This last Friday night, I was scheduled to sing from 7-10PM at a venue in Miami. I had not been kind to my voice last week (I must confess, I had let out a guttural scream in my car as I sat in traffic and came within seconds of missing a flight – probably not one of my smartest moments).
I woke up at 3:45AM on Friday morning to get a 6AM return flight out of LaGuardia, noticing that I was still a little hoarse. I made a phone call when I got home and was asked what was wrong with my voice. Uh-oh. I started to warm up, and things got a little better, but the top octave of my range was still completely shot.
Reality was setting in, and I started to panic. How could I sing for 2 ½ hours that evening when it was almost noon and I sounded like Darth Vader? I’m not a quitter. I was hoping I would sound better as the day progressed, but I thought that I owed the venue a heads up just in case they wanted to opt for a sure thing. Fortunately, the manager didn’t call me back, so I knew that I was literally going to have to face the music.
I called my voice coach Matt Kramer for advice. He is not only a master vocal coach, but he is also the lead singer of the rock band Saigon Kick. He’s endured grueling performance schedules that stressed his voice, and I was hoping he could tell me some of his tricks.
When he called me back, I wondered if he would tell me to call and cancel. No such luck. I may not be at my best (my fear was that I would disappoint), but a commitment is a commitment, and he told me to buck up and get through it. He shared with me some excellent tips from his bag of vocal tricks, and confirmed some other ideas that I had but was questioning. I share his suggestions with you in the interesting of paying it forward:
Before You Sing:
- Hot and Sour Soup – I thought this was crazy, but it really works. Seriously, five sips into the soup, and I had several notes back in my range. Something about the heat from the spice and the hot liquid works magic. It’s like vocal penicillin.
- Chicken Soup – This is the follow up to the hot and sour soup. Evidently chicken broth is very good at lubricating the vocal cords. This one is Jewish penicillin.
- Tea with Honey and Lemon – This tip you may already know, but it’s all part of soothing your vocal cords and staying hydrated.
- Extend Your Warm-up – This may sound counterintuitive. If you’re hoarse, you’d want to spare your voice before a performance right? Wrong. A longer warm up is like stretching before a long run. It extends your range and opens up your sound and avoids the surprises you might get if you start to sing cold.
- Hit a Note and Get Right Off – This is not the time for flourishes or extending a phrase. Even if you start to sound better and can hit the note, don’t push it. As long as the audience hears you hit the note, and it will be enough.
- Bring Your Energy and Rhythm – A song is a story. There are many ways to tell a good story, and vocal masturbation is not always the best one. Besides, on an off day, even if you want to show off, you can’t. So focus on the lyrics, the rhythm, and the story of the song. The audience will respond.
- Stay Hydrated – You’re going to need to drink more on stage than you normally would. Consider chicken broth. If you’re not up for it, then definitely drink a LOT of water. If you don’t, your voice may crack in the middle of a song. If you feel self-conscious, just tell the audience why you’re doing it. They will be rooting for you.
As bad as I thought I sounded, the audience didn’t seem to notice. The feedback we got was surprisingly positive. Both the audience and the management told us that the people really enjoyed themselves. We could see it in their faces and their fingers as they tapped to the music, and hear it as they sang along. In the end, I was humbled and so glad that I rose to the challenge. After all, the show must go on!