if you hydrate, warmup, and memorize those arty Dylan lyrics, if, when the lights come up, you can’t…perform.
Stage fright is real, and many young Padawans have fallen under its insidious spell. So before you don the door of that bar, before the first bars of your magnum opus kick out the speaker, you need to focus.
Take a page from sport psychology: look at yourself in the mirror à la Eminem in 8 Mile. Play the song on your iPhone, but don’t sing. Just imagine.
Picture yourself in the room. Hear the pretentious DJ announce your name. Watch yourself walk up, start the song confidently, sing through it masterfully, and end with your signature Elvis dip, right hand aloft giving every fan an imaginary high five. See yourself saunter off that stage to a standing O from the adulating masses.
Let’s talk song selection. How do I choose a track that compliments my voice? Perhaps you could supply options for someone with a low voice, a higher voice, maybe a nasal or non-traditional voice (Bob Dylan-esque)?
Ok, song selection is like picking out a good suit. First, does the thing fit? Second, does the suit suit you?
Don’t wear a Sean Spicer potato sack, when your figure needs some Saville Row love. Similarly, there are songs that will fit your voice swimmingly. And others, not so much. But how do you know which is which?
The fastest, most efficient answer is to get a good vocal coach (*cough* shameless plug) to assess your voice, range, and tone. But if that isn’t possible (*cough* cheapskate), record yourself singing on your phone. Then as you listen back, ask yourself which artists have a similar vocal colour and weight like yours.
If you sound like deep, dark mocha, maybe dig into some Johnny Cash or Barry White. If it’s a lighter froth, try early Elton or some Marvin. But if telemarketers regularly say “Can I please speak with your dad?” the King of Pop and The Weeknd are your go-tos.
Secondly, does the song suit you? Do you sound believable? Which bring us to: do you believe in the song? If I don’t buy that your life consists of tickling the ivories for drunk old men reminiscing about what went wrong along the way, then don’t come selling no Billy Joel round here.
You have to bring your audience along for the ride. That means singing songs with a style, lyric, and mood that you have first-hand experience with. It has to sound like you’ve been singing that same song your whole life as an existential anthem.
Do you think I should go for the beloved standard track or dig into the more obscure deep cuts?
When picking your winning showstopper, study the verboten list of tired, clichéd tunes and avoid them! No, there will be “No Stairway.” Denied. And ix-nay on the “No Woman, No Cry”– your song selection will be the source of her tears. However, there is nothing wrong with a good ol’ sing-along. You can’t miss with Neil – Young or Diamond – you make the call.
Mining the more obscure deep cuts to be original might work, but handle with care. “Let’s go to the karaoke bar to hear Patchouli Pete sing Grateful Dead B-sides” — said no one ever.
Want to learn more about what and how to practice for karaoke glory? Check out our video series Singing 911!