What Singers Should Reveal About Their Voice

You’re actually carrying the most fragile musical equipment in your group –says Lisa Popeil

What do Adele, John Mayer, Maxwell, Simon LeBon, Art Garfunkel, Nicki Minaj, and Roger Daltrey have in common?

They’ve all experienced the difficult and frightening reality of having to cancel performances or tours because of voice problems.

Besides the emotional trauma of potentially long-term voice loss, the financial consequences of cancelled performances affect a whole lot of people, including managers, agents, merchandisers, venues, roadies and their families.

All because of the tiny, penny-sized pieces of tissue called the vocal folds.

What’s a lead singer to do? Enlist the help of your manager, band-mates and close associates – making them your allies in the challenge of staying on the road and off the operating table.

Vocal Folds Are The Gold.

Your manager may think of you, a touring singer as an instrumentalist without the inconvenience of extra cartage and tech costs, but the fact is that singers carry the most fragile equipment of all: the vocal folds.

I call the vocal folds ‘the gold’ of the whole operation.

Almost all of the lead singers in bands I coach come to me with similar concerns: vocal fatigue, a battle for high notes, neck grabbing, hoarseness, tension or grabbing sensations in the neck, and an overall sense that they’re not singing correctly.

Now of course, there’s no substitute for good vocal technique such as knowing how to stand (posture), how to breathe and support, and how to create projected sound without squeezing the vocal folds.

But the problems lead singers experience is often exacerbated by the dynamic of the members of the band. It’s just so easy for instrumentalists to ‘turn up’, not realizing that there’s a real limit to the volume singers can or should produce

Create Your Own Advocates

Recently I had a well-known rock singer come to see me mid-tour, terrified that with each show, his voice was degrading steadily with increasing pain.

Besides working on vocal technique with him and creating vocal health strategies, including nebulizer use and teaching him ‘laryngeal massage’, I got the manager to attend our sessions.

The manager then becomes the primary advocate of the singer – not just representing the band to the world but representing the singer to the rest of the band and road crew.

So how can the lead singer impart the importance of protecting the band’s ‘gold’ (the vocal folds) without sounding like a whiner?

I’ve written a letter to your manager for you – if you don’t have a manager, you can see it as a letter to your band-mates, family and close associates – anyone who is involved in managing your performances.

Feel free to adapt it, steal from it or borrow passages from it.

After all, we want your name is in the headlines because of your amazing success and not embarrassingly linked to ‘vocal problems’.

Steal This Letter to Your Manager, Band-mates and Friends

Gina’s Reactions To This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Max Morris – Chapels and Airplanes (Original)

Max, I love the poetic lyrics in this original song. You have an intense gaze, and it would be great to see different emotions come through your eyes as you sing. You have an approachable tone to your voice and the breathy quality creates an intimate feel. I would love to hear more dynamic variation in your voice – occasionally use a clearer, stronger tone – and in the instrumentation and melody line, for example. Try lifting your cheekbones and forehead a bit while singing to add more spark to your tone.

Elli Perez – Russian Roulette (Cover)

Elli, you have a very versatile voice. You can be light and easy-flowing, and then you can erupt into a strong and powerful wail. Very cool. The room you are singing in is really bouncy, so think about recording in a room where we can hear your voice clearly (and try to get it all in one take). Be careful of your chin position on the high, “belty” notes. It creates strain on your vocal cords when you pop your chin up, so just keep that chin even to floor, and you’ll get that great sound with less effort.

Ivan Lopez – First Day of My Life (Cover)

Ivan, you’ve a got a relaxed charisma and a very natural sound. When the song stays close to your speaking range, your voice sounds balanced and sweet. When you get to the high notes, though, try using your abdomen to support the sound more. Breathe low into your belly so that your belly expands, and then use your ab muscles to keep it expanded WHILE you sing (don’t let it collapse in). Those high notes will come out easier. Nice awkwardness in the last couple seconds.

Lisa Popeil, MFA in Voice, is a top LA voice coach, voice scientist and researcher, contributor to the ‘Oxford Handbook of Singing’, is a voting member of NARAS (Grammys®), creator of the Voiceworks® Method, the ‘Total Singer’ DVD and a new book ‘Sing Anything-Mastering Vocal Styles’ and has taught voice professionally for over 35 years. www.popeil.com

Co-author with Lisa Popeil of Sing Anything: Mastering Vocal Styles is Gina Latimerlo. Gina will be commenting on our Peer Review Videos for the next 8 weeks.

Gina Latimerlo is a polished performer of over 20 years. Teaching and directing since 1995, she opened The Latimerlo Studio in 1998. Her students have performed on Broadway, in touring companies, and have signed with talent agents and record labels. In addition to the main studio, The Latimerlo Studio oversees private voice teachers in over a dozen cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.latimerlo.com

  • Poppa Madison

    Yes indeed! Those little vocal folds embody the very essence of what a singer is all about.

    But now I am going to bring up something that has been in my mind a lot recently about how the voice might perhaps be modified and improved…… by micro-surgical means?

    I wonder if this is indeed possible?
    I mean, if visual beauty can be created by plastic surgery, why not “vocal beauty”?

