Diane Hughes warns us of the most important pitfalls to avoid if you are embarking on a tour.
Diane Hughes is an expert academic in the field of contemporary commercial vocal performance and pedagogy.
She outlines 4 key hazards of touring and explains how you can stay in peak condition.
1. Learn to prevent vocal overload
Sometimes it’s the load on the voice with repeated shows/touring that’s excessive. The causes of the overload that lead to vocal fatigue and injury can be complex.
I think one of the best things a singer can do is to learn about vocal technique and healthy vocal production as relevant to the individual voice and stylistic context.
Establishing a solid foundation is key in adequate preparation. With a solid technical foundation, the singer is able to access a range of vocal colours and to be really expressive.
Understanding reinforced sound (amplification) and being able to communicate sound requirements to engineers is also key.
Inadequate technique and/or preparation can easily lead to vocal overload, fatigue and injury. A typical voice may find it difficult to remain healthy given such things as repeated shows, the effects of late nights and touring schedules, and/or inadequate amplification/monitoring.
2. Be careful of late night socialising
Networking and hanging out with the band are typical and an expected part of the ‘band’ experience.
One thing to be mindful of, in any social context, is excessive background noise. This is because when people have difficulty hearing what they are actually saying (or singing for that matter), and they have a tendency to speak more loudly.
This leads to vocal overload, particularly when socialising in ‘loud’ environments for prolonged periods. And so, minimising voice use in those situations can aid vocal health.
Adding ‘twang’ or brightness to the spoken voice can also be effective in reducing the vocal load while increasing the ability to project the voice.
Limiting or even avoiding known voice ‘evils’ such as alcohol, caffeine and smoking (and smoke filled environments) can assist in balancing socialising with vocal health. Drinking water regularly assists as well.
3. Try to not suffer for your career
Sometimes there is pressure to perform regardless of whether you feel physically or mentally capable. This is particularly true in the DIY environment when income and gigs can be at stake. Often health and wellbeing are pushed to the side.
An artist I interviewed for The New Music Industries: Disruption and Discovery made the point that when you are a self-employed artist, there is no sick leave. She talked about her music often being ‘first’ with issues of ‘health and/or safety’ being second.
Similarly, if an artist’s career is building or there are career-defining plans ahead, it could seem almost impossible to interrupt those plans or to take a break. I like to think that this mind-set is changing in light of media reports of high-profile artists who have either cancelled or postponed tours due to health and wellbeing issues.
4. Be fit in voice, body and mind
There are many ways singers can prepare for going on tour. One of the most important is to be vocally fit before embarking on a tour. This includes a vocal practice regime of exercises and songs that leads to vocal stamina.
Similarly, preparing physically is also important. It really is like being an elite athlete and preparation is key. However, there are also other demands that need to be considered.
In my research that led to my co-authored book, The New Music Industries: Disruption and Discovery, the often isolated and transitory nature of being on tour was identified in ways that presented several challenges, including ‘loneliness’.
Consideration of potential challenges and preventative strategies well in advance of a tour may help to make touring a positive experience in all aspects.
5. Make sure you can hear yourself
I think here the key is having an understanding of amplification and the ability to effectively communicate sound requirements.
This includes effective sound monitors (foldback or in-ears) where the voice sits audibly, maybe even prominently, in the mix to avoid the possibility of vocal overload.
The ability to sing with a level of brightness or ‘twangy’ vocal tone definitely aids vocal projection and minimises vocal strain/overload if sung correctly.
Associate Professor Diane Hughes teaches in Vocal Studies and Music at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Di has an extensive background in contemporary popular singing pedagogy, and has been an invited speaker at conferences and seminars. Her work within the industry has involved artist development and recording. Di’s research interests include vocal artistry, vocal pedagogy, vocal recording, vocal performance and singing in schools; current research projects include vocal health, emotion and voice, the singer-songwriter, cultural musicology, and collaborative producing in recording. Research on singing in schools led her to become an advocate for the development of cross-curriculum voice studies in school education. She is currently the National President of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing Ltd (ANATS). Find out more about Diane Hughes.