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"Am I moved by your performance? That should be what sells records, more than what you look like"

A top vocal coach shares what it’s like working on hit TV show the Voice.

Sing Out Sunday Mark De-Lisser Mark De Lisser

MARK DE-LISSER has the kind of job that many of us would envy – as a top vocal coach, he works with choirs, musicians, and even people working on the TV show the Voice.

A man well versed in what it takes to have a great voice, he maintains that anybody can sing – and says that choirs are the best place to start.

He’s going to be in Ireland this month for Sing Out Sunday, a weekend-long event that involves choirs, singers, and people who want to hear some amazing music sung live.

Sing Out Sunday takes place at the Helix Theatre in Dublin (see below for information on how to take part and where to buy tickets for the big event on the Sunday).

The event follows a huge sing-out that De-Lisser held in the Royal Albert Hall in London in April. Inspired by his work with Irish choirs, he decided to bring the event here. “It will be a bit of a spectacle,” he said.

Sing Out Sunday 4 Source: Nick Blak

How’d you get that job?

But just how does one become a vocal coach? The singing bug bit De-Lisser when he was just five.

He sang in church choirs in London, working his way up to becoming a choir leader. By his early 20s, he was doing more things outside of church, and got really involved with choirs.

“I was a bit of a strange kid really, in that I never really wanted to be a solo singer,” he said. “That was never a desire of mine, but I knew I wanted to sing. I was always keen to know what the leader wanted from me in a choir and to give them that 100%.”

“Once you’ve led a choir, I don’t think you ever want to go back. It’s powerful. Not that you’re powerful, but it’s a powerful position to be in.”

He wants to be able to help singers achieve their dreams, which is why he went into voice coaching. He has also published a number of books of songs for choirs.

Finding your voice

Does he think anyone can sing? “I am absolutely one of those people. I believe everybody was born with a voice.”

“No one has been born and able to speak on day one,” he explained – the only thing babies can do before they talk is create sustained tones.

“They are the basis of singing. The length of the note suggest there’s a melody there. I have a one-year-old – he can’t speak but creates lots of long lines.  He sings a lot. So we are all born with that innate ability to sing, but it’s how much we put into it that will determine how good we are.”

Sing Out Sunday 5

His advice on where to begin?

“If you have no confidence whatsoever to sing, then get yourself involved in a choir,” he advised. “Find a nice community choir; you might know a few people there. It’s a lovely place to start. You can start to build your confidence in that setting.”

You don’t feel under pressure. The world isn’t looking at you. The choir is creating a sound. Being in a choir helps you develop even quicker. You can sing and make a wonderful sound and have an enjoyable time.
When you feel confident to take a solo, then ask lead of the choir can you have a solo. It will only be a verse or a line from a verse, however you move yourself in slowly into that. Then once you’ve done that, then go and sing something solo yourself without a choir. The progression must be like that. Build your confidence.

The Voice

Sing Out Sunday 7

De-Lisser’s choir featured on Last Choir Standing on BBC1, which was the start of his TV work.

Out of that, he was invited onto the Voice, to work as a coach. “It was a surprise, a really pleasant surprise, but also a really nice acknowledgement of what I am doing.”

He also started work with the Naked Choir.

It’s been great. It is a joy to do what I love and what I do everyday. I am so blessed and grateful to be recognised for what I do.

How the Voice works

the voice uk insta The current judges on the Voice Source: The Voice

His work on the Voice starts before the audition stage. “Our job is to sit and listen to as many singers as is humanly possible in the day.” They then decide which singers are good enough to take part in the show.

“We must always get quality from the show,” he said. “Then once we’ve found the number that we need, my job is to make sure that they are making all the right sounds in terms of their performance.”

“We always need outside ears to say ‘this is good’,” he said. “We as voice coaches try and make sure we’re getting the absolute best out of their performances.”

Finding success

Sing Out Sunday 2 Source: Nick Blak

De-Lisser maintains that success as a singer “shouldn’t be down to what you look like”.

“Am I moved by your performance? That should be what sells records, more than what I look like. It does sadly but it shouldn’t be like that.”

That’s part of what attracted him to the Voice, but it has its challenges too. “The challenges are everything is instant. You have to go in and be 100% clear, listen to the song, have to pinpoint what needs fixing and fix it.”

Usually he’ll have months to work with clients, but in TV land “you have to make things work almost instantaneously“.

Do people realise when they are good singers? “There are some people who know they’re great, and some people think they’re better than others,” said De-Lisser.

As for the ones he loves, they’re the singers who have no idea how talented they are.

The ones who “don’t walk around like they’re the best, and always put themselves down, they don’t make up the majority at all.

“Those are the ones I really love, that I really want to work with.”

Sing Out Sunday takes place on Saturday 31 October and Sunday 1 November at the Helix in Dublin. To buy tickets for the workshops (available for solo singers and choirs) and/or tickets for the event on the Sunday, visit the Event Brite ticket sales page

Read: “I live a normal life”: What it’s like being Ireland’s top opera singer>

Read: Big fan of The Voice? It might not be back next year…>

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