When is the last time you saw your favorite singers live? If you’re like most of us, it’s been awhile. Maybe that’s why what you’ll hear can shock you.
You get tickets, jam into the venue and cheer as the drums start.
But then they sing. And as they go along you start to realize they don’t sound at all like you expected them to. In fact, sometimes they’re just… really, really bad.
It seems to be happening more often than ever before. Voices who don’t sound as great as they used to. Like Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler, Julie Andrews, Kelly Clarkson, John Mayer, Meghan Trainor, Sam Smith…and thousands of singers who you haven’t even heard yet. Singers who haven’t even started the fun part of their career yet. Singers like you.
Maybe you haven’t had to cancel a tour and miss out of tens of thousands of dollars in lost income. But the problems you hear in those live performances are just an exaggeration of the basic problems all singers face.
How Good Singers Go Bad
Every singer has (or has had) some pretty bad habits that they don’t think are a big deal. But what you see in the headlines is not about singers that suddenly got worse. Just like the rest of us. they didn’t see it coming either.
Every little bad habit we ignore grows as we use our voices more. I have students who gig more than I did but even when I was doing sessions, gigs and voiceovers full time none of that talent I worked with ever worried about vocal damage. Having to ‘rest your voice’ was almost like the proof that a singer was working a lot or rehearsed more than other talent. Wow. What a lie.
How do you know you’re getting vocal damage?
Honestly, unless your voice gets the heavy and regular use that a touring or up and coming singers voice does, you probably won’t. Busy singers feel it sooner because they have a better idea of how their voice performs under different stresses. But because their voice is their money maker it’s even harder not to do what the rest of us do: ignore it.
Ignoring the signs of vocal problems that can lead to damage is easier when you sing less often. That’s because it never really hurts bad enough or lasts long enough for us to get worried enough about it.
Even those who get to the point where they’re ready to ask for help, finding the right professional to get the right diagnosis can be very daunting, expensive and time consuming. And you may not even get any advice that you can really do anything with.
But wouldn’t it just be easier to know the top ten things you can change today so you don’t have to go down that road?
Then let’s do it!
10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Escape Vocal Problems Later
10. Get Some Rest Already
Physical fatigue has a really bad effect on the voice. If you feel exhausted and almost not yourself you’re may not be getting enough REM sleep to spark the cellular repair we need from sleep.
You’ve probably heard the result of this before. If you were to follow an actual live singer on a tour from beginning to end, you’d actually start to hear when their fatigue starts dragging down their voice. In addition to regular sleep, if your life becomes more demanding (vocally or even just stress) you actually need more sleep to keep your vocal cords from fighting off irritation or damage.
So “Yay YOU!” You just got a great excuse to take more naps! Nighty night.
9. Watch Those Burritos
**Important ‘common sense no one thinks about’ alert! **
Nothing you eat or drink affects your vocal cord or voice directly. And don’t believe anyone who tells you that Lays Crinkle Cut Potato Chips can ‘grease your cords’. Your vocal cords are in your windpipe. Any food or drink gets diverted down the other pipe when the Epiglottis (the flap at the junction of the pipes) reroutes it.
So all that chip grease does is build a layer of grease glop onto the Epiglottis, making it even harder for it to open the door to your beautiful voice.
But while food and drink don’t directly affect your voice, singing involves your whole body. And science, studies and everyone in the front row after a singer has just binged on bean burritos say that your singing brain can’t be at it’s best if another part of your body is suffering.
That’s why spicy, greasy, milky or heavy foods (farewell Mr. Cheesecake; I knew you well) are big no-no’s in that 24-48hr window before you sing. (That goes for food sensitivities and allergies too, so no cheating.)
The best advice is the simplest: just eat a healthy, well balanced diet all the time. But….. if you don’t…. just commit to backing off the junk food 2-7 days before you sing. It helps. It really does.
8. Make H20 Your Favorite Element
Your vocal cords are teeny tiny, slippery little suckers. They vibrate so fast during speech (or singing) that it wasn’t even until the last year or so before they developed a camera that could slow down enough to even see that they flutter. But without adequate hydration, they can’t perform those incredible rolling waves of vibration nearly as well.
Keep them slippery. Make 80 ounces of water your daily minimum. If your kind of singing involves walking around or running the stage and lots of body movement, try to double it at least two weeks before your show.
Not in the habit of drinking that much? Me neither. So I’m as bummed as you that the single bottle of spring water I grab during the show doesn’t even start to cut it. That’s because it can take up to TWO WEEKS to re hydrate your body when you don’t drink enough daily.
We’ll wait while you go get a glass.
