Within 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 Performancese Book and in the free archive on the site.