I’m well-aware that most of you reading this are not lead singers regularly performing in a rock band. However, I do feel like I have learned a lot about keeping a singing voice clear and healthy not only for performances, but for daily life and practice. And if you have any musician friends, feel free to forward this post to them!
I’ve always loved singing. My friends and I would play singing games; harmonizing on long walks, critiquing performances a la American Idol (long before the show existed!) and writing little songs after school. My diary contained more original songs than it did personal entries. Of course, at the age of 10, my lyrics left a lot to be desired (You think you’re so cool but you are not true/There’s more than a million you), but then again, my earliest influences did happen to be sticky-sweet pop bands like the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys.
Over time, the quality of my lyrics, melodies and songs improved, and I joined a band called The Criminal Kid. It was in this band, which brought me my first dose of live stage performances, that I learned the importance of taking care of your body and your voice as a singer.
The worst thing that can befall a singer on a performance day is to be sick with something that affects the sinuses and/or throat. You ever try singing with a cold? Your voice sounds like crap. And this is exactly what happened to me on my very first show. That experience did, however, teach me two things:
-Singers can’t afford to get sick during performance-heavy times of the year, and
-I needed a squeaky-clean immune system.
After some trial and error, I found a rhythm that works for me. It’s segmented based on how close the performance date is – the month leading up to a performance is slightly more strict than my average living, the week leading up to a performance is more strict than that, and the day of a performance is the most strict of all.
General Health For the Vocalist
Being vegan is awesome for the voice, since you’re already cutting out some foods that negatively affect it. Dairy’s the worst offender, making your throat super mucus-filled. It’s been too long for me to tell if meat-eating negatively affects vocal quality; I assume it wouldn’t make much of a difference. However, meat is difficult for the body to digest and it’s also full of toxic chemicals in addition to being very acid-forming. All of this leads to a weakened immune system, and who wants that?
Regular exercise is awesome for the voice in a variety of ways. First of all, it’s a great way to develop hardcore lungs – brisk walking, jogging, running, playing sports – it’s all good. By strengthening muscles associated with singing (like your core), you’re amping up how much power you can tap into. Being physically fit also allows you to expend a lot of energy on stage without worrying about being breathless while singing.
These days I’ve been alternating strength training with cardio activities. I love walking so I do a lot of that. Sports are tons of fun and a great way to stay in shape!
The Month Prior To Performance
If I’ve been slacking off, drinking more beer and eating lots of sweets, this is the time I start getting back on the (super healthy) wagon. See ya later, cookies and udon noodles! I don’t do anything drastic in this time period but I do watch that the vast majority of my food is whole and unprocessed.
Aside from making healthier dietary choices, I start paying attention to mental health – stress can lead to illness just as easily as a poor diet. Simple meditation and breathing exercises do the trick – I usually do them when I wake up and when I go to bed since it’s easiest.
Other things that keep stress levels low is making sure I get a good sleep. A couple late nights and early mornings can definitely weaken the immune system, and is almost always one of the main reasons I come down with an illness.
Since I’m a vocalist, I start training my voice more the month leading up to a performance. I do daily singing practice by going through my band’s set list as well as singing songs by other artists. I generally sing 30-60 minutes a day depending on how busy I am – often some of this singing time happens in my car as I drive to work!
The Week Prior To Performance
In the week before a performance, I step it up a little more. Instead of the vast majority of my foods being whole and unprocessed, all of them are. I eat more raw foods and often ditch the gluten. This is the point in time where I absolutely cannot afford to get the sniffles, so I take preventative measures.
I also don’t drink booze. Not a drop. Booze is harsh on the body which leaves you more prone to catching a virus. I caught a cold the night before my very first performance, which I suspect had something to do with the fact that I had drank two nights in a row prior (and didn’t sleep much!).
I have also recently adopted the habit of using a neti pot during this time period. Sure, sticking water up your nose is kind of unusual, but it helps clear out any gunk and bacteria that gets clogged in there, and I breathe so wonderfully afterward.
I continue stress-busting techniques like exercise, good sleep and meditation. I also continue singing practice because what good is keeping your immune system in good shape if you’re not even exercising your vocal cords?
