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Karaoke techniques/ tips?

I have some questions that have been confusing me for a long time... It has to do with singing in karaoke, like those karaoke bars/ lounges/ rooms (not live venues).

Are there any rule of thumbs/ configurations for the music volume vs. mic volume? For instance, I have always found myself singing around something like music vol 17 and mic vol 14, and as music vol increases (for instance if its 20), I will desperately jack up the mic volume. However, there will be a point where the music vol gets too loud that no matter the mic volume, I can't hear myself over the speakers at all. When that happens, I revert to turning DOWN the music vol till its really low (like 9) and having mic volume slightly above (at about 13), in order to be able to hear myself (clearly) over the speakers. Sure, I know that karaoke is more about having fun, but not being able to hear myself really prevents me from properly applying the techniques I learnt, or even practicing seriously, the right way.

Having to constantly adjust the music/mic volume also causes some problems. It can only be done when I karaoke alone or with a very small group of people (to have the freedom to adjust the mic and music vol). If I go with a group of friends, what happens 90% of the time is that we just enter the room, grab the mics and start singing away (and obviously I would not be able to properly use technique as the only way to hear myself would be to sing/ yell loudly from my throat/ chest). The music volume at this point will be REALLY loud, and the mic volume slightly above, but in my opinion it only accommodates for group singing (shouting). Furthermore, if I do end up singing at the same time as another person (who does not have any technique whatsoever and just yells the song), it gets worse as my voice is not only drowned out by the music, but by the other person's voice as well.

What do the pros think? I'm pretty sure most of you here have plenty of experience in karaoke... to the point it might not even matter! Still, I am quite sure there are many secrets I might not have known about as I consider myself a beginner singer...

Any additional tips that apply to singing in karaoke rooms will be very much appreciated too!!!


  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346
    @rockandrollallday ,

    I'm going to try to answer some of your questions. There are several here and there are a number of reasons for the things happening that you ask about.

    First let me say, I'm not that familiar with Karaoke, or the equipment used, but I've been running sound systems for many years, and audio is audio, whether live bands, or live mics singing to pre-recorded music tracks.

    If you get a chance to do so, you should definitely spend a little time getting to know the system you'll be using. If you go to a Karaoke bar, that might not be possible, but some of your post seems to indicate that maybe you have your own system??

    Home systems may not be capable of very clear amplification of mics, and may have mediocre speaker systems.

    With audio, the entire signal chain affects the outcome of the process.

    You need a good mic, you need to use good mic technique, you need to use good vocal technique, and that mic needs to be electronically boosted by a good quality preamp, into a good quality amplification system, and that needs to be fed to a good quality set of speakers.

    The better the quality of each link in that chain, the more of a chance of getting good sounding vocals to come out of the speakers. At any point in that chain, if distortion occurs, you will get distortion from the speakers.

    So back to the sound check. You test the mic. No music to compete with. You need a monitor speaker that you can hear, pointed at you, so you can clearly hear your voice. Clearly. Crystal-clear...

    You work with the volume, the tone, the mic placement, and optimize the sound.

    All systems have limitations. You want to set the mic to where it sounds good, but is under the ceiling at which the sound will begin to degrade and/or distort.

    Next, you would want to bring the music (backing tracks) up to a decent level that does not obscure the vocals. You may have to work with this a bit. You are listening to make sure nothing is going into distortion and everything is crystal-clear.

    When you introduce additional singers, you will almost always need to bring down the mics. The reason for this is that the system will have a limit, and each additional voice will really crowd that limit. If, in the last step above, you had everything at about the limits of the system, and then you add another mic, or two, or three... the limits of the sytem are quickly exceeded, unless you have left sufficient headroom to accommodate the additional singers on top of the music and the original singer.

    So really you need to be well-below the total clean capacity of the system with just one singer and the music tracks, so that when more singers join in, there will be capacity still available to give everyone a slice of the available sound.

    It's a matter of it being better to underdo the volume rather than overdo it.

    What we are talking about here is called Gain Staging. Each stage in the audio chain needs to be well-below its threshold of distortion, with TONS of headroom available for surges and peaks in volume. Multiple singers will quickly eat up all available power resources in most sound systems and mixing consoles.

