Top 2 Gifts Every Singer Wants

Top 2 Gifts Every Singer Wants

Enough with the socks and gift cards!  Give the singers in your life something that they will actually use all year; a quality microphone to record their cover tunes, original tunes or their next album.

But how do you pick something great without having to do a bunch of research? (and who has time for any of that this month?) It’s easy to spend too much on the wrong stuff when it comes to musical gear.  But some things you just can’t cheap out on.

No worries.  I’ve put together of the best microphones that I’ve used professionally as an audio producer and vocalist and for fun projects like recording free demos for aspiring singers.  And being one half professional audiophile and one half frugal mother of four, this list starts at cheap and goes to moderately priced.

Which Price Range is Best for the Singer on Your List?

The lower priced items will get you good quality for any singer who sings for fun (not for money). They’ll be able to get a great sounding

If the singers on your gift list are recording a demo or an album, the higher end products I’ve recommend will give them a professional level result without slapping down thousands of dollars. (No, you really don’t need a $5,000 mic.  Someone would love to sell you one, but unless you make your living from singing and/or recording fulltime, it’s not time.)

Either way, the lower priced items will be a welcome addition to any singers gear bag, so if you’re like me (the half of me that strives so hard to actually stick to a budget) you can feel just as great if you have little to spend.  (I use affiliate links for a quick way to get you to the goods where I almost always find the best price. I make a few cents if you do, which is greatly appreciated.)

1. Microphones

THE BEST

Recording microphones are different from live singing microphones.  Most singers don’t have to supply their own live mics, but every singer needs a quality recording mic (aka condensor microphone).

I’ve chosen to include two microphone packages because they’re an incredibly good deal and the add-ons are well worth the price. You can also buy just the mic, but you generally won’t save much.

1. Rhode NT1-A with Focusrite Scarlet2in2 and shockmount

$375

The Rhode NT1-A has been a favorite of mine for decades.  I’ve used the whole series of NT’s in broadcasting, recording voiceovers in major studios and for recording vocals. Like all professional level mics it requires something that’s called ‘phantom power’.  But if you by the package you’ve got that covered.

This is not a USB microphone.  But the included Focurite Scarlett preamp connects it to a computer.  USB mics have come along way but a good preamp is still the absolute best way to get the purest sound for any recording that really needs to impress.

Why I Love This Mic
  • Rhode is a quality brand with a long history of making top of the line recording gear.  Other brands that are known for their professional quality include Audio-Technica, Sennheiser and MXL but compare apples to apples.  A $300 Sennheiser doesn’t compare to a $3000 Audio-Techica but it can with a $300 Audio-Technica.
  • Great for ignoring room sounds so you don’t record what you don’t want.  It might seem like any mic should do that, but there can be a wide difference in how well they do.
  • Picks up all the ‘sparkle’ in both male and female voices
  • This series has adds a nice warm feel to the voice.  In other words, it peaks the best frequencies in the lower end of the voice without making it sound muddy.  Mics in this price range should do this but different brands and price points affect how well they can pull it off.  This mic does an especially good job of this.

 

Why the Add-on’s are Worth It
  • Every recording setup needs a preamp.  If the singers on your list don’t do alot of recording on their own they either need a preamp or need a better one and they will LOVE you for this add-on!
  • The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 preamp (aka ‘the red box’) is seriously the best preamp I’ve ever heard at this pricepoint.  To get better you’d need to spend in the thousands.  No joke.  I would buy this package just for the preamp. But my husband won’t let me.
  • The included Shockmount keeps the mic from picking up any sound from bumping against anything during recording.  High end mics generally come with their own Shockmount so it’s not really an add-on but it IS very essential. It’s a good $60+ value.
  • A Pop Filter keeps pops and clicks from getting picked up.  It is crucial to any high quality recording and it’s never bad to have an extra. It’s about a $20-30 value.
  • This package also comes with 20′ of Premium XLR(mic) Cable. Most singers will buy short, cheaper quality cable because they cost less, but cheap cables give out quickly and can add extra ugly noises into recordings.  Every recording singer eventually realized a high quality, long cable is what they needed all along.  This one is about a $20-30 value.
  • A Dust Cover for the mic is also included in this package.  I don’t know anyone who used dust covers in their studios. Most high end mics come with their own padded box but that’s really designed for engineers that have multiple microphones that need storing.  I’m guessing this is one area they cheaped out on to save themselves money on this package.  But that’s just fine.  A recording singer will usually only have one mic so they really don’t even need a box.  Chances are they won’t use the dust cover either.  But it does make your gift look larger!
  • Lower end companys won’t guarantee their product for very long but Rode’s included 10 Year warranty (when registered online) is proof that this is a quality mic.  They’re basically proving the mic will last ten years.  And it really will.
  • The monatarly value of the addon’s is around $100-150.  But the biggest advantage of buying this package is that the price of the microphone has come down in price.  The NT series of Rode mics used to cost over $500. Now you can get it for almost 50% off!