Performance Day – Foods I avoid
On the big day, I restrict certain foods. The crucial ones are:
Sugar – Particularly the refined stuff, but also added sweeteners like agave. I even go easy on the fruit, especially bananas. Sugar makes your throat sticky and takes away that nice crystal-clear sound you need for a sparkling performance. Plus it mucks up your energy levels, boosting you up really quickly, and then crashing you down.
Chocolate – This one is usually associated with sugar, but even when it’s not, I find cocoa/cacao to be mucus-stimulating and so I stay away from it.
Gluten – If I haven’t already ditched gluten the week leading up to a performance, I do it on performance day. The reason is the same as the above – it’s mucus-forming.
Non-Vegan food – Obviously all of my food is going to be vegan because, well, I am. But for folks who aren’t vegan or even vegetarian, dairy is extremely mucus-forming and if you’re serious about singing, looking into ditching it. Lots of people talk about how much of a difference simply omitting dairy makes on their vocal quality. Meat is really taxing for your body to digest – your body needs tons of energy on stage, so eating easily-digestible food is a must!
Performance Day Foods I Love
On performance day I eat simple and mostly raw. Since performances generally don’t start until 10 or 11pm (and often much later), I eat a big supper around 7pm, usually something involving lots of fresh veggies and brown rice. Since it takes so much energy to play a show (much more than you would think!), the addition of brown rice to an otherwise raw menu makes a huge difference in keeping me grounded and free from hunger.
Green juice is ideal for any time of the day, and it’s nice to drink before a show, too! My favorite juice is a combination of cucumber, romaine, kale and lemon juice, with a little green apple sometimes. A piece of ginger adds a nice kick. It’s the juice of champions!
Green smoothies are completely delicious. They taste just as good as regular fruit smoothies, but with the electrifying addition of spinach or kale (or any green you fancy)! Mangoes, bananas and papaya all make great bases for smoothie, though bananas and mangoes are high in sugar, which leaves your voice a little sticky. Apples, oranges, grapefruit, pears, berries and papaya are all excellent lower-sugar choices! Throw a couple of the aforementioned in a blender along with a handful of greens and nut milk (or water), and whatever flavors you like (cinnamon!), and you’ve got yourself an awesome smoothie. Adding less liquid can create a pudding which is equally awesome.
Talk about nature’s sports drink! The water inside young coconuts is full of electrolyte goodness and the meat is soft and delicious. I like to sometimes make a green smoothie using the coconut water, the soft white meat inside, and any other fruit and greens my heart desires. So much better than Gatorade – no weird dyes or ingredients and no white sugar. If you’ve never tried this stuff fresh from a coconut then you must – it’s incredible!
…Or in this case, a big salad with an avocado dressing. A gigantic, avocado-filled salad makes an excellent pre-show lunch – it’s fresh and light, yet keeps you going thanks to the avocado. Avocados are amazing, delicious, and incredibly nutritious. To bulk up a salad and make it meal-sized, I’ll sometimes add some steamed sweet potato.
Fresh Rice Bowl
This rice bowl contained more avocado goodness, tomatoes, red bell peppers, pineapple salsa and brown rice. A huge bowl of this makes for excellent fuel for a long night of loud music and performing.
The singer has a special responsibility in a band. As a singer, your instrument is your body, so if your body breaks down, so does your instrument. If our guitarist Vic were to get the sniffles, he might not be as energetic on stage but his guitar would still sound lovely! That’s not the case as a vocalist. Us singers have to take care of ourselves!
In case you folks were wondering, our Saturday performance went excellent! We had a great turnout, in the ballpark of 150 peeps, which ain’t bad for our humble city. The bands we played with, The Screaming Daisies and The Crystal Kid, were also lots of fun. Saturday night was a special occasion since we (finally!) released our first 3-track single, which you can purchase here for a sliding-scale price of just $0.75 per song! You can also hear a full song from the album on our ReverbNation page.
And tomorrow I’ll come back and talk about how I reward myself for being good! A hint – it starts with ‘c’ and ends in ‘ookies’… 🙂