    This situation happens all the time in bands. Typically, individuals in the band spend lots of money on expensive, hi-powered amplifiers for their own instrument. They then make it where their own sound is dominant all the time. They can quickly drown out the vocals, or even just make the sound so loud that if you DID make the vocals that loud, the feedback would be deafening. If a band can't work together to create a good basic sound that allows the vocals to be heard clearly and plainly, then the singer is going to go hoarse and the sound is going to be terrible. It's that simple. Work together, or you're working against one another, and the singer loses.

    I've been running the audio in the bands I've played in for a long time, and we have to have an understanding that this isn't going to be a volume war. We are there to sound like an album being played by a live band, and to sound like a million bucks. Anything less is cheating your audience out of a great sound for the sake of someone's ego. That may mean that I play lighter than I would like to, as well as everyone else in the band, if that is what it takes to get that sound. We have excellent equipment, and it would be ridiculous to just keep turning up, trying to give everyone "more me". You have to work together. Listen to the sound that the audience is hearing. If it's not sounding great, figure out why, and make it sound great.

    If everybody just wants to do their own thing, then you get what you get. If everybody wants to get a great sound, it's easy when everybody does their part to make the whole sound better.

    I know the equipment you may be using may be different, and the situations may be different, but some of these things I am saying apply, because they are facts of audio systems.

    I hope some of this has helped you to get some ideas on how to have more fun with your Karaoke.

    All the Best!

  • Bob,

    Thank you so much for your quick reply as always! I was hesitant on asking this question for awhile (since it seems that hardly anyone talks about karaoke techniques), but I ended up reading all of your tips really carefully - not some, but all of it helped A LOT.

    It now makes a lot of sense to me, when you say that it is better to underdo than overdo the volume. I do not have my own system here, and frequent karaoke lounges for practice. Throughout these years of experience and trial and error, I guess I did what was best, which was to avoid singing with a large group for a long period of time, and only practiced alone in a room or with one other singing partner. The reason I avoided going with groups was as you described - casual singers go to karaoke with zero understanding of singing technique, and the necessity to do mic tests and volume checks, hence they end up shouting over the mic, drowning out others' voices, without bothering to adjust the music and mic volume. And when that happens, the person with the naturally highest (and most nasal) voice usually wins this meaningless battle.

    It really helps SO MUCH when you mentioned it is better to underdo the volume - when I do go to vol 9 for music and mic vol slightly higher (around 13), it does feel weird to have mic volume 'louder' than the music volume. However, when I do the mic test, I am able to hear myself clearly over the music (blending in nicely rather than drowning out the music), and albeit the music sounding rather soft to me (perhaps what I hear from the speakers are different from what others hear), when I do record myself, the music volume and mic volume seems perfect. It feels as though I am in a studio recording a song, which is why it is hard to do this with larger groups of people (who naturally want the volume to be as loud as possible so they can 'sing their hearts (or lungs) out'. One other thing was that I was not exactly sure if what I was doing is correct (I did not want to look absurd and seem 'over-serious' in a karaoke session), but now I know I can go ahead and hog the controls to adjust the volumes like a pro.

    By the way, I have also heard about singers using something like an earpiece (not sure of the exact term) to be able to hear themselves live, and always had the misconception that the band is able to play as loud as they want but the singer can still hear themselves loud and clear. Glad I am able to learn so much from your experiences and professionalism.

    Thanks again Bob! Really thankful for people like you.
  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346
    Glad to help out.

    Yes, you should go ahead and "hog" the controls. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. The more people start singing into mics at once, the more all of the mics will need to come down so as not to overload each mic's channel, and so as not to overload the summing amplifier for the group of mics. Meanwhile, the music track needs to be at an appropriate level so that you can hear everything clearly and no stage is overloaded with too much gain.

    After trying this for a while, and having a concept in mind to avoid overloading the various parts of the system, you will learn to better hear what you are trying to get out of the system, and your voice will thank you, because you won't have to strain to hear yourself. People will sing themselves hoarse if the monitors can't keep up with all of the competing sounds.