BUDGET FRIENDLY

On the lower end of the price range you can still find some high quality gems.  What’s the difference? Generally some of the parts are cheaper versions of the companies higher end products.  But that does have an impact on sound.

This particular mic has a much better sound than others in this price range but it generally won’t be as good as mics in a higher price range.

Audio-Techica AT2020

Why I Love This Mic
  • You’ll find Audio-Techica mics in any major recording studio.  They’re built well and sound great.
  • Though most AT mics in studios are the top of the line (and price point), the AT2020 is made with the same quality parts at an incredible price for the quality.
  • Most high quality mics will require something called ‘phantom power’.  If the singer on your list has a box or board they plug a mic into, they already have phantom power.
When the Add-on’s are Worth It
  • The included Neewer Suspension Boom Scissor Arm Stand and pop filter are perfect for those who record at a desk.
  • If recording is done standing, this stand will extend to a higher point.  This is great if you record next to a desk or surface you can attach the stand to.
  • This is a broadcast recording standard stand. It’s been used for decades in broadcast environments so it’s perfect for podcasts or recording done at the computer.  The standard vocal mic stand is tall and sits on the ground.  It’s all preference but this stand is inherently better built than a floor stand and can easily be moved out of the way or adjusted to different heights.
AT2020 Package – a really good deal

For $140 you’ll get the microphone (requires phantom power), suspension table mounted mic stand (mounts to table), pop screen (essential for recording) and cloth (that really does nothing)

Just the Microphone

$80  will get you the phantom powered microphone only (this is an amazing price btw)

$120 will get you the USB version of this mic that plugs directly into the computer.  Same mic but audiophiles (like me) will argue that the recording signal is always cleaner on the phantom powered mic but at this price range you won’t hear much difference.

TWO MORE OPTIONS WORTH CONSIDERING

1.  MIC ONLY 

Want to skip the add-ons?

You’ll still get a great price on the mic only (with shockmount and dust cover) for $230

2. GET THE PACKAGE PLUS A MIC STAND AND SOUND REDUCTION PANEL

Every recording singer absolutely needs a stand and some kind of sound reduction for recording.  SoundPROOFING is different (and isn’t really necessary for most vocal/singing recordings. Unless the singer on your list has built their own recording room (if they have, believe me, you’ve heard about it), they will LOVE YOU for these to added products. 

(I have 3 just incase I record more than one musician at a time.)

This stand runs around $20 and the sound reduction panel runs $100-150 just by itself.

For just $450 for this package, you’ll get up to $170 in added value for just $75 more than the basic package. That’s a really great deal!

2. HEADPHONES

THE BEST

Sennheiser HD 630VB Headphone with Variable Bass and Call Control

$399

Why I Give These Headphones My Top Review
  • Sennheiser is one of the brands you’ll find in every top recording studio.  Becuase the bulk of their products are for professional studios, their lower end products (yes, $400 is lower end for them) benefit from a compny who knows how to get the best sound.
  • The soft padding on Sennheiser headphones serves a much bigger purpose than comfort.  It’s designed and shaped to capture sound and redirect it for better quality.  This is not true of all other headphones.  Another reason to buy for a top company.
  • A unique feature to these headphones is the variable bass control.  If the singer on your list is mixing songs (working on recording themselves) they will be able to highlight the voice for mixing by turning the bass down.  Super handy!
  • These headphones also work with all smartphones so you can use them for great listening on your devices and when making and receiving phone calls.  Definition: they will never take them off.

