Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: August 2021

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, August 23, 2021

How To Sing Tired... When To Cancel Vocal Performance [UPDATED 2021]


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You're so tired you can't hardly string a sentence together, yet you have to sing that day! What can you do? OK, first of all the bad news: physical fatigue is a leading cause of vocal fatigue. Singing or even speaking a lot while tired can limit your vocal control, pitch accuracy and shorten your vocal range. It can cause vocal strain and even lead to vocal damage. There are some things you can do to limit vocal stress when singing tired. But you also need to recognize the point where you should cancel your performance - and be courageous enough to act on it! Let's dig in to all this:

How physical exhaustion can hurt your voice:


When you are physically dog-tired, drained, exhausted, sleep-deprived, you've 'hit the wall' or are 'under the weather' for whatever physical or psychological reason, your body does not want to support your voice. It just doesn't want to work that hard. This is because it takes more glucose and oxygen to work the bigger muscles of your core - your gluts, low abdominal wall, back, thighs - than to work the smaller muscles of the throat, larynx, vocal cords, tongue and jaw. Delegating the effort necessary for good singing to these smaller muscles is detrimental to them, causing tension to set in at all the wrong places. 

Also, the big muscles in your back that determine your posture so your ribcage is open and your diaphragm is stretched - they don't like engaging in their duties either. So your breath control is compromosed, and your shoulders and neck muscles try to help, but just interfere with the free operation of your larynx and your facial articulators.  Not good!

7 wise things to do when singing tired:

  • DRINK UP! 
Take extra measures to be well-hydrated. Dehydration of your vocal tissues can put the nail in the coffin as far as your voice is concerned. Steaming your throat in a hot shower is a great idea because it gets water into your throat tissues immediately. Water at your performance is, too... maybe with either a little pineapple juice or cayenne-pepper-plus-lemon-juice added to keep throat tissues lubricated. Herbal tea with honey is fine, but stay away from black and green tea (which are dehydrating). 
  • EAT UP! 
Raise your immediate energy level: Before your performance eat something simple, easily digested and full of nutrition...especially protien. Maybe add a good vitamin/mineral supplement. But don't use sugar to do this! I once ate waaaay too many M&Ms at a recording session and got all my tracks too fast to sing later. Trust me... if you try to pump your tired self up with surgery snacks you'll get hyper and then crash. Oh, and chocolate can create phlegm your voice will have to deal with. Hold the chocolate celebration til after your performance.
  • DON'T NUMB YOURSELF! 
Alcohol or other mood-altering drugs are really bad ways to try and get through. They can numb your alertness and can mask pushing, straining and dehydration of your voice. You won't sound nearly as well as you think you do, and your voice will suffer the consequences.
  • WARMUP and COOL DOWN! 
Make sure to use mindful, well-executed vocal exercises to warmup. It's extremely important to know how to 'pull' instead of 'push' your voice as you sound it.  In fact, consider doing a warmup with your vocal coach by phone or webcam before your performance. Then when your show is over, do a short series of gentle vocal exercises such as staccato scales, lip bubbles, tongue trills or sirens especially in your head voice, to cool your voice down. Cool-down exercises can help your voice recover a lot faster.
  • SUPPORT YOUR VOICE! 
It doesn't work to 'just relax and sing'. Something has to give. Something has to provide power. For your voice that should come from the pelvic floor, which along with good posture will help give your voice the balance of breath support and control. Even (and especially) when you don't feel like it, you must make your big muscles work! They won't like it, but the intricate instrument of your voice sure will.
  • DON'T SLUMP! 
While singing, you must keep yourself flexibly tall... avoid like the plague the typical slumped posture of tiredness that will sabotage your breath control. Don't freeze to conserve energy either, remember - the voice wants access to movement.
  • USE CORRECT TECHNIQUE! 
Bad technique plus singing tired is a recipe for vocal disaster. The use of correct vocal technique for breathing, keeping an open throat and communicating authentically becomes all the more necessary when you're tired. And yes... all this takes MORE energy!

If you sing tired but wisely:

  1. You should notice that after your performance your vocal cords don't feel strained at all. In fact, you should be able to sing even better at the end of your performance than at the beginning.
  2. You should feel even more physical (instead of vocal) exhaustion... and you'll probably be hungry! 
  3. Your voice should feel and sound great the next day, instead of trashed.

Here's when you should cancel your performance:


If you really can't gather the low placed, big muscle energy to float your voice on top, or the tall, energetic posture necessary to open your ribcage and control your breath, then by all means don't sing. If you do, you risk short or long-term vocal problems because...
  • You will guard.
You may start the 'guarded stance' habit. This is a fear-induced inward crunch that tries too hard and can become a spiral downward to terrible vocal technique and real vocal dysfunction.
  • You will push.
You will end up pushing too much breath through your cords to get them to work, you will experience less vocal ability and problems with notes and passages you can usually easily accomplish.
  • Your voice will suffer.
I've done this wrong. I've sung when too exhausted and have set my voice back as much as three weeks. You see artists in the news all the time with vocal damage that started with vocal fatigue which I believe for busy artists is linked to physical fatigue. I don't take chances anymore. 

