LOS ANGELES – Everyone is talking about Adele’s big comeback from vocal surgery to singing at the Grammy Awards. But non-singers often wonder why and how this happened to Adele.
In years past, singers did not tour on the level that they tour now. At a time which now seems mythical, bands and singers could subsist on record sales. In today’s market, those days are over. Bands have to make up for the change in the market by touring and ticket sales.
Lead singers and soloists are expected to entertain for 90 minutes, often on a nightly basis. In addition to the performing, they must do constant press. Vocal styles have changed. Everyone from Adele, to Matt Bellamy of Muse have lost their singing voices. Ra Ra Riot had to cancel dates because their lead singer experienced vocal trouble.
Guitarists and drummers get calluses on their hands from abuse. They get bruises and blisters. Vocal chords are just two little folds of very tender flesh. Bruising and blistering on vocal chords cause people to lose their voices. Surgery can sometimes help, but its unwise to think that one can abuse one’s voice and then just get it fixed.
Vocal surgery doesn’t always work. It didn’t work for Julie Andrews who was performing on a Broadway schedule of singing 6 days a week.
So what helps?
There are a few key things that can help protect your voice when you are a singer. These are tips and tricks that I use as a singer myself having had my own trips to the laryngologist or ENT and as a voice teacher.
Don’t smoke. Adele is right to give up the cigarettes. Why? Smoking is essentially hot, dry, dusty air which goes across your vocal chords as you inhale and exhale. Vocal chords rely on a layer of mucus to vibrate. If you dry it out, they can’t meet up (approximate) and vibrate as well.
Don’t eat late at night. When you eat late at night some of it will escape your stomach in the form of acid reflux. Even if you think you’re immune, you aren’t. This is the bad taste in your mouth the next day. Others may wake up coughing in the middle of the night. Some may not notice any symptoms at all but develop hoarseness.
Don’t talk over loud music or other people talking at parties and restaurants. Obviously you can’t avoid it altogether, but be smart about it. If you are trying to save your voice for singing, smile and nod a lot, but let others do the talking. Festivals like Coachella have a lot of loud music and many parties on the side. Justin Warfield, lead singer of She Wants Revenge was very concerned about preserving his voice. We cut up in sign language at Coachella while Adam Bravin answered questions. Smart move, plus his voice sounded fabulous.
When music is really loud, you are often yelling to be heard without realizing it. As important as it is to work the merch table, don’t send your lead singer out there. In fact, why not offer a free ticket or free merch to a fan to mind your merch table and offer to sign CDs after. Try listening, nodding, smiling, saying thank you, and letting fans tell you how your music has changed their lives while non-singing band members handle the talking. I’ve had many a non-singing friend complain about how their voices are trashed after a weekend of going to parties and talking over music and other people talking. Teachers often lose their voices from talking so that their students can hear and find themselves in speech therapy.
Don’t scream or raise your voice. Many artists get carried away while onstage, but the screaming that they do often has nothing to do with singing. Lady Gaga and Dave Gahan are big sinners in this department. Dave Gahan didn’t always do it, he used to just ask how the audience was doing, say “C’mon” or call out the name of the city. But for some reason in the 1990s, he started screaming things like “c’mo-o-o-o-on” and “Los Aaaaaaaaaaaaangeles” or whatever the city. It’s been to his detriment. He also smokes (see above.) Back off and trust the mic to carry your voice.
Don’t scream-sing. Yeah, it may be your style, just don’t expect any pretty notes you have to last indefinitely. Eddie Vedder doesn’t sound nearly as good now as he did in his twenties. I love Eddie Vedder. He’s amazing. He still interprets and writes good songs, but the voice doesn’t sound as fresh.
Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps keep those mucosal linings fresh. Drinking water onstage sort of helps, but really it’s better to drink a lot of water throughout the day. Honey and lemon in tea help a little, because they get your saliva flowing a little and help throat muscles relax, but they aren’t the magic bullet some people think they are.
Take voice lessons. Voice lessons generally give you more predictable results, a bigger range, and more control over your voice. But just voice lessons won’t cover you for the other abuses. It’s just one key in the big picture.
If you are interested in rock friendly vocal coaching at a reasonable, please drop me a line at DianaDiazSing@yahoo.com. I want everyone to sound good and I just gave out a bunch of tips for free.