(side note: Best Buy usually has these at a discount near the holidays.  But I’ve done the math and after taxes you’ll still pay the same or more than on Amazon)

 

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones

$100

Why I Love This Mic
  • You already know why I love and recommend Sennheiser products. This mic is cheaper due to the ‘less bells and whistles’ standard for this price range
  • You won’t feel like the music completely envelopes you like in the 630VB’s but you still get great clarity with these headphones
  • The HD280 Pro headphones are also collapsable so they’re easier to carry around with you.
  • The padding on these is designed for comfort only.  And they’re very comfy!
  • Headphones take a beating.  But what you won’t find in most headphones in this pricepoint is a unique feature of the Sennheiser HD280 Pro Headphones: replacable parts!  This feature alone can be worth more than the cost of purchase if you’ll use it.
  • Of the other headphones in this price range at the time of writing, these are my top pick for bang for the buck.
  • These would be a budget friendly solution to listening to your voice while recording.

BUDGET FRIENDLY

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

$58 (current sale)

Why I Love This Mic
  • If you were to buy the next model of these headphones, the ATH40x, you’d be back in the $100 price range.  And all you get for your extra money is a detachable coiled cord.
    But chose this model, which is almost exactly the same and you can save almost HALF!
  • The ATH30x’s are billed as professional studio monitor headphones.  This means they’re perfect for listening to your voice as you record. You can use them to mix music in a pinch but they’re better served as an entry level pair of headphones.  And at this price they kill the competition.
  • The ATH30x’s have a really strong midrange. which just means that the singer will be able to hear their voice a little better than other headphones in this price range that focu on accentuating the highs and lows.
  • These are made by a high end audio company so they tend to last longer and wear better than the competition.

Hey singers – what gifts would you put on your gift list?  Leave your list in the comments below!

The Top Reason Worship Songs are Ineffective (and what to do about it)

The Top Reason Worship Songs are Ineffective (and what to do about it)

Pick any church, any Sunday. Glance at the platform and chances are most (if not all) of the team is ‘eyes closed, hands up’.

Sound familiar? If this describes your team, you may be missing one of the most powerful ingredients of effective worship.

As a hired gun voice I spent quite a few years gigging with large event bands until 4am Sunday then a lead worshipper for three services starting at 6. And switching between the two allowed a window into how some singers connect with the audience while others unintentionally shut them out.

There is a basic set of expectations that come along with being a paid singer (and those of you who gig outside the church see this too).  You will sing well, you will connect with the audience, and you will lead them to celebrate/party/whatever the aim of the event is. It’s part of the job.

So it’s always seemed a given to me that those qualities would be apart of effective worship.

But after busy volunteers learn the songs, find the parts and try to look like it’s not awkward being watched on the platform, we tend to miss one of the most impactful elements that make worship come alive.

It’s not raising your hands.
It’s not looking super spiritual.
Not even remembering all the words.

The single element most worship teams completely ignore is PERSPECTIVE.

 

WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?

Most of us are good at reminding our teams to be a ‘lead worshipper’ on the platform. Perspective is the key to helping your team grab on to that concept and make it real.

Simply singing from the perspective of the lyric connects the singer to the message in a personally powerful way that people can feel all the way to the back row.

 

HOW TO PLUG IN TO PERSPECTIVE

For better or worse, your teams body language is already deciding who the message of the song is for.

Imagine your team singing with eyes closed and hands up. Now imagine yourself in the back row, a new visitor or a regular attendee who is still not sure what they believe.

The team sings Chris Tomlins’ “This is Amazing Grace” eyes closed, hands up.

You have just been told that this wonderful, amazing grace is not for you. The team may be enjoying it but you are still on the outside looking in.

Now imagine the team scanning through the crowd, smiling, excited about the message and looking right at you.

Now the Amazing Grace becomes an invitation. It’s for YOU too!

 

FOUR PERSPECTIVES OF WORSHIP

There are four general perspectives in worship music:

  1. From me to God
  2. From us (believers) to God
  3. To other believers about God
  4. To the world/unbelievers about God

 

Now let’s test your perspective skills.

Which perspective are the following songs written from?

