VoiceCouncil will no longer be updated. Articles will still be available for some time.

Singing with a Cold


Stay up on the stage when you’re down with a cold –says Tom Lang

Don’t tell your Doctor (or your mother) that you are reading this article.

Sometimes the show just has to go on – even when you’re sick.

It’s a less than ideal world – and you have to get out there liven things up on stage without killing your voice.

So here are my strategies from a performance point of view – in other words, don’t trust me as a medical specialist but just as a guy who’s lived the experience – and learned a little.

checkboxWater. Water. And Water.
As soon as I feel a cold coming on, I drink copious amounts of water – this lubricates your throat and flushes the virus out, weakening it temporarily. (I’m not a doc – check VoiceCouncil’s Doctor’s Corner for the med details). As far as meds go, right before the gig I drink a coffee too so I can get the energy boost, and if I’m “stuvved ub” a take an antihistamine so I don’t sound ridiculous.

checkboxSing Less and Lower.singingtext01
If my throat is still hurting when I arrive at the gig, I kick two plans into gear: (i) sing less and (ii) sing lower. My band is agile so it’s not a problem to lower the keys. Remember, audiences are very forgiving of melody. If you are smiling and the music sounds decent, they will forgive you. If there’s a big note at the end – don’t hit it; pick up a complimentary note that lies in your cold-reduced range.

checkboxTurn Your Monitors Up.
Make sure your monitors are working well. After all, it’s tougher to hear yourself when you’re stuffed up. I recommend in-ears as this allows you to adjust the mix that reaches your ears, with a minimum of other stage noise.

checkboxBail Out Creatively.
If you have a horrible sore throat, there is a threshold at which you have to bail out. Lozenges can ease the pain (but mask damage you might be doing to your voice!). At some point you’re going to have to get someone else to sing. One night I was lucky enough to have a friend of mine come and see the band – I got him to sing the last set! You might want to consider involving the audience – it helps if you’ve got some standard repertoire that everyone knows.

checkboxGet a Long Term Strategy.singingtext02
If you’re in a band, encourage your non-singing band mates to sing. Even Ringo Starr sang in every Beatles album. He had a limited range and average sounding voice – with average pitch control – yet John and Paul wrote songs for him that suited these qualities. You may find that reluctant band members begin to bloom. My bass player is beginning to sing harmonies with me. There are times when I’m surprised by the quality and I don’t turn on the harmony processor. He’s even beginning to use a vocal processor and enjoying the experience.

checkboxNow, Get Back to Bed.

After your performance, congratulate yourself with a drink, get off to bed (alone…) and do all the traditional nursing stuff.

Tom Lang headshot magTom Lang is a singer-songwriter gaining national attention with his newest album, Super Sonic, available at CDBaby and on iTunes and Spotify. By day he’s a product manager at TC-Helicon, where his singing experience and extensive use of audio products provides invaluable feedback on performance in diverse environments. By night, Tom regularly sings and plays guitar, keyboards and fiddle in several bands. www.tomlangmusic.com

Dr. Jahn on Vocalists with Colds






  • Poppa Madison

    I just couldn’t resist this one! (With apologies to the Copyright owner of “Singin’ In the Rain” and fond memories of Gene Kelly R.I.P.)

    ♫ Ahm singin’ wiv a cold, (sniff! sniff!) ju’s singing wiv a cold

    What an ‘orrible feelin’ I’m sick once agin (cough! sneeze!)

    I’m sneezin’ like mad, Aah nevah felt s’bad

    There’s tears in mah eyes and Aah can’t hear a thing!

    Let the fever clouds chase, ev’ryone in mah place.

    C’mon with the potions there’s no smile on mah face.

    I’m languishing ‘n sad, things never were so bad.

    Mah nose is so sore and mah tonsils feel dead.

    So ahm whingein’ and a’whinin’ while it rains !♫

    Ah………… flippin’………………. CHOOOOOOOOOOOO !

    Lyrics…..but NOT the MUSIC © Poppa Madison Sept 2013
    Queensland Australia


    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM


  • mfguitar11

    I just went through this a couple of weeks ago. I finally got a gig at a place I had been trying to get my foot in the door at and sure enough, I ended up with a cold. I can deal with the headache and stuffy head, but the runny nose was almost unbearable. I made it through, but by about the third set, I was wiped out!

    One more thing to add to your checklist… disinfect your gear once you are better. Who knows what was growing in that mic after that night!

  • Roojam

    Thanks, Tom!
    Not so long ago I would sing 4 hours, no breaks, with a loud 3 pc band, every other weekend, for 10 years in a row. I never cancelled a gig regardless of how my throat felt.

    My secret was to religiously take an Alka Seltzer Plus prior to the show, keep lots of water handy, and as needed pop either a Ricola (original) or a starlite mint in my mouth.

    Worked liked a charm for me, though the microphone ended up a little candy-coated.

  • Poppa Madison

    Dom, Dom, Dom, Dom !…I dode zing wen I godda code. Eben my VLPlayGTX stays stuffed inids baux jus lige by doze iz

    Aaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!……………..sogay I godda hanky danks !


    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM


  • Poppa Madison

    Tom I just love watching and listening to your playing and singing on the TC Helicon Voicelive harmony product promo videos. You are a true Pro!

    I hope you got the commission for the sale of the VoiceLivePlay GTX I bought.

    As to treating one’s throat ailments, I thought to share with you a remedy my Mother told me about years ago. In fact, I am actually writing this post taking the “Unction” as I woke up with a very dry, itchy throat this very morning!

    Recipe: Make a cup of tea. (Not Coffee as it is not deemed as efficacious for the purpose.)
    Add Honey to taste INSTEAD OF your usual amount of Sugar.

    Then, and this is the magic ingredient, add half teaspoonful of Natural Crushed Ginger to the cuppa, stir well, then let it draw for a minute or two so that it’s properties are really taken up into the tea.

    Let it cool to a non-mouth burning temperature before drinking.
    Savour each mouthful somewhat before swallowing as this imparts the goodness from “The Unction” into all of the oral tissues of the body.
    Very very gently swallow, do not gulp…..even though that is tempting!

    This is to be treated as much as a ritual as it is a thirst quenching exercise.
    Why? Because you are focusing your energy into the “Ying and Yang” of it, and we all know how a meditative approach helps the healing process.

    Now, as that immortal Chinese phrase neatly rhymes with your name, I am sure that the insightfulness of this message will not readily be forgotten by your goodself…….next time you need to alleviate a nagging and irritable throat?


    PS. Wanna hear Poppa as a VLPlay GTX Barry White? ….Here ’tis…just for you !