Advice: Your First Lesson On Vocal Care

Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us this afternoon. We have spent the last month planning a series of guests posts with our dear friend Deborah ‘Zuke’ Smith, which we are thrilled to launch on the blog today. Zuke is an industry professional with knowledge and insight well beyond her years, but I am sure all of that will come to light through her posts in the weeks ahead. If you have any questions about developing as a writer/blogger in music, please do not hesitate email and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

You just woke up and it’s one o’clock in the afternoon. You can barely talk, and you’re freaking out because you have a gig tonight from 10:00 tonight until 2:00 in the morning. You know you’ll be partying after the gig, so you’ll probably wake up the next day with an even worse voice. And then after that, you have to drive to yet another gig in some other town. How are you going to get through this tour?!

Do you really think your tiny vocal cords can handle night after night of abuse if you don’t know how to properly care for them? Don’t feel bad; when I was younger, I did some really stupid things that damaged my voice. I’m here to tell you that you can repair that damage. And you can learn to do it correctly, without compromising your artistic integrity or your signature sound.

The first step in my book toward good vocal health is: Hydration. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go. Drink herbal teas. Eat foods high in H2O, like cucumbers, celery, watermelon, and strawberries. Stay away from things that dehydrate the voice, such as alcohol, caffeine, sodium and sugar. Ok, so only excess caffeine will dehydrate you, but really, that gnarly feeling in your mouth and that jittery sensation in your body after too much doesn’t make for a fun singing experience. 

Number two is: Sleep and Vocal Rest. Sleep regenerates the body and vocal rest means absolute silence. Do not sing. Do not speak. You all have smartphones, just type out messages if you need to say something. If your voice is shot and sounds like you swallowed a pail of nails, don’t you think your body is telling you to be quiet? It’s really very simple. If it hurts, you probably did something wrong. If you sound like a scratch track, you probably need to cool it for a while.

Aside from those first two “Must-Dos,” getting on a regular exercise program for the body will help you maintain your vocal stamina for many years through many late night club hits. Did you play any sports as a kid and did your coach make you warm up before you ran or played ball? Your vocal cords are begging you to treat them with that kind of respect as well. How about after the game? Did you have some type of cool down routine? Yep, you know where I’m going with this. Your cords need to calm down after you sing. 

There are many various exercises for all types of vocal fatigue and abuse, but you must learn to make the basics a daily habit so you can try and prevent damage. The best, most well trained singers may find themselves in trouble and face vocal surgery. This is not unlike a top-level athlete. Even with Olympic level training, the pro athlete can suffer injuries. Do your cords a favor and treat them like they are worth a million bucks. Someday, they may be!

If you have any doubts that I know what I’m talking about, I’m 55 and a breast cancer survivor. Chemo completely destroyed my voice for a year. I thought I lost parts of my voice forever. Fortunately, I found a vocal coach willing to work with me and not only did my voice come back, but I also discovered a passion for teaching that I never knew existed. 

How can I help you to help yourself? If you have any questions, drop me a note here

Deborah ‘Zuke’ Smith is the founder of Zuketunes and a seasoned industry professional. She’s one of the coolest people you could ever hope to meet and has really wonderful insight on not only vocal technique and training, but navigating a career as an emerging artist. We’re thrilled to have her join our contributing team throughout the months of May and June. If you enjoy her columns, please seek out her other work.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.