Let’s face it, the entertainment industry is competitive. A recent study from Queen Mary University in London revealed a not-surprising statistic: the acting profession’s unemployment rate hovers at about 90%, and only 2% are making a living in the profession. I don’t think anyone has done a study on the “unemployment” rate of community theater performers not getting cast, out of all those who audition. But, based on the hundreds of students I’ve heard say, “I KNOW I sang/read very well, but the director picks his/her/their favorites. It’s not fair!”, that “unemployment rate” must be pretty high. There is some good news: in the almost 39-years I’ve been in practice, we’ve been fortunate to see many of our clients get cast in great shows and leading roles on and off-Broadway: Kinky Boots, Waitress, Addams Family, Diva, Shrek, Beehive, etc.
What about you band singers? Plenty of competition there, too. As DJ’s become more popular, and club date bands less so, competition has increased for the coveted singer slots. And with so many of our students, and many other singers around the country, getting into tribute bands (Journey, The Eagles, etc.), those slots may very well be dwindling as well.
Let’s face it: there aren’t too many professions that are not highly competitive: teaching, lecturing, sales…and the list goes on. And what’s something else these professions have in common besides competitiveness: they’re all highly vocal! Which brings us to our topic.
Congratulations! You went all out on your audition/interview and you got cast/hired. Great! You’ll now be working and phonating non-stop as a singer, actor, band front-person, teacher, sales exec, etc. So, do you need to keep pushing your voice at 150%? NO!!! You got the part; why do you have to keep auditioning at every rehearsal? At every class? At every team meeting? I say, you don’t.
We’ve all heard of energy conservation. The focus of this article is, conserve your VOCAL energy! If you give it all out in rehearsals, what’s going to be left for the show? I can speak from my many years of live stage performances when I say that a TON of energy is required for all that acting, singing, and dancing, sometimes acrobatics, moving sets, and running to change costume in under 60 seconds. All of that can sap your energy fast. And I’m sure many of you, like me, had an equally vocally-and-energy-demanding job during the day like teaching, sales, or the toughest non-paid day job of all…parenting
For example, I’ll speak of something that is near and dear to my heart: community theater. Once you’re cast, the rehearsal period often lasts anywhere from 4 weeks (if you’re lucky) to 12 weeks, which by the way, will probably go right through a health-threatening season change. It’s certainly not necessary to push at 100% or more at every one of those 4-7-times-per-week rehearsals, which on Long Island anyway, generally have no microphones until hell week. So if you can’t hear yourself, you’re exhausted and dehydrated, and you push your voice in the third hour of a rehearsal at the end of a 14-hour day, that’s a recipe for vocal disaster.
I can remember almost falling down in a dead faint when I head a musical director say, “People, save your voices in rehearsal. Take it easy, or you won’t have a voice left for the show.” What an intelligent and enlightened director! But that attitude may be the exception, not the rule.
So what can you do to conserve and protect your voice under the grueling vocal demands of performing, teaching, or presenting? Let’s make a quick checklist for vocal success:
- Singers and actors: make sure to mark your rehearsals. Marking means don’t sing or shout full out, take high notes down, shorten long notes, reduce your dynamic (i.e., loudness) level, singing some normally-belted notes in head voice, etc. This should be understood by all directors, but if it isn’t, go over to the director/music director and mention that you’d like to mark the rehearsal to save your voice. I’m sure they’d rather we all preserve our voices in rehearsal, so that we have something left for the performances. I really can’t imagine a director saying no. Of course, if at all possible, sing full performance level in the dress rehearsal, unless you’re deathly ill, for microphone levels, balance and blend, etc. Otherwise, drop your vocal effort level down to 50% of your normal effort, if at all possible. And for you non-singing voice professionals, use a personal amplifier such as the ChatterVox, or an in-room PA with lavalier mic or preferably a headset mic, for meetings or teaching/lecturing. Communicate and express yourself well, but don’t push your voice. Let the PA system do the work for you. If you’re not getting paid extra to push, DON’T! Because if you lose your voice, you may not get paid at all.
