Vocal preservation

March 9, 2012 by Stu Chisholm


Although it might seem like we’re all one big, happy family, we writers here at Mobile Beat don’t always agree with each other. In fact, one of the very first pieces of mine published here expressed an opposing view to something
I’d read on these pages. It doesn’t happen often, because our people really know their stuff! But it has happened again, and this time the topic is on how to best care for your voice, that one thing a DJ can’t do without.
In the December 2011 issue, my fellow scribe and DJ extraordinaire, Arnoldo Offerman, shared his advice on voice care, and what he said was spot on. Yet as I read it, I kept looking for the one sentence that never appeared?


It was during the Mobile Beat Summer Show in Cleveland back in 1999 that I tagged-along with several DJ revelers to explore that fair city’s legendary entertainment district known as “The Flats.” As so often happens, we ended up in an extremely loud bar where even casual conversation required yelling at the top of our lungs. As one might expect, the next day my voice was shot. It took several days to recover. I contacted a friend to ask him for some advice. His name is Barry Carl, and he’s uniquely qualified to speak on the topic, as he was the legendary bass man for the a cappella group, Rockapella, best known for “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego” and various Folger’s coffee commercials. When I explained what happened, his first bit of advice was, “Stop hanging around in loud Cleveland bars.” But then he went on to say, “Let the mic do the work.” This was the sentence I kept looking for in Arnoldo’s article.


Unless they’re working in community theater or on a Broadway stage, mobile DJs don’t always have to practice projection and diaphragmatic breathing. A better strategy is to take a tip from the radio jocks and use microphones with a nice, tight front end. Mobile DJs often overlook this aspect of the mic, focusing more on the new bandwidth considerations, effective range (for wireless mics) and price. Yet the pick-up pattern of the microphone will allow a DJ to use the amplification (gain) of his PA system to project his voice, rather than having to yell during an event. If the pattern is too “sloppy,” the result will be feedback that even a feedback eliminator can?t completely cure.
This strategy also allows DJs to use the full range of their vocal gifts! Properly amplified, you will regain all of the inflection you use during conversation “lost when yelling” and even a whisper will command attention even with the loudest, most rambunctious audiences.


All the other tips Arnoldo shared were right on: Don’t shout, warm up before an event and cool down with some vocal exercises afterward, drink plenty of water, use proper breathing techniques and so on. (I highly recommend re-reading the article!) I’ll only add that, aside from the empty calories and sugar considerations, the admonition against soda (pop, for all you Midwestern readers) isn’t entirely true. As correctly pointed out, overly clearing one’s throat or coughing does put strain on vocal cords and the carbonation of soda can lessen the need. Warm drinks, such as green or liquorice tea, are also beneficial. Lastly, vocal cords need to remain moist to be flexible, so along with lots of water, some tricks used by professional singers and vocalists include keeping some slippery elm lozenges on hand and running a humidifier at night.
We spend a lot of time during our days on what we might call “maintenance:” shaving, brushing teeth, exercising and on and on. We’ll spend buckets of money for exercise machines, vitamins, teeth whitener, you name it. For those of us who depend on our voices for a living, it’s a must to devote just as much time, money and effort incorporating vocal care into our daily routines.
Until next time, safe spinnin’! MB

Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (52 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.

Filed Under: 2012, Mobile DJ Performance Tips, Playlists, Songs & Music Charts, Sound Engineering for Mobile DJs