Don't let your busy life, successful career, or your fear of canceling a show cost you the health and longevity of your voice. If your voice matters, blowing your voice out even for a Grammy performance is ironically counter-productive for your career. Out of courtesy to those involved in the show, cancel as soon as you know you need to. But remember that if you have a pulse, you're allowed to get sick! From experience, my advice is:

- Either be able to summon the energy needed to be capable of supporting your voice and applying good vocal technique, 
or cancel your performance and live to sing another day!

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Monday, August 16, 2021

Deep Dive Into Performance Anxiety & Mindset - With Ingela Onstad of Courageous Artistry


NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunesTuneIn RadioStitcherSpotifyAmazonPodbean, most other podcast apps
PLEASE REVIEW at ratethispodcast.com/atv


My interview with veteran classical artist and certified mental therapist Ingela Onstad is laced with so much helpful information that I couldn't edit it to be any shorter. Whether you want to conquer performance anxiety or you just want to get even deeper into the flow state when you perform, don't miss any of this interview!

Topics we cover include:

  • Ingela's journey and why she decided to add mental health therapist to her career as a renown classical vocalist.
  • How Ingela uses Maslow's famous 'hierarchy of needs' triangle to explore biological root causes of performance anxiety (fascinating!)
  • Ingela takes us on a deep dive into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system responses that act as gas and brake pedals for our brains.
  • Tools and daily rituals we can use to successfully cope with anxiety.
  • When and from whom should a performer seek professional help?
  • We talk about the 'acting technique' strategy of laser focusing on the one heart to focus sensory feelers into a singular purpose.
  • We discuss a famous TED talk by Amy Cuddy on body language and how the phenomenon 'act as if and ye shall be' is really a thing.
  • Ingela demonstrates a breathing exercise she uses to quell anxiety before performance. We talk about how singing the first song replicates this kind of breathing, and can relax a case of nerves for the rest of the performance set list.
  • Why it's toxic to us when someone asks if we're nervous before we go on stage!
  • Ingela talks about how the brain is hard-wired for negativity, and how we can counter that with realistic positivity that our brains can actually believe.
  • She explains the R.A.I.N. strategy for dealing with anxiety.
  • She tells us where we can find her and her services... www.courageousartistry.com

About Ingela Onstad:

Ingela is a classical soprano, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and mindset coach for performers.

Her coaching business, Courageous Artistry, supports performing artists in their quest to perform at the top of their abilities. She specializes in helping performers address fears that affect not only their careers, but also their well-being.

She has thousands of hours of clinical experience as a therapist and sees clients with a broad range of ages and issues. Ms. Onstad has presented on the topic of performance anxiety at institutions across the United States

In addition, Ms. Onstad is a soprano who has enjoyed a varied international career in opera, concert work, and contemporary music. Operatic highlights include performances throughout Germany, Canada, and the United States. She continues to maintain an active performing career.

Find out more about Ingela and connect with her at www.courageousartistry.com

What about you? What have you dealt with as far as mindset, anxiety or just unfocused brain in performance? Ingela and I would love to know if you try anything we talked about, and how it works for you! Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Entertainer VS Artist - Which Is Better?

Hmmm... audience or song first?

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunesTuneIn RadioStitcherSpotifyAmazonPodbean, most other podcast apps
PLEASE REVIEW at ratethispodcast.com/atv

When you're performing on stage, which do you think is the stronger mode to be in... over the top pedal to the metal or still waters run deep and nuanced? In other words... is it better to be an Entertainer or an Artist?

OK, dear voice, I'll cut to the chase: If your goal is a successful career as a music performer, you need to be both entertainer AND artist. Are there successful performers that are primarily one or the other? Yes. But strengthening the mode you're weakest in will significantly improve your performance impact, and therefore your career value. 

Now let's talk about the differences between these two modes, and how it's possible to use both.

THE ENTERTAINER MODE: Audience First, Song Last.

An entertainer ALWAYS communicates directly to the people in front of them. The goal is to get the audience to respond positively and energetically to the performance. They use words and actions that make the audience laugh, applaud, physically and verbally respond as if the performer is speaking or singing with them. Entertainers are usually, but not always, extroverts. 