  • Lord I Need You (Matt Maher)
  • Your Grace is Enough (Chris Tomlin)
  • I Give You My Heart (Hillsong)
  • I Will Follow (Chris Tomlin)
  • This is Amazing Grace (Phil Wickham)
  • How He Loves (David Crowder)
  • To God from Us – We Fall Down (Passion)
  • Forever/We Sing Hallelujah (Kari Jobe)
  • Revelation Song (Bethel)
  • God is Able (Passion)

 

Were some of them tricky? It depends.

Sometimes we’ll change ‘me’ to ‘us’ on a repeat. When the noun changes, the perspective changes.

 

TAKE IT TO YOUR TEAM

Every line of every song is not written to be a private moment between you and God and it honestly shouldn’t look like it is.

When we lead from the perspective of the lyric (and fill in that blank when it’s not clear) we will naturally focus our attention on the intended audience.

Scan the crowd when it’s a message to the world. Look between a few believers you know when the message is to the church. And don’t be afraid to look deep inside when the song gets personal.

Try this yourself or with your team next time you worship from the platform.

Identify the perspective of the song/lyric
Look at the intended audience like you’re having the conversation the lyric tells.
Make it personal by thinking of someone you are close to that represents that audience (a prodigal son or daughter, a close friend struggling with their faith, etc.)
SHY SINGER TIP: Feel awkward looking at people? Aim for the forehead or top of the head. They will feel like you’re looking them right in the eyes.

Changing your perspective will transform the way you look on the platform, create an environment of authenticity and open the door to more effective worship.

Does your team already do this? Tell us how it’s impacted your worship. Have another idea to add? Post it below!

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Third trimester: On slowing down

Third trimester: On slowing down

 

This week, I have started walking into things. A lot. I’m simply not used to taking up this much space from front to back and since the bump is growing at an alarming rate now (32 weeks) there’s not much hope that my spacial awareness skills will keep up with it over the next 8 weeks until my due date.

When I am not walking into things I am bidding on baby stuff on eBay. This is twenty first century nesting! This week, I have made 24 separate eBay purchases, all for Baby Bignell. And that’s just the essential stuff – I’m pleased that I’ve got everything at such knock down prices (and slightly lessened the environmental dent of bringing a new human into the world by buying secondhand), but I’m not sure where to put all this stuff once it starts arriving!

I am also slowing down. In normal life I move pretty fast, so at least this means I am still relatively active at this late stage of pregnancy. I still take short walks and do pilates, but I have no desire to climb big hills or run marathons, and naps are fairly obligatory now (as is the daily brioche break).

Thanks to the nesting instinct, my motivation is running pretty high, which helps with the energy levels. Last week I landscaped a section of the garden which I’ve been wanting to do since we moved in (it’s so beautiful now!) I wouldn’t advise every heavily pregnant woman to start digging up turf and laying concrete paving slabs, but I find if I pay close attention to my body and limit that kind of activity to 90 minutes a day, I can not only avoid injury and exhaustion, but I actually get more done than if I were to spread the work out over a full day. Funny how the human mind works, isn’t it?

I still have so many projects I want to complete before the baby arrives, but crucially, I am not starting new ones. This is really key!

Now the major garden work is finished, and I’ve also completed the baby blanket I’ve been knitting for MONTHS, I am more or less free to focus on completing my album (over 1 year in the making) and planning the first draft of my novel (more like 2 years… but with less progress!) These are ideal third trimester projects because they involve sitting in a chair and creating stuff. Very little physical effort, and major mental distraction, which I sense is going to become increasingly important in the run up to labour and delivery. I definitely don’t want to spend the final weeks of pregnancy analysing every twinge and thinking “is this it?”

I am still enjoying being pregnant, which has really surprised me. I am blessed with general good health, and of course I’ve done what I can do keep healthy and active during pregnancy, but everything I read prepared me to absolutely loathe this whole final trimester – to feel like a beached whale, generally be swollen and uncomfortable, and fed up. I’m not saying I won’t get there, but right now I feel big and beautiful, full of beans, and with the most wonderful excuse to do only what I feel like doing (including napping in social situations and eating limitless amounts of brioche. Did I mention I like brioche?) Even my voice is playing ball – as I get bigger, my voice is getting bigger too. The tone is more rounded, more satisfying, and it’s easier to get a little more power out of notes. That’s been the biggest surprise – aside from the fact that I need toilet breaks every 20 minutes, I am in the best vocal shape of my life without even trying. Why did no-one tell me pregnancy would be like this?