7. Get in Shape
Even if you don’t have to serve as your own backup dancer, the better shape you’re in, the more energy you have (and give) in your performance. And that little edge could mean turning those people who would rather play on their iPhones than really listen to you into your loyal fans instead.
Not that in shape? Don’t even use that as an excuse not to sing! We may all want to fit into those size 2 leather pants (you too,right? Tell me I’m not alone) but that’s not what we’re talking about.
Just start thinking about how you’d like to move around the platform or interact when you sing. Then consider all the time on your feet from setup to tear down and saying thank you to all your adoring fans. Then add an activity that will give you twice as much energy as you need to do that without getting winded. It’s so much easier not to have to fake energy when you could’ve had enough to enjoy every bit of the night.
6. Don’t Rock ’till You See the Doc
When was the last time you saw an Ear, Nose and Throat doc? Really? ….well then, time to get out your calendar.
Singers of all levels should get to know a good Ear, Nose and Throat doc. **My secret tip to getting better medical care for your voice is in the free download of this article. Don’t miss it!**
Having a baseline for how you sound and what your anatomy looks like provide a hugely beneficial tool that can make it easier for your doc to help you head off dangerous damage you might not see coming down the pike. (Have you heard my story about my first appointment that almost costed me my voice?)
5. Let’s Clear the Air
Smoke = bad. Secondhand smoke = worse.
If you tend to sing in smokey venues, start booking more outdoor gigs or places that have a no smoking rule for the room where performances take place (some casino’s do this).
You breathe in much more when you’re singing than when your not. And unlike food and drink, smoke DOES go right down that windpipe where you vocal cords live. Serious singers have this one in their performance riders because it so greatly impacts your ability to keep your instrument healthy.
You don’t need to be ‘big enough’ to have a performance rider to start protecting your voice from smoke. Just make it a non-negotiable when you access requests to sing. It should be just next to requesting that you have access to a bathroom. it’s that important.
4. Don’t Play with Pain
If you have pain while singing or after a show, somethings amiss in Singersville. Pain is NOT a part of being a singer, regardless of what style you sing. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.
Remember that ENT doc you’ve got in your contacts? This is why. But that’s not all you’ll need.
While your doctor is going to look for physical signs of trouble in your mouth, throat and maybe vocal cords, don’t be surprised if your doc says it all looks fine even when it feels anything BUT fine!
This is why you need the second half of your vocal care team: a vocal coach who specializes in vocal repair. We don’t have to see damage to hear the effect it has on your voice. A good vocal repair coach (not a speech therapist) can help you pinpoint what’s caused the problem and give you an action plan to start to repair the problem and fix the bad habit that caused it in the first place.
And a good vocal repair coaches can also show you how get through a ‘can’t-miss’ singing opportunity and sound healthy even when you’re on vocal rest awaiting vocal surgery.
3. Save it for the Show
I give Celine Dion five gold stars for the level of commitment she makes to vocal care. Because of the demands on her voice in an arid desert, she goes to the extent of using sign language instead of speaking on the day of a show. Now THAT’s commitment!
That little sign language bit is the reason Celine Dion sounds as good or better today than she has been in the past, when all the other singers whose stars rose at the same time as hers have either had to quit singing, sing rarely or just sing horribly.
Because your singing opportunity is probably not as time consuming as Celine’s you don’t need to download that Sign Language App just yet. But you should make a habit of finishing all prep work on your song(s) in time to allow you to keep quiet as least 24hrs. before you sing. (more if it’s outdoors).
Skip the screaming for your favorite team (GO HAWKS!). No long gab sessions with your friends. And definitely no long verbal arguments when you have a demanding show coming up. Give you voice at least 24hrs. of rest (until soundcheck, then rest again until it’s your time). You’ll be glad you did. And just think of how many people will love this pleasantly quite new you!
2. Step Up Your Style
Many times bad vocal habits that get huge start with a styling trick we copied to sing fancier. A good vocal styling coach can help you take out the harmful approach and give you healthy ways to spice things up.
A good vocal coach will also teach you some new styling options that keep you from defaulting to potential damaging ones. For instance, there’s a way to do a healthy ‘growl’ and a really damaging way. There’s a way to add that ‘edge’ to a line without scraping the edges of your vocal cords.
1. The RIGHT Teacher Knows Best
A qualified vocal technique instructor who understands how the anatomy of your voice works should be able to assess how your lifestyle and bad little habits affect your vocal potential. Even better, they can show you how to sound great (even when you feel like crap.)
Regular vocal training is not just about improving your skill level. Your vocal coach should also give you usable specific tips that take into consideration your unique voice, style and singing demands.
Good singers who don’t ask for help are the ones that stand to lose the most ground when a habit becomes a real problem. But taking the time to build a stronger, healthier voice will make the journey even more incredible!