Deciding to become a full time singer can be much more of a sacrifice than most people realise. If you haven’t already started down that path there are a few things that everyone else does that you may have to give up.
With other jobs where you use your hands or machinery the only things you have to protect are your hands and the machinery. For your hands you may need to wear gloves and for the machinery this may mean scheduling regular maintenance and sourcing replacement parts whenever they break down.
Things are a little different when the tool of your trade is your voice. There are no replacements parts that I’m aware of so your primary focus will have to be protecting your voice and your overall health in an effort to ensure your voice never breaks down.
As you can imagine, this take a lot of work and may require significant changes to your environment, routine and lifestyle. Below I’ve listed a few of the mistakes singers make and things you’ll need to avoid if you plan to or you’re already pursuing a full time career as a singer.
1. Screaming and Shouting
If you want a recipe for almost instantaneous hoarseness, screaming and shouting is the way to go. You may not realise it but you can easily fall into his trap because it’s such a regular part of everyday life.
At A Concert
Whenever you go to a live show, especially into pop genre, it’s highly likely that the singer on stage is going to instruct you to make as much noise as you possibly can. I know I’m guilty of this one.
As a regular part of Shaggy’s live show, he splits the audience down the middle and has each side compete against the other to see who can make the most noise. As an audience member there’s no way you’re gonna let the other side win this competition. The winners are champions and the losers are just lame. And everybody know you ain’t lame.
This is great fun for the audience but if you’re a singer be careful. This can make singing the next day a real challenge and if you have a vocal coach it’s a great way to her yell at you.
Out With Friends
If you’re out with your friends at a club or a noisy bar you can end up shouting the entire night without even realising you’re doing it. The music in these places can be very loud so the only way anyone would be able to hear what you’re saying would be to shout.
The obvious solution to this is to skip going out altogether but who wants to be that friend? As an alternative make an effort to avoid shouting and just speak directly into someone’s ear when you do speak. Also if there is a quieter part of the club/bar wait until you get over to that section before you indulge in conversation.
During Sporting Events
If like me, you love to play sports, or even if you like to just watch them, this is another place you need to be very careful with your voice.
I play volleyball in a local club. It started out as a way to stay in shape but it awoke something in me I never knew was there – my highly competitive side. In one match I remember jumping up and spiking a spectacular shot at the net (spectacular to me at least) scoring a very satisfying point for my team.
Once I confirmed that I had actually scored I let out a tremendous roar in celebration.
It was the greatest feeling ever. The following day however I had to sing and let me tell you – it was rough. That one shout was enough to render me quite hoarse for the next couple of days so learn from my mistake and dial it back a few.
2. Skipping the Vocal Warm Up or Training
Your vocal chords are like every other muscle in your body – they need regular exercise to stay in tip top condition. And just like these muscles you need to get them ready for prolonged fatigue (singing).
Regular vocal exercises are an essential part of every professional singer’s daily routine that should only be skipped on rest days. Jumping straight into singing without warming up and exercising the vocal chords regularly can lead to a lot of problems while singing.
First of all your voice won’t sound as good as it could and you’ll have a hard time controlling the tone of your voice. This is a nightmare for songs that require that extra little bit of emotion. You’ll just never know how those songs will sound until you open your mouth and sing and you won’t necessarily like what you hear.
Skipping the vocal warm up can often lead to a shortened range. Personally I find that if I’ve skipped my vocal exercises for a while I have a harder time hitting notes I was comfortable with before.
This is made even worse when you’re not in the best shape in general. You need air to sustain notes and to reach higher notes. If you’re out of shape your lungs simply won’t be able to supply this air. You won’t reach the ones, you’ll sound weird and you’ll absolutely hate it.
3. Eating Large Meals Right Before You Sing
As I just mentioned you need air to be able to sing properly and while I don’t know the science behind it I can tell you that when your stomach is full it can be very difficult to fill your lungs with enough air to facilitate decent singing.
Your body obviously needs fuel in the form of food to survive but you can survive longer than most people realise. Try wherever possible not to eat at least an hour and a half to 2 hours before you sing. This will ensure you’re not starving but you also don’t have digesting food creating gas and preventing you from being able to fill your lungs with enough air to sing effectively.
This is especially important if your live show is filled with the type of music that lends itself to dancing or jumping around on stage. With a stomach full of food you won’t be able to sustain these kinds of activities for any length of time. And if you try you’ll only ending giving yourself a stitch will will stop you dead in your tracks (no pun intended).
I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you that smoking is a bad idea in general. What you may not realise is the dramatic effect it can have on your singing voice.
I’ve heard of singers from “back in the day” who would smoke as part of their show. It was all part of the act and back then made it look cool. Nowadays I’d like to think we’re a little smarter than that.
If you’ve ever seen someone die from cancer you know there’s nothing cool about anything has the remotest chance of giving you cancer. Smoking has been linked to cancer but can also make your lips black, make your teeth yellow and completely change the way your voice sounds.
Again I’ve heard of singers who would smoke to give their voice a raspy sound because that’s what they like or that’s what the song they were recording called for.
Any decent vocal coach will tell you though, that raspiness can be achieved by taking less breath but still pushing when you sing.
Perhaps the biggest issue with smoking as it relates to singers is the uncontrollable cough it’s usually accompanied by. Stopping to cough in the middle of a sustained note can absolutely ruin the effect you were trying to create.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, anything that affects your ability to fill your lungs with enough air to generate the power you need throughout a live performance, will to make it difficult to sing well. Smoking and the cough it generates is notorious for doing this.
5. Not Getting Enough Sleep
No matter how well you do everything else if you don’t get enough sleep your singing voice will suffer. Of course the biggest challenges for touring musicians are the constant travelling, late nights, early mornings and ever changing time zones.
As travelling musicians we’ve all had to deal with these at one time or another and, in spite of all the marvels of modern medicine, the only cure for a tired body is sleep. Your vocal chords are a muscle and like all other muscles it needs regular rest or it will start to struggle.
Without adequate rest your vocal tone will change. It might not be too noticeable to screaming fans in the audience but you’ll hear and probably feel the difference. Warm tea before singing can help temporarily but don’t use this as a substitute for sleep.
Watch Your Attitude
A lack of sleep will affect your mood. There’s no escaping it. You need to be aware of this because if you need to do interviews or interact with fans your patience level can change and you can end up saying things you regret later on.
It’s also a lot harder for a sleep-deprived singer to put on a great show. Again sometimes it’s unavoidable but so your best to ensure you get enough sleep so the fans don’t have to suffer too. You don’t have to go to every after party… just saying.
WARNING: If you’re on a particularly demanding tour (like a promotional tour) where you’re expected to do 3 interviews, 2 live performances and a 4 hour flight every day for 3 weeks straight then you’ll need to be especially careful.
Many have succumbed to the need to be upbeat throughout these marathon stretches and turned to drugs or alcohol to get through it. Having a solid group of bandmates in your touring party is a powerful weapon I highly recommend to use against this.
There’s nothing like having a group of well grounded colleagues on the road with you to keep you from facing into this trap. You need people who will keep you accountable and have your best interests at heart AND equally important you need to be that kind of ban mate too.
Sleep or no sleep you can get through this as a unit.
Did I scare you a little? If so, good! These are common mistakes many singers make so I wanted to make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Deciding to sing for a living requires discipline and sacrifice and should not be taken lightly. I’ve shared some of the things I’ve learned over the years as a singer but I’m always ready to learn something new.
Let me know in the comments below what you thought of my list and (if you have any) please share any additional tips you have…