    Clarity is what you want. Clean, clear vocals, on top of the music, and all of the voices blending, yet distinct.

  • @highmtn

    Hi Bob,

    Sorry to bother again... I just went for a karaoke session today to try out the tips you gave me yesterday... Sadly, I am now even more confused and would appreciate very much if you could offer some advice.

    Basically, I did as you told, and tested the mic to make sure I could hear myself (with some slight echo and crystal clear) through the speakers. The mic volume at this point was seemingly high at 27, but it did NOT sound anywhere near 27 at all. So I sang a few phrases to test it out and everything seemed nice and good...then I set the music volume to only 13. However, the moment the song started and I started singing, I could not hear myself through the speakers! It was WEIRD. I had to turn the music volume down to 4 before I could hear myself, and even so, I still had to put my lips close to the mic, almost touching it. Then, I tried to lower the mic volume to 18, and this time, I could hear myself the SAME as when it was at 27! (music vol still fixed at 4).

    I found this really really weird. The moment I turned off the music, I could hear that I was singing really well and easily, but the moment the music started everything changed and I lost ALL technique. I was literally trying to figure out ways to make myself heard and ended up using too much breath or making the sound too sharp by using nasal AND pushing it to the front of my mouth). Then, I tried SPEAKING through the mic and singing exactly how I would speak, and suddenly I could hear myself loud and clear. Still, when it got to higher parts (where I would usually be in head voice), I had to literally make the sound really sharp to hear myself over the speakers. This is WAY different from how I sing without a mic (and even with a mic when there is no music). I want to mention that I am a bass, so there is no way I can sing with my normal speaking voice and avoid straining... the thing is, what should it be like for bass singers? Should bass singers be able to sing songs (such as Bon Jovi 'Always', Aerosmith 'I don't wanna miss a thing', and so on in full chest sounding voice? Or will it sound 'heady' quite early? Also, is it right to sing in one's speaking voice to the point he feels strain, then find a spot in the song to transition to head voice? I am seriously confused and feel like my voice is just STUCK (despite being able to easily go through my passagio and sing without a mic). The problems only come with a mic. Is ok for the mic volume to be 27 and music to be 4, if that is what is needed to hear myself? True enough, it is loud when I speak but I am very sure singing should not require THAT much effort to make oneself heard...Could it be that the sound systems/ mics at this particular place is bad? If this is the case, I won't waste time going there for practice anymore.

    Another really weird thing I realized was that when I set the configurations above, I found it MUCH easier to just sing on my breath like when I am lying down (hardly felt any support), until the higher parts before I pushed down a little, as compared to when the volume was so loud and I was totally messing up my support.

    Sorry for the long post and so many questions... I really need help on this and there is no other place than KTVA...I hope you can be patient with me and motivate me in some way... :(

  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346

    This is interesting. After reading your latest post, I have a hunch that I know what is happening.

    First of all, it would be most helpful to know exactly what the system is that you are doing this on, so I could see on the internet what its configurations and options are.

    Here is what I think must be happening, based on what you just wrote.

    Somewhere in this system there is probably some kind of "auto-compression" or "auto-limiting" that is being triggered when the music and the mic volume combine to exceed the threshold of this compression kicking-in.

    The number value of the music volume being "13" doesn't necessarily correlate to the "27" of the mic setting. A mic signal differs from a music track signal.

    I ran into this about a month ago when I ran sound at a church one morning. It's not my regular church. When the worship team did their sound check, I couldn't turn their mics up without getting terrible feedback, yet they couldn't hear their monitors AT ALL. Nothing made sense to me, and they were frustrated that I didn't seem to be able to give them any monitor volume. They left the stage and went to take a break before the service. I went up on the stage and tested the mics.

    Instantly I knew what the problem was. The sound was totally suppressed. The louder I talked, the more suppressed the sound was.

    I went back to the mixing console (a digital Allen and Heath GLD console) and found that the previous tech had put compression on every mic channel. It had a low threshold, and the compression ratio was set to almost infinity to one. That means the louder you sing, the more it turns you down. The threshold was set so low, that ANY volume would trigger the compression. Any attempts at getting things to turn up just created feedback. BAD feedback. In less than one minute, I reduced the compression on all vocal channels to almost none, and the vocals now had all the punch and power they needed. I didn't even need to sound check again (there wasn't time).

