Q. Why do so many performers who use microphones when they sing look like they are trying to swallow them?
-- Henry Staroba, of Collinsville
A. For people who have never been on stage, this is a frequent complaint. They want to see their favorite entertainers' faces, yet the singers look like they're having their microphone as a snack.
But, trust me, those performers are neither showing off nor is it a bad habit or stage-presence mistake. As vocal coaches will tell you, this so-called "eating the mike" produces a better diet of sound for the audience.
"Most people assume that using a microphone correctly merely requires picking it up and singing into it," vocal technique instructor Karyn O'Connor says at www.singwise.com. "The reality, though, is that like any other tool, one must learn how to use a microphone in order to benefit from its features and obtain optimal sound quality."
After emceeing dozens of area trivia nights, I can attest to that. Every microphone is different, so you always have to experiment with how to position it and how far away to hold it so your voice is clear and loud without distortion.
Professional entertainers face the same problem. If they're singing solo, they're probably using some type of unidirectional or cardioid microphone that captures sound from the top of the mike but not from the sides. Already you can see why the top of that kind of microphone must be pointed directly at your mouth.
"Do not sing across the top of the microphone, with the microphone pointed toward the ceiling or parallel to your face," O'Connor advises. "This may cause your voice to 'miss' the microphone's pickup, and will result in a thin, weak sound."
OK, but do they really have to hold it so close that it looks like an extension of their tongue? Yes, says O'Connor.
"Low notes are more difficult to sing loudly because of how they resonate," O'Connor explains. "Their sound waves vibrate or oscillate more slowly and with wider, longer wavelengths and fewer cycles than do high notes."
O'Connor says singers often compensate for this by bringing a cardioid microphone closer to their mouths. Taking advantage of what is known as the "proximity effect," performers have noted an increase in bass as they move the mike closer.
"Experienced vocalists and producers have used this phenomenon to great effect, especially in simulating a punch, 'live' effect by almost 'eating the microphone' while singing," O'Connor says. "Depending on the microphone, a good working distance is typically between one and four inches away."
As you've noticed, that's already darn close, but O'Connor goes one step farther -- or closer, as it were.
"I have heard of a few singers who have chipped their front teeth on their vocal microphones while closing their eyes to sing or while moving around a lot on stage," she says. "To avoid the need for unplanned cosmetic dentistry, consider lightly resting the grille of the microphone on your lower lip if you close your eyes."
I'll have to remember that at my next trivia night.
Q. Now that the place on North Illinois Street isn't taking electronic items to recycle, where does a person go now?
-- Wilbern "Hank" Hayes, of Belleville
A. You don't specify the type of gear you have sitting around, but your best bet right now might be to haul it into Best Buy.
From now through Jan. 19, Best Buy is offering at least a $5 gift card for many gently used small devices -- working or not -- that you bring into its stores. These include laptops, tablets, mobile phones, digital recorders and cameras.
Not all devices are eligible, so call or visit www.bestbuy.com/tradein first for more details. But even if your item has no trade-in value, the store will recycle most for free. Again, for a complete list, go to the website.
Other stores may recycle for a small fee. At Office Depot, for example, you buy a suitably sized boxed for $5-$15, pack your gear and turn it in (see www.officedepot.com for details).
If you're not in a big hurry, the Kiwanis Club of Fairview Heights will hold an Electronics Recycle Day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 19 on the south side of Office Max, 6525 N. Illinois St. in Fairview Heights. "We will accept anything with an electrical cord," said Jerry Vallina, coordinator of the event. Items being accepted include computer pars, computer towers, modems, operating system software, LCD screens, cell phones, lawn edgers and trimmers, electric weed eaters and many more. Monitors, LCD screens and older TVs with picture tubes will be charged a processing fee of $5 for up to 19 inches; $10 for LCD and TVs larger than 19 inches.
And, it's not entirely true that St. Clair Associated Vocational Enterprises (S.A.V.E.) at 620 N. Illinois St. has stopped taking electronics. While they are awaiting the go-ahead to start accepting TVs and computer monitors again, they will still take your printers, computers, stereo equipment, etc. You'll have to keep checking back to see when they'll accept the TVs and monitors.
What first name was Thurgood Marshall, the nation's first black Supreme Court justice, given at birth?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: "Stentorian" has been used for centuries to describe someone with a booming voice. It comes from the Greek herald Stentor in "The Iliad," whom Homer describes as having a voice "as powerful as fifty voices of other men." Unfortunately, he is said to have died after losing a shouting contest to Hermes.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org