Ladies – how did pregnancy affect your voice? Share your vocal pregnancy stories below.

Is All Voice Teaching the Same?

Is All Voice Teaching the Same?

If you’ve tried singing lessons and felt they didn’t really help, the problem isn’t your voice.

Beyond the personality of your singing teacher there’s much more that determines how fast you grow as a vocalist, what you learn and if you end up feeling worse about your voice than when you started.

In this video we run down the major schools of thought on training the voice and why their results vary so much.

Learn why it”s not your ‘talent level’ that determines how much better you sing. It’s much more aboutI the method you study. 

How Your Voice Really Works

How Your Voice Really Works

Have you ever wondered how your voice works?  If not, you’r not alone.

But I bet you have asked questions like ‘can I get better or is this the best my voice gets?’ or ‘am I just not talented enough?’

The top reason most singers don’t get better is because they’ve never entertained a question beyond ‘why me?’  The real question is, ‘how is my voice supposed to work and is there anything in the way of it doing it’s best?’

If you’ve ever felt there were concrete limits on what your voice can do, stop.  Just for a few minutes.  Watch this video. It will help give you the perspective to ask te questions that result in seeing beyond your limitations to the possibilities.

 

DIY Recording Booth Design “The Cube”

DIY Recording Booth Design “The Cube”

I’m admittedly a bit strange.  You see a room with two glass walls.  I see an incredible acoustical challenge that must be mastered.

But what resulted is a new DIY recording booth design that you can use to master your own noisey space.

When I arrived as a new production director at a radio network there was no studio set aside for the PD.  To make matters worse, all of the existing recording studios had major acoustic issues.  So I set to work designing a recording booth for my office: the most acoustic challenged space I’d seen in some time.

This office had everything against it: two of the walls were floor to ceiling glass, the third wall was a thinly insulated exterior wall with a single pane window (definition: noise amplifying glass), and a forth thinly insulated interior wall with another office on the other side.  Outside the longest glass wall was a heavily trafficked hallway and a large room full of cubicles.

The only space to really place a recording booth/studio was a square space right over an air vent.  Challenge accepted.

 

THE DESIGN OF THE CUBE

I’ve often thought that ‘Sound proofing’ is the most commonly misunderstood term when it comes to sound design.

We all think that there must be a magical step, or two, to remove all competitive noise from a recording space.  Can you do it?  Sure.  If you have an extra 100 grand + on hand.

But the truth is that you don’t necessarily want to.  And the sound you’re really going for doesn’t need to cost nearly as much to get.

The Myth of Sound Proofing

Sound proofing is usually though of as a way to lock out outside sound.  And that’s important, especially in noisy spaces like shared apartment walls, when your recording space is next to the kids room, etc.  But after designing acoustic spaces for some time I’ve found that the best answer to the noise problem is found by starting with the sound you want to KEEP, not get rid of.

I’m a fan of fancy mic’s, hardware and software as much as the next audiophile, but I’ve found that simply changing the way you approach designing your recording space can do just as much for your final sound as some pretty pricey plugins.

For instance,  If you’re a voice talent, you need a finished sound that is clean and rich with just a dash of sparkle.  You won’t get that in a closet full of clothes.  Your space needs to have a good among (maybe 75-80%) sound abortion to soak in the muddy midrange frequencies and a small amount of sound reflection/diffusion to amplify where your voice sparkles.   That’s what the design of this booth does.  (btw – you never want a flat surface for a ceiling – so that closet…still a no go for a competitive sound)

If you’re a singer, you need to enhance the distinct texture of your voice.  If you only sing in your recording space it should be designed with a bigger sound canvas.  You want sound reflection (like the panelds I used) on the ceiling of your booth and maybe even a band around the perimeter just at or above eye level if you want more sparkle or if your voice isn’t naturally as bright as you’d like.  A bigger space allows for a more ‘live sound’ but even a small space with added sound reflection can give you the same result.

MATERIALS MENTIONED:

Roxul Rock Wool Soundproofing Insulation:  You can buy this in several forms.  Most common for studios is the compressed 2″ thick form.

