Having a hit song can be a double-edged sword for your voice. When you catch that career-moving wave you can get very, very busy and your voice gets pushed to the limit. But if you're armed with good information and consistently use great vocal technique, you need never cancel a show due to vocal strain or damage. You might cancel due to an upper respiratory illness - but not from vocal abuse!
I have a lot to tell you so I'm splitting this into a 2-part series. Each contains 5 tips, for a total of 10, that can save your career and protect your voice from a hit song. Here now are tips 1 - 5 of Part 1:
1. PULL - don't PUSH for excellent breath controlThis is my number one for a reason. Barring an organic disease such as laryngopharyngeal reflux, throat cancer, a nervous system disorder such as Spasmodic Dysphonia or receiving a traumatic injury to the throat, it's going to be excessive breath pressure that causes vocal fatigue, strain or damage. With the pressure of maintaining career success, your performances need to be high octane, but your power of delivery should be more of a magic trick. Get your volume from well-adducted (closed) vocal cords and your tonal richness by allowing laryngeal vibration to have free access to all your resonation surfaces and cavities. Not only will this protect your voice from injury, you will sound better and get the response you want!
If you use my pulling technique, your cords can adduct (compress) with ease and consistency, generating a laser beam rather than a flashlight beam of breath and sound. Your throat channel will also morph, or shape shift, to allow each pitch and vowel to find their most favored places to resonate the best. You don't have to fear singing loud and passionately when you do it this way. You will also have more vocal control in general... helping you with range, pitch, vocal licks; really everything you want to do with your voice. Think of it this way: Vocal cords love to be vibrated but hate to be blown. So pull... don't push... for power!
2. Sing every time like it's the first timeI could have said 'support your voice' and it would mean the same thing... because performing with fresh fire activates your core, your face and body language, which moves breath from your pelvic floor through your open throat to create an emotionally powerful delivery.
If you have to sing the same song(s) over and over again, it can be easy to get complacent and numb with your performance. What a crazy thing to do... you got a hit and now you steal it from the audience responsible for your success! Use your prime directive... to make your listener (who you can imagine is always at least selectively deaf) respond to your message. This should to re-energize your delivery. James Taylor once said he and his band make light and fun of 'Fire And Rain' during rehearsals, but when he's in front of an audience every time feels like the first time he ever sang that classic smash of his. Maybe that's part of why his career has lasted a lifetime.
3. Limit and control your speaking voiceRemember when you said something as a child and were told to 'watch your mouth'? Truth! Many times, it's an artist's speaking more than singing that gets them into vocal trouble. When you're doing pre-show interviews, meet & greets, post show autograph signings and schmooze parties, remember NEVER for any reason push too much breath while you're talking. If someone can't hear you, lean in, talk with your hands or silently mouth words with facial language. Whatever you do, don't yell or whisper (both are like the Sahara Desert winds blowing through your cords). 20 minutes of screaming can cause the first sign of blood blisters on your vocal cords, a precursor to nodules. Learn to pull your listener in... you'll find the magnet more powerful than the blowhard.
When touring or otherwise doing back-to-back shows or sets, limit the words you speak in general, especially if you don't know how to pull your words. When you do talk, use pingy, bell-like quality of tone instead of breathiness. And be careful not to push a laugh, either! I teach my students to scream, yell and laugh with a backwards sensation! Prone to longwindedness? Change your habits of protracted gab. Protect your vocal cords... they are your career's most important asset.
4. Rest wiselyThere is no substitute for sleep. None. Yes, you may have to sleep on the bus, but factor quality sleep hours in your travel plans, and try to get to sleep before midnight if possible. If you have a road manager or other travel planner, make sure they get the message that sleep time is a priority that must be scheduled in.
During a busy tour, you will get tired. Be smart. Don't talk when you're tired; if you're speaking with proper support it will take a lot of your precious energy which you probably won't expend. Speaking without adequate breath support/control balance and with crunched posture will result in avoidable vocal fatigue... just what you don't need.
When your voice matters, the voice rest of silence is golden. Treat vocal sound like money in the bank... don't make unnecessary withdrawals.
5. Stay hydratedThere is also no substitute for adequate hydration of your voice. Did you know that vocal sound is literally set up in the mucous membranes covering your vocal cords?It's called the mucosal wave. If anything interrupts the free flowing of this wave - like an unhappy vocal cord surface - you're in for vocal trouble. It takes enough water to keep the mucous the right consistency.
A great friend of mine, Jennifer O'Brien, is a top studio and road tour singer. When her voice starts feeling stressed, the first thing she does is to increase the water she's drinking. On the road you may find yourself in dryer areas than you're used to, and of course planes, trains and buses (and cars) are like dehydration chambers. Drink like a fish, take a long shower and breath steam in deeply before your shows, and when going to dry areas, consider bringing an inexpensive humidifier with you.
Find a throat soothing remedy that works for you onstage, pack it and use it. My remedy of choice is diluted pineapple juice (3 or 4 parts water to 1 part juice). Others like honey/cayenne/lemon juice in water; ginger or throat coat tea, some have herbal throat sprays that work and some chew gum right before going on stage. Do NOT sing with a lozenge in your mouth. You could end up inhaling it.
OK that's it for part 1. Look for part 2, coming soon with 5 more important tips to protect your voice from a hit song! Your comments are most welcome.