    Getting rid of compression that was set by someone who didn't know what they were doing solved the problem instantly. They sounded great on the first song and the monitors were totally loud enough, zero feedback.

    So there could be compression or limiting, either on your system's mic input channels, the audio track channels, or perhaps on the summing output stage, that is being triggered by one of these sound sources. The more you try to overcome it, the more it turns you down. Find that, and if possible, turn it off.

    You may have heard this efffect on some video recording cameras. The sound gets suppressed automatically when one sound triggers the suppression. It may last for a few seconds before slowly releasing. Automatic volume controls like this are very poor for recording or reproducing music. The owner of the system may have it enabled to help them to protect their system from too many intoxicated karaoke singers overpowering their sound system and blowing it out. Unfortunately, this may cause you to blow out your vocal cords trying to hear yourself.

    As to all your other questions, most of them are based on your reaction to this crazy effect that you are telling me happened.

    Give me the make and model of the equipment and I can see if there are any technical specs on the unit that would fall into this category. Then maybe I can tell you how to turn the limiting off.

    All the Best.

  • Hi Bob,

    Amazing. That all makes sense now. I will try to find out the models of the equipment next week when I go over for practice. After spending six hours trying out different stuff yesterday, I can only describe the system being like a DVD player (below the screen), with 3 knobs for music vol, echo, and mic vol. Other buttons include lowering or increasing the key of a song.

    Do you have any general tips on how I can go about changing the compression settings for such a system so that I can try to go right into it during my next session?

    Thanks so much for shining light on this... I almost swore never to karaoke again, but seems like there is hope now...
  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346
    Because it is designed for Karaoke and not for bands, it may not even have a way to control the compression. If you're lucky, it will have an on-off selection for that. It could even be a software switch that you have to find in a menu. I would try just turning the compression function off. It may be called auto-loudness, or some other thing.

    If you're not lucky, it just may be a function of the way it is designed, and you have no control over it.

    If there is only one knob for mic vol, then how do you control having more mics plugged in?

    A regular, professional compressor will have a knob to set the threshold for the compression. The higher you set the threshold, the later any compression will happen. The compression only happens when the volume of the mic or instrument exceeds the threshold level that you set.

    Another control sets the ratio of the compression. 1:1 is no compression.

    If you set it at 2:1, then for every 2 dB of volume above the threshold that the mic goes, only one dB of increase will happen. If it is set to 3:1, then for every 3 dB of increase above the threshold, there will only be one dB of additional volume. You can increase the ratio all the way up to infinity to 1. That means that no matter how loud you get above the threshold, there will be zero increase. It does get blurry and indistinguishable as the sound gets squashed that much. If you found such controls, you would raise the threshold up until you got more gain without the volume being squashed. You can also reduce the ratio so that you are on 1:1 or even 1.5:1 wouldn't be bad.

    There are other controls, but they aren't as important. Attack sets how quickly the compression kicks in, and release sets how quickly the compression stops having an effect.

    Like I said, this unit you are using may not have any user-adjustable compression controls, but may have a built-in compression feature that cannot be defeated. Otherwise, the unit's amplifier may just be going into saturation from using up all available power, and has reached its limitations like I mentioned in my first response.

    I hope you can find a way to get better results out of this equipment.

  • Hi Bob,

    Thanks again for the quick reply!

    I did a quick research on the place of the karaoke center I frequent, and on their website it was mentioned the system they use is called 'LIVEDAM'. They also mentioned 'Smart Dam' but that would be the pad used to select songs. Here is a link to the Karaoke center's website where it was mentioned: http://big-echo.jp/room_facilities/live-dam_smart-dam/

    More importantly, do check out this link: http://www.clubdam.com/livedam/

    The above is the link I found that described all features of this 'LIVEDAM' system. It is all written in Japanese, but if you scroll through you can see they only provide three knobs that I described above. This makes it unable to set the volume of two mics differently. What happened yesterday when I tried was that both mics produced the exact same volume when I set the mic vol on the system to 27 (still, this might have been compressed or balanced out like you said). If there is any other things you see on the LIVEDAM webpage that seem to indicate compression, please point it out to me and I will happily translate that section for further analysis.