- It may sound obvious (or maybe not to some folks) but get some SLEEP! For most adults, 7-8 hours per night would be great. When you start getting less than 6 hours’ sleep, you risk compromising your health and your voice. How can you concentrate on the skills needed for a good voice when you’re exhausted? Posture, breath support, tone placement…all the things you need for good voice will go out the window when you can barely keep your eyes open. (Just a note: it’s not physically possible to take a full deep breath when you’re slouched. So with “tired posture”, you won’t have the air you need to support your power-singing in the big finale…and you may strain your vocal mechanism.) And just from a practical standpoint, when you’re in a musical (or you’re giving THE sales presentation of your career), laser-focus and concentration are essential – but a real challenge when you’re sleep-deprived.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Did I mention you should hydrate? You need to drink water before, during, and after shows, rehearsals, recording sessions, meetings, lectures, classes, etc. We’ve covered the topic of hydration extensively in a previous blog and video: Drink Up! Hydrate For A Healthier Voice. So just to summarize here, if you want a clear effortless voice, having well-hydrated vocal folds is essential. Remember our general rule of thumb: drink half your body weight in ounces of water, more if you’re active, under hot stage lights or in heavy costumes, or if your office/school/home has dry heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. Another way to gauge your hydration: pee pale, or as we say in my studio, “Pee white, sing (or speak) right!” Nervousness will make you feel dryer, so if you’re about to begin the performance or presentation of a lifetime, have more water. And for you performers who dance: your muscles and joints need hydration too, to help you perform at your peak. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, which tend to dehydrate and may trigger your reflux. And for you coffee addicts, maybe you don’t need coffee to feel perkier, maybe you’re just dehydrated! (Ask any of our clients: I’m always perky, and I almost never have any caffeine. But I do have 80-96 oz. of water a day). Oh…I’ll also count caffeine-free herbal tea as hydration, for those who want a healthy soothing warm beverage.
- I know we’re all MUCH too busy to think about doing something as important as warming up the voice before professional or elite voice use, and cooling down afterward, but this is something we can’t afford to skip. If you were a major league baseball pitcher, you wouldn’t go out on the mound and attempt to pitch 95 mph pitches without warming up your shoulder. That’s a surefire way to injure yourself. I always say, a muscle is a muscle…whether it’s in your shoulder or your vocal mechanism. If you talk all day in your speaking range (i.e., the lower ¼ of your range), you’re certainly not warmed up for the upper ¾ of your range if you’re going to sing. The vocal folds need to be stretched (lengthened and thinned) in order to hit those high notes. Our therapeutic voice exercises, used as warm-ups, will also give you the clear vocal quality you need for effective speaking and/or singing. Therapeutic voice exercises such as lip trills, humming or vocalizing through a straw, plus our larynx massage technique (see our how-to video here) are excellent choices for easy, fun warm-ups that will turn you into a competent and dependable voice user. And these warm-ups don’t have to be sung to be effective; you can simply slide your voice up, down, and in up/down wavelike patterns, and you’ll accomplish the same effective warm-up as if you had sung the exercises. Don’t forget to use these exercises again, in a gentle manner, after your vocal event is over, as a cool-down.
- Try to stay healthy. Everything we’ve talked about so far is helpful for general health as well as vocal health. Don’t forget to wash your hands often, avoid close contact with ill colleagues, rinse your nose with saline spray or use a neti pot or sinus rinse kit, and don’t share your personal things with others in the middle of rehearsals or meetings. (Amusing personal note: We had a fellow singer in a musical revue who was sick during rehearsals. We called her “Typhoid Rhonda” because we were all catching her respiratory infection. It was becoming the company cold. And who did she LOVE to sit next to, and borrow personal things to use as props? You guessed it…yours truly. That’s the only time I can remember having a choreographer stop a rehearsal and tell me I needed to go home, as I looked like I was going to pass out.) Remember when a person sneezes, or a singer sings, those germs go flying into the air and linger there. You could still walk through that “germ cloud” a little while later and catch a cold. Read Dr. Anthony Jahn’s article on how singers (and everyone) can avoid colds here.
If you follow these tips to conserve your vocal energy, I’m confident you’ll live to sing…or speak…another day. You’ll prove to your director, boss, department chairman, or principal that you are a dependable, vibrant dynamic performer or communicator. And you’ll surely be on your way to developing the Choice Voice you’ve always wanted!