By Lisa Popeil
What do Adele, John Mayer, Maxwell, Simon LeBon, Art Garfunkel, Nicki Minaj and Roger Daltrey have in common? They’ve all experienced the difficult and frightening reality of having to cancel performances or tours because of voice problems. Besides the emotional trauma of potentially long-term voice loss, the financial consequences of canceled performances affect a whole lot of people, including managers, agents, merchandisers, venues, roadies and their families. All because of the tiny, penny-sized pieces of tissue called the vocal folds. What’s a lead singer to do? Enlist the help of your manager––make him or her your ally in the challenge of staying on the road and off the operating table.
Your manager may think of you, a touring singer as an instrumentalist without the inconvenience of extra cartage and tech costs, but the fact is that singers carry the most fragile equipment of all: the vocal folds. I call the vocal folds “the gold” of the whole operation. It doesn’t matter how great your songs are, if no sound comes out, you’ll have to put the tour to bed.
Almost all of the lead singers in bands I coach come to me with similar concerns: vocal fatigue, a battle for high notes, neck grabbing, hoarseness, tension or grabbing sensations in the neck, and an overall sense that they’re not singing correctly. Now of course, there’s no substitute for good vocal technique such as knowing how to stand (posture), how to breathe and support, and how to create projected sound without squeezing the vocal folds. But the problems lead singers experience is often exacerbated by the dynamic of the members of the band. It’s just so easy for instrumentalists to “turn up,” not realizing that there’s a real limit to the volume singers can or should produce. Also, a guitarist who easily replaces broken strings may have trouble “getting” that vocalists can’t replace their damaged vocal folds in the same way.
Recently I had a well-known rock singer come to see me mid-tour, terrified that with each show, his voice was degrading steadily with increasing pain. Besides working on vocal technique with him and creating vocal health strategies, including nebulizer use and teaching him “laryngeal mas- sage,” I got the manager to attend our sessions. The manager then becomes the primary advocate of the singer––not just representing the band to the world but representing the singer to the rest of the band and road crew.
So how can the lead singer impart the importance of protecting the band’s “gold” (the vocal folds) without sounding like a whiner? Here are some tips to pass on to your manager to make sure that your band’s name is in the headlines because of your amazing success and not embarrassingly linked to “vocal problems.”