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Singer's Blog by Jeannie Deva

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Mariah CareyWithin hours of Mariah Carey opening her Chanteuse tour in Tokyo on October 4, 2014, the media was awash with insulting videos and news stories about how badly she sounded. If you listen to the sample YouTube video of her show that is posted on TMZ.com, even taking into consideration the poor recording quality of the video, it is clear that a once great singer has run aground on the rocks of vocal blow-out like so many before her.

Rather than engage in slanderous and insensitive comments, like those posted on TMZ and elsewhere, I’d like to address the possible causes of this vocal-blowout so that singers can avoid this painful fate. Many think that over-singing is the cause of vocal blow-out. The definition of this term is vague, but it often refers to singing too many hours or too intensively over short periods of time or belting or embellishing excessively when singing. This appears to be, but is not the actual reason for vocal blow-out. The actual reason is doing a lot of singing when any of the following problems are present:

1.      Emotional Distress. The human voice is emotion sensitive which is why it can be such a powerful instrument. Singers can convey their emotions much more directly than instrumentalists. Unfortunately, this means that when a singer is emotionally distraught, the resulting tension and stress on the voice can be damaging. With rumors of divorce, it’s not surprising that Mariah may be emotionally stressed.

2.      Harmful Substances. When a person is emotionally stressed, it’s not unusual for them to resort to drugs and alcohol to relieve their discomfort. These substances are really poisons and stress the body even further. For singers specifically, drugs and alcohol dehydrate and irritate the mucous membranes of the vocal folds which can lead to a number of vocal health issues.

3.      Poor Diet and Inadequate Rest and Exercise. Singers are like vocal athletes and they need to eat well and get sufficient sleep and exercise. These things are easily neglected when on tour and during rigorous rehearsal schedules.

4.      Vocal Warm-ups and Cool-downs. To respond well all muscles should be limbered before vigorous use. Vocal warm-ups are essentially voice muscle limbering exercises. After demanding physical use, vocal cool-downs return your voice muscles to their normal speaking condition. How warm-ups and cool-downs work is covered elsewhere in my blog and the free lesson archive on this site.

5.      Incorrect or Incomplete Vocal Technique. I saved this one for last because it is the most important. When you hear a great singer like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, you assume that they have great vocal technique. Certainly, they are doing many things right in order to sound so good. However, they usually have small flaws in their technique that may only cause slight tension but over time and under the stress of intense singing engagements irritate the vocal folds enough to result in vocal blow-out.

It is also worth mentioning that like any muscle, the vocal folds need certain types of properly done exercises to develop the stamina needed for long hours of singing: Vocal performance requires stamina but does not itself develop it.

All of the above points are covered in more detail in my Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances eBook and in the free archive on the site.

Comments

  1. Athena on October 28, 2014 at 11:09 PM said:
    Thank you for this blog post. Mariah is one of my favorite singers. I noticed a decline in her voice several years ago. I think everything you mentioned is probably the cause of her vocal loss. Its also a reminder of how important it is to warm up and cool down even if you are constrained for time. I also read that earlier in her career she was forced to sing over & over for long periods of time in the studio. She is also a VERY emotional singer, and like you said, her technique could be flawed in how she hits notes during those emotional times. Either way, she is still very gifted and successful. Her fans still love her. No one is perfect. I think the media expects too much from people. She's human like the rest of us with flaws. I wish her all the best as she continues to make music. thank you for the DEVA method.
  2. Amanda on October 29, 2014 at 5:02 AM said:
    Thanks, this is interesting! Given all the ways our society worships talent, it's surprising to realize it doesn't give you superpowers, and that divas still need to follow the same rules as everyone else!
  3. Teresa Ines Coelho on October 29, 2014 at 5:46 AM said:
    Hi Jeannie, Loved your article! I also noticed the frenzy around Mariah Carey's singing problem and also thought about the negative approach that seemed to take place. Hopefully, she'll be fully recovered soon and back to enchanting everyone again!!
  4. BOB (A SINGER) on October 29, 2014 at 10:27 AM said:
    THIS IS SO SPOT ON TRUE. IN PARTICULAR, THE IMPACT OF PART 1, EMOTIONAL DISTRESS. YOU CAN BE DEPRESSED AND THIS WILL DRAIN OUT YOUR MENTAL INTENT AND IMAGERY, WHICH FUELS THE TONE, POWER, AND EMOTION. I AM GOING THROUGH THIS ISSUE MYSELF.
  5. Zara on October 29, 2014 at 1:30 PM said:
    Poor Mariah! Having been there myself, as have many of my singer friends, I know that when you're gigging every night and vocal problems occur, you hope that if you bury your head in the sand the problems will go away. Illness is an obvious cause, but it is easy to underestimate the impact of emotional stress and medication - ANY medication, not just drugs and alcohol - on the voice. Really, Mariah should be on voice rest, but that would disappoint her fans even more than a poor performance; let's face it, she's in a position of 'damned if she does, damned if she doesn't'. In the main, the public don't 'get it'. Neither do some 'singers' - check out Mel B's appalling ignorance on X-Factor - she accused contestant Ben Haenow of being a "wuss" after he complained of feeling ill during rehearsals. "We all get ill," she said. "When you go on tour, you're just going to have to deal with that. So be a man and don't complain." Perhaps he was just looking out for the future of his singing career, Mel.
  6. Michael Plishka on October 29, 2014 at 8:25 PM said:
    Great reminders. Thanks! When listening to Adele's pre-surgery tunes, I often wondered if some of her squeaks and squeals might have been at the expense of her vocal cords. It's almost like the tension was tangible in her vocal folds. I also find it interesting that since the surgery, she seems to do less of the punch and squealing.
  7. Brenda Jean on October 30, 2014 at 7:21 AM said:
    #1, Emotional Distress: This is so true. When I found myself singing two notes at once (without intending to!), I went to my choir director with alarm. He immediately asked "Are you under stress?" Was I ever, at that time, though no other form of vocal or self abuse was present. It might be wise to refrain from singing at such times, and also to find ways to release/resolve stress. Mine is lying on the ground, preferably under trees.
  8. Andrea Gerak on November 3, 2014 at 9:01 AM said:
    As a singer, singing for several hours almost every day and often open air even in the colder seasons, I can only agree with all of these points. To #2, I would add: SMOKING is deadly for the voice, even passive smoking. I love your warm-up & cool-down exercises Jeannie, I often do a couple of them in between sets when I am singing. They do wonder!
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