I chose to use the 3″ thick uncompressed form most commonly used as a sound and fire barrier between apartments.  Why? For one, the thinner form wouldn’t fill the void in the framing.  Two, it’s more expensive overall.  And third, we want MORE air space in this instance.  Compressed rock wool will reject sound.  Open wool adds the ability to trap sound that does get through in the air spaces.  And did I mention it’s cheaper?  Just sayin.

Mio V2 Paper Tiles ceiling application:  I discovered these before they were popular as a design product.  While not designed specifically as an acoustic product I ordered them for the acoustic value of the shape.  Any 3+ inch deep varied flat materials that repeats in a varied pattern has the effect of diffusing and reflecting sound waves of a higher frequency.

In average chick speak: they bounce the nice sparkle around your booth so your mic can capture just enough of it without overwhelming your recording.

I was early enough to get 24 of these puppies for $25!  You’ll pay over $50 for just 12 now, but you don’t need many and it’s still worth every penny.

COST OF THIS RECORDING BOOTH:

I designed this booth and had it built by the networks very handy handymen.  Materials alone totalled just around $400.  (I’ll have step by step directions avialable soon I hope).

Would I change anything?  I would prefer a build in quiet fan over lifting the roof for ventilation.  Opening the floor to ventilation is out of the question because it’s just a direct line to the noise in the entire building.  I would do the research to find a whisper quiet fan option.

What spaces is this booth best suited for? This design is well suited for noisey spaces.  Nothing in a normal personal price range will completely lock out sound directly outside of the booth but if you’ve got a noisy neighbor this booth would work great.  You might hear the sound in your headphones but a decent ($100+) condensor mic would not draw the sound into your recording with the treatment in this booth.

Is it permanent or temporary?  My previous DIY Recording Booth was designed specifically for ease of movement, although I have to admit I still use mine in a permanent situation becuase I like the sound especially for vocals (it’s a little brighter sounding than this booth).  I love the flexability of that booth.  I can open it up for two or more people (I made six panels instead of the original design’s 4 panels).

And while The Cube was designed to stay put, I did design it to come apart in panels so it can be moved.  It takes two people to do it, but it can be done easily enought that I would use this booth in a rental if I didn’t have to move it more than once a year.

 

YOUR THOUGHTS

So what do you think?  Have I given you any ideas of how to change your recording space to better fit your needs?  Do you think I’m plumb crazy and have proof why?  Let me know your thoughts below!

 

Third trimester: Singing with allergies

Third trimester: Singing with allergies

TheVoiceClub-Singing Pregnant

Today I am 29 weeks pregnant. I’ve been very lucky so far in having a problem-free pregnancy. Between general good health, a relaxed lifestyle and regular pilates, my body has adapted pretty well to changing shape and size every day and since the first trimester sickness wore off i’ve really had nothing major to complain about.

However one thing is difficult to deal with – and that’s having such a compromised immune system. I don’t even need to be near a sick person to get sick anymore. Coughs, colds, stomach bugs… they’re all out to get me, because my immune system has been turned down so many notches in order to accommodate my baby (otherwise my body would see it as an intruder and attack it).

Yesterday, for example, I took a nap and woke up with a stupid dry cough which today has reached my chest. Allergy season is also coming up fast, and I’m no stranger to the sneezing, streaming eyes and blocked sinuses that come with hay fever.

So how do you sing through that?

Take it easy.

This doesn’t mean you have to cancel everything and refuse to speak or sing until your sinuses magically clear. If we all did that we’d never get hired again! No,

it just means that you have to be a bit more gentle with yourself than usual, adjust your expectations of what you can achieve vocally and physically (for a few days), and cut yourself some slack.  Rest whenever you can – the more you do that now, the quicker you will recover.

Hydrate.

I really can’t overstate how important water is for the voice, especially when you’re dealing with any ailment which involves mucus (gross, i know, but when you deal with voices you get used to talking about mucus A LOT). When you’re sick, the delicate tissues in the back of the throat are often the first to swell up and let you know that something’s wrong.

