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.
Water. 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.
Sing Less and Lower.
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.
Turn 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.
Bail 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.
Get a Long Term Strategy.
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.
Now, 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 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