    Essentially, the first section describes the system's compact design, HDMI input, volume controls (the three knobs), voice change, and search function.

    In the second section (from top to bottom), it includes: live performance sound (meaning the sound comes out as though it is played live by a band, instead of a pre-recorded track), guide vocals (actual singer singing along), 'ProOK' (this just means no lyrics shown on screen for practice purposes), and finally live performance sound (similar to the one above, but includes piano and acoustic played really softly as though it is right next to you).

    In the third section, this simply describes the visual functions such as changing the theme or having lyrics on screen.

    In the fourth section, this is where something might click... The first category mentions 'speaker output settings' to include three different ones: stereo, monoaural, and blend (which I have no idea what the differences are), followed by 'howling compression' (ability to find out the reasons for howling, and it mentions that howling is PRE-compressed). This makes A LOT of sense because I had ZERO distortions yesterday no matter how loud volume went. It does not mention any settings to change this compression.

    I spent the whole morning today watching live performances, and it really does seem that they are all able to hear themselves loud and clear, totally unlike what I have had been experiencing in karaoke. For example, this performance of Jon Bon Jovi where he is able to demonstrate technique with ease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT-xYdhtubY

    I was wondering what happens in live if suddenly someone is unable to hear himself...would be a disaster!

    That is all I got for now, I hope you are able to see something that might come in useful to me!

    Thanks again.

  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346
    The "howling compression" is probably an automated "feedback suppressor". I've used those too, and they can also have the effect of making everything sound suppressed.

    From the looks of these units, I think they have totally computerized the way these work, and the program probably determines how the unit behaves with various input signals. That may be causing effects that are causing the problems you are experiencing. That may not be something that can be adjusted in any way by the user.

    Unfortunately, I have little to no experience with Karaoke equipment, and it is designed to be simplified. That may leave little in the way of adjustment available to the user. The more automated it is, the less control a user may be able to exercise.

    I'm not seeing anything that looks like a real sound system with controls and adjustments available for the behavior you are describing from this unit.

    You may have to find a way to work within the limitations of this system, which might not be ideal.

    All the Best!

  • @ highmtn


    Thank you once again for taking the time to respond!

    Yes... I will try to figure out ways to get around this. Will update if I am able to make this work, so that it might possibly be of help to others. This topic is hardly touched on...I spent so much time on Google but nothing came in useful, so I guess it's all down to trial and error now!

    Some final questions I have remaining before I resume training...

    1. How close to the mouth should the mic be?

    2. Any tips on building volume and power for singing? Does it have anything to do with support and if so, how and when do I use it to increase volume?

    Thing is, when I sing in the showers and at home I hardly need to use any effort and can hear myself loud and clear enough, and I get complaint letters from neighbors quite regularly. Still, I was wondering if I was maybe missing out on something else. For instance, is there anything particular you would do when trying to sing louder? I know that it is wrong to try and release more air in an attempt to create volume, but at the same time, releasing more 'voice' will cause strain. I tried holding my breath when using technique, to the point where the sound was so sharp and my vocal chords kinda felt 'overclosed' and scratchy like the air was trying to squeeze past it. So at this point, I am only able to sing at one volume that enables me to sing with ease and no strain. How should I go about bringing this volume to perhaps the next level, step by step?

    3. Despite being a bass, I find it much easier to sing (with technique) in the mid range, but struggle with low notes. What happens is the mid- high notes sound nice and bright, but when going to the lower register, the sound suddenly becomes a little airy like in the back of my throat. I tried to bring it to the front of my face but if I do this, it cannot connect nicely and produces many bumps. Is this normal? As Ken mentioned singing only at the volume that enables you to connect, I have to start my low notes softer so that I can connect more easily into head voice, which almost always produces this airy sound in my low notes. If I hold my breath on low notes, then there is no airy sound, but it will be the equivalent of singing in my low speaking voice with no control and too much weight and volume, which does not feel right.

    Thanks for the patience and time, Bob! Appreciate it as always.
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