This is because they are so sensitive – not necessarily because anything is dangerously wrong with your throat (unless you have a more serious ailment like laryngitis). At the same time, your body’s defence mechanism involves creating thick mucus to trap all those invading germs and expel them from the body with coughs, sneezes and a streaming nose. This thick mucus gets in the way of your vocal cords and makes it more difficult for them to open and close smoothly. You need mucus as a singer – but you need it to be thin, so that the vocal cords are lubricated, not engorged.

Keeping hydrated is the best way to fend this off and help your throat clear. Remember, though, that it takes around 24 hours for your body to put the water you’re drinking now to good use throughout the body, so the way you feel today is a result of how much water you drank yesterday.

Have a standby ‘sick day’ vocal workout.

Create a shorter version of your normal vocal workout that still warms you up but can be done in less time. I find anything that involves a vocal slide helpful for warming up the whole range; and if my voice is hoarse I tend to use a solid consonant like an ‘mmm’ to get the vocal muscles engaged gently but firmly.

However every voice is different, so you should consult your own vocal instructor for advice. Give yourself more recovery time after singing too; as with any other muscle in your body, you will feel fatigue faster when you’re sick, so plan for that, and give yourself time out before and after singing to recover.

That’s all for now. Feel better soon!

 

Third trimester: Dealing with pregnancy hormones

Third trimester: Dealing with pregnancy hormones

TheVoiceClub-singing pregnant

One thing that has been interesting to observe during this pregnancy is just how much our lives are ruled by our hormones. As somebody who spent the previous decade of life dosed up on birth control (which stabilises the emotions, but also sucks most of the colour, fun and creativity out of life) coming off birth control and then getting pregnant was a real eye opener.

I thought hormonal outbursts were a thing I left behind in the teenage years.. if only that were true!

Hormones control everything. From the moment the first trimester sickness hit and my sense of smell become superhuman, through to now when my hair looks magically great and I hardly need to shower,

I have learnt to observe these hormonal changes with interest and not a little dismay! Who knows what’s coming next? Crying in the supermarket? Check. Inability to enter my kitchen because of some phantom smell that makes me gag? Check. Sudden urge to re-plant the garden and re-paint the house? Check. An actual medical need to eat brioche every day at 9am? Check.

So, for us artistic types, how can we harness the power of these hormones and use them to our advantage?

Use your nesting instinct

Some days you will feel incredibly motivated; like your most motivated non-pregnant day but supercharged 1000%. This is your body helping you get your life and home ready for your baby, but there’s no reason why baby should reap all the benefits.

Make a list of all the creative projects you have half-finished, or on the back burner, and get going on them. You won’t feel super-motivated every day, but make the most of every moment you have in this supercharged zone. It will also give you comfort when you get to 36 weeks and want to spend the next month in a comfy chair. It’s fine, because you can sit back and enjoy everything you’ve already achieved!

 

Harness that emotion!

Crying in the cereal aisle because the supermarket’s run out of Cinnamon Grahams? Been there! If you’re lucky enough for that to be one of your life’s biggest problems, you don’t need to dig any deeper to get a real sense of all the drama of human existence – your oestrogen levels are bringing that to your everyday experience with no extra effort on your part!

Now’s the time to write music like there’s no tomorrow. Power ballads, heartbreak songs, soaring inspirational songs, angry poetic rants? Bring it on – this could be the most creative time in your life!

 

Enjoy looking good

Even if you feel like you’re the size of a house, there is something intrinsically attractive about pregnant women that makes people (literally) stop and stare. Around this stage of pregnancy you will be experiencing changes in your hair and skin, as well as developing a bump that is definitely big enough to convince strangers to offer you a seat on the train, or to carry heavy bags for you.

Make the most of all of this! I have been astounded at how kind people can be, and have experienced more chivalry in the past few weeks than in my whole life heretofore. Take this opportunity to pass on every task you don’t want to do (because you’re pregnant, you can’t possibly do the hoovering) and to do everything you want to (because you’re pregnant, people aren’t allowed to say no to you!)

 

Vocal changes

As all of your muscles are changing, your vocal anatomy will probably follow suit. Opera singer Anna Netrebko says that her voice fundamentally changed after she had her son – she’s now making the shift from lyric soprano parts to more dramatic opera roles because her voice is getting bigger.

Observe the changes in your voice, and respond to them appropriately. Listen more carefully when you warm up and sing – what’s changing? Where are the changes happening?