Pros:

  • You know how to interact with the audience to get them verbally and/or physically involved, laughing, answering your questions, singing along, swaying, clapping and sometimes even dancing to your performance. 
  • You can connect directly and personally with your audience to form a bond that can turn them into fans and supporters of your music.
  • You are comfortable performing in front of a lot of people and are less likely to be plagued with performance anxiety or stage fright
Cons:
  • You are too present with your audience, like an actor communicating with the usually forbidden 4th wall in stage acting. You are often focused on the wrong heart, and sing every song at the same volume level, with the same emotional dynamics even when they are inappropriate with the actual material you're communicating. For instance, you sing a sad song with a smile. Or you sing a lyric to the audience that is NOT written to the audience, such as...
  • You sound at best, like a talented bar singer or Vegas entertainer who is just performing everything at the same level. Unless the lyric is a crowd rant, there is no real meaning being communicated. At worst, you sound inauthentic or numb. (Granted, there are bar singers out there who are better artists than some on the radio. We're not talking about them:)
  • Your vocal health can be compromised by constantly pushing sound to the audience without enough breath control. 

THE ARTIST: Song First, Audience Last

Performing as an artist, the performer is primarily connected to the song itself. The goal is to spark a specific reaction from the heart to whom the song lyrics are written. To do this, an artist must have a deep and authentic connection to 1. the material being communicated, and 2. the one heart they are trying to get a response from. An artist performs a song like an actor going into character. They are often, but not always, introverts.

Pros:
  • You are able to use the scene the song is set in to direct your choices of vocal nuances, tone and dynamics that will get the strongest authentic response from your target heart. 
  • An artistic performance will lead to a much more interesting experience for anyone else who is listening, and you'll get more of what I call the 'gravy' responses of audience applause and industry that could become interested in your career.
  • Singing in artist mode tends to be a deeply creative and satisfying experience. 
Cons:
  • You aren't present enough with your audience. While you are deeply connected to the material you're singing, you may make inappropriate choices of 
    • muddy articulation (you're not really concerned that anyone outside your performance bubble understands your lyrics)
    • a boring lack of physical movements and stage performance skills.
  • You fail to connect with your audience by acknowledging their applause, making eye contact or thanking them, often turning your back on them which leaves them feeling unseen and unappreciated. 
  • You may be prone to performance anxiety or stage fright, resulting in weak vocal technique and voice-sabotaging tension. You find it difficult and stressful to talk to fans or press when you are not singing. You may have problems being fully present in interviews. 

ARTIST-ENTERTAINER: Song and Audience Balance

Real performance magic (and career value), comes by balancing and switching these two modes at the right time. Here's how to do it: 
  1. Be in song-first artist mode when you are in the act of delivering the song,.
  2. Be in audience-first entertainer mode at all other times.  
  3. SOMETIMES switch modes deliberately in the middle of a song.
Here's an extreme example of that, from one of the best at combining these modes: Bono/ U2:


Artist Mode: 
  • Be very clear to whom each song in your set is directed. If it is a story song to your audience, make sure you focus to the one heart of the room like a laser beam instead of to everyone like a flashlight beam. 
  • At the first note of the song's instrumental intro, go into character and focus your mind into the scene of the lyric. 
  • Then communicate to the target heart so well that you get the response you want, even if it's just in your imagination. You'll pull the listening audience into your performance like a magnet.
As I wrote in my Instagram feed a while back:

Sing to one heart, and the Ocean will hear you.
Entertainer Mode:
  • Before you even take the stairs to the stage, send your presence out to the whole venue where your audience is waiting. Walk onstage with them firmly in your mind's grasp, and acknowledge them at least non-verbally before you begin your first song. 
  • Be physically active. At least move your hips at the mic stand! Push the envelope of what is psychologically comfortable for you, consider bigger, freer movement. Consider a stage performance coach to help you use communicative body language, both for artist and entertainer modes.
  • At the end of your song, make it plain (after a moment's artistic pause) that you are breaking character with your song, and disconnecting so you can connect with the audience. Look at them. If you must turn your back to get some water or change something, make sure they know you are still with them.
  • At the end of the show, again, acknowledge the audience appropriately. Tell them how to reach you and get your music, and leave an imprint on them that you value their contribution to your event. If safe to do so, interact with them after the show.
Why it can be hard to do both:
  • You may feel very strange or fake trying on the mode you're not that familiar with. 
    • An artist may feel that entertainer mode is over-acting. But on stage... well, great singing is not for the squeamish. Get out of your safe box and do something crazy to please and connect with people who may become your supporters!
    • An entertainer may feel bored in acting mode because they aren't loudly extending themselves in every direction as much as they are used to. Or they may feel fake because they don't know how to get into character. Get out of your limitations and learn how powerful a voice focused on a single heart can be.
  • If you have more of an introverted personality, you will need to practice getting out of your safe zone. But you can do it. Many famous entertainers are actually introverts who learned to act like extroverts. Consider working with a stage performance coach such as Diane Kimbrough who can teach you to expand and use your natural moves to much greater effect. 
  • If you have more of an extroverted personality, it may be hard for you to focus inwardly enough for artist mode. But you can do it, too. Take acting lessons - especially from good coaches who can teach you how to go into character. 
  • Or take a lesson with me. I work with both modes and with combining them. I'd love to help you!

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