You may find it useful to keep notes on what you observe, as some of the changes will be temporary, but some might stick around for good. This is a time for change and transition in your voice as well as your body as a whole, so observe it carefully and go with the flow.

Second trimester: Making the most of “the glow”

Second trimester: Making the most of “the glow”

Today I am 25 weeks pregnant. It’s taken a long time, but I think I’m finally in the stage which is commonly referred to as “the glowing period”. Perhaps people are just being nice, but I have been variously described as “glowing” “blooming” and “bonny’” in the past few weeks, which I’m taking as validation that I look as good as I feel!

Having had a rough ride in the first trimester, I’d like to take some time to record some of the positive things about this stage of pregnancy:

Skin changes

My usually oily skin and hair have dried out a bit, and oddly I hardly seem to sweat anymore, which means I can go 4 days without a shower. Result.

Motivation

I have literally never felt so motivated in my life. I am a goal-orientated person by nature, so the rush of positive hormones plus the inevitable impending deadline (must get everything done before the birth) mean that I am getting so much done at the moment.

Work projects, household projects, other people’s household projects, writing, recording, knitting baby blankets… you name it, I’m knocking it out of the park.

In addition to this, as I’m finishing existing projects I’m not starting any new ones (well, not work ones, anyway…) so my diary is looking clearer every day. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when I can delete everything entirely and legitimately concentrate on nothing but motherhood for a few months.

 

“Last chance saloon”

Not that I imagine that parenthood will be the end of all life and fun as we know it (quite the opposite, I hope and expect) but right now I am making the most of being able to go to the opera, museum exhibits and other cultural events without Baby Bignell screaming the place down.

My creative juices are flowing wildly, so I am soaking myself in culture and hoping some of it comes out in my own creative projects!

Body image

Pregnancy has become a normal state of being for me now, and I’m just reaching the stage where it’s less ambiguous to other people (I’ve lost count of the number of people I have caught looking at me quizzically, clearly thinking “is she? isn’t she?”)

It’s not that I forget I’m pregnant, exactly, but spending the day dressed in well-cut maternity clothes and with a mind often focussed on other things it surprises me at the end of the day when I undress the bump and look at it full-on in the mirror. I love my new shape – looking at my bump now almost makes me sad I won’t be pregnant for much longer.

There’s something very satisfying about having all these new curves (and not having to worry about body fat – pregnancy is the one time in life when you are forbidden to diet!) Looking at my body and knowing it’s doing what it is naturally designed to do – create and bring forth life – is very fulfilling when I take the time to reflect on it. I’m reminded of the times when, as a child, I would look in the mirror and poke my belly out to imagine what it would look like when i became pregnant. Now that day is here, and it really is magical.

So vocally, what is going on at this stage of pregnancy?

A problem for many women during the second trimester is pelvic pain, as the uterus expands more rapidly and requires the rest of the pelvis and abdomen to stretch and re-arrange itself. If this is a problem for you, try these tips:

  1. Lie on your left side on the floor, with a pillow supporting your head. Your lower leg should be straight and your upper leg bent at the knee at a right angle. Place a pillow or two in between your knees so that your hips are straight.
  2. Do your normal vocal workouts in this position, and notice which muscles want to get involved to “help” you make the sounds. This is important – you only need to engage the muscles inside the larynx in order to make vocal sounds, and any muscular tension elsewhere in your body (legs, abs, chest, neck, etc) should be much more obvious to you in this relaxed position.
  3. Actively relax those areas which want to tense up. You can choose any typical relaxation technique to do this. A popular technique is to tense the muscle for 5 seconds and then release it.
  4. Try your vocal workout again, asking your body to relax. Notice what differences occur in your body as a result of the relaxation and ‘re-setting’ process.

In this way you can not just “survive” the singing commitments you need to undertake while you’re struggling with aches and pains, but you can actually use your pelvic pain (or other aches and pains) to help you make valuable progress.

When you’re feeling 100% you’re less likely to notice tension in your body when you sing. When you’re in pain, you need your body to be as relaxed as possible, so you will be more aware of tension when it arises. However you’re feeling, extrinsic muscle tension will get in the way of healthy vocal progress.

Turn this challenge into an opportunity and watch what happens in your voice. Tell us by leaving your comment below.

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