    We all know that cosmetic surgery has proliferated into a multi-million dollar industry worldwide and that recipients of same have used it to advance their careers in the Entertainment Industry. We frequently read of top singers having ops to remove nodules and other corrective vocal fold surgery then returning to their work and achieving great things.

    I would like to hear if it is possible to improve vocal tonality and even alter fundamental vocal pitch by undergoing what I shall term “Vocoplastic Surgery” ?

    Thanks to my VoicelivePlay GTX I can make myself sound like a Bassy Negro or a mezzo whatever or even Darth Vader (ho-hum).

    But, I wonder what I would do if I were performing and we lost power, only to reveal my normal much thinner voice, which frankly I would like to make permanently THICKER just as my faithful GTX does!

    Any VocoSurgeons out there care to comment on this?


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  • Guest

    I just visited Lisa and Gina’s web page “Sing Anything- Mastering Vocal Styles ” and I would just like to say that although I have been singing for almost 65 years, OMG! I now realise that I know next to nothing about it.
    I always thought that you just needed to open your mouth and sing from the heart as it comes to you. There was no training and discipline such as they advocate, either available to me or taught to me by anyone during my vocally formative years, and yet I somehow managed to make Head Choirboy in my church choir.

    Now at 70 I guess I’ll just have to go back to school and start from scratch.

    “So much to learn, So little time ! “

  • Diane

    My thoughts on this are… beauty is in the ear of the listener. I’d say a good 90% of us dislike or discredit the sound of our own voice because it’s OUR voice. We cover songs and want to sound like the original artist, we write songs and don’t necessarily hear our own voice in our head, we hear our “ideal voice” for that song, even if the “ideal voice” is a conjured up variation of our own voice. I have learned through the 4-5 vocal courses I have bought and gone through that my brain, NOT my vocal chords are to blame for my shortcomings. When my brain kicks in and says “oh no here comes that high note” then my whole body is effected and my vocal chords tense in fear and there goes any hope of hitting that not the way I wanted to – even though my vocal chords were completely ready for it before my brain interjected

    I think if there were a surgical procedure to “fix” vocal chords purely for sound then it would destroy the music business because all the individuality of tone and expression would be lost.

    And to be blunt if you are depending on your VoiceLive to give you your “ideal voice” then you have not yet begun to explore the many facets of your natural voice and its innate qualities, where your thickness resonates from. You can’t develop the thickness in your tone until you find it, and you can’t find it if your brain is telling you it’s not there! Tell your brain to shut up it doesn’t know what it’s talking about!! Being happy with YOU can open up so many things you never thought you could do before. If in your minds ear you want to sound like Barry Manilow – too bad, the world already HAS a Barry Manilow, the world doesn’t NEED another Barry Manilow – it needs YOU, a unique sound. I’m a tall skinny white chick and I never EVER in a million years thought I’d be able to do that “black chick rasp” thing because I didn’t want to fake it and grind my chords together. Well, since I started accepting my own voice “letting loose” I found it, and it has NOTHING to do with grinding anything, it is a certain amount of tension from head voice, and relaxation from chest voice combined with air control and emotion that when they resonate properly lets me get as “black as I wanna be” and that “sweet spot” is different for every note I sing, in every key I sing in – I had to find ALL of them. Between discovery and conditioning your vocal chords and their abilities are ALWAYS changing, so there is no limit to how you can sound or what you can do.

    Look into Brett Manning’s Singing Success, Seth Riggs’ “Singing for the Stars”. The principal of both is that if you can make the tone in speech (spoken or yelling), you can sing it and it should be just as relaxed, comfortable and effortless, if it’s not you’re placing undo wear and tear on your larynx and vocal folds. It’s known as Speech Level Singing – not your volume, which is what I though at first, but your vocal positioning. Melissa Cross’ Zen of Screaming was very informative as well, she put things in a way where I felt kinda stupid for not thinking like that before, and contrary to the name, the majority of the video focuses on proper vocal foundation and placement – not really screaming, because you can’t “scream” until you can sing without hurting yourself. One of the points she made is that your voice is driven by emotion, when someone tells you something and you gasp “Oh My God!” you didn’t consciously MAKE you voice go high, it just did because it was tied to the emotion of what you just heard. It also has a cool video of your vocal chords and what they look like when you sing… just glad I wasn’t the one with a camera down my throat for that one!

  • Poppa Madison

    Thankfully, I am not depending on my VoiceLive to give me a counterfeit “ideal voice” . I use it for producing voices that would be otherwise impossible to come out with due to the pitching involved. It is true that I could explore much to try and alter my natural fundamental vocal timbre, but as I am not a full-time singer I am not driven to that. You can hear samples of me singing on soundcloud.com (just key in Poppa Madison in the search window). I like variety of vocal delivery much as some people like variety of musical genre to listen to.

    The point I was trying to make was that in my opinion I do not have a singing vocal timbre that is as “warm and resounding” as I would like if I were to want to be a “Crooner” or Pop Singer. However I do not let this halt or hinder me in experimenting with the many styles of vocal delivery I use to suit particular songs or comedic ditties.

    Sadly for me, gone are the days when I could falsetto in perfect tune. But I can muster a number of accents and funny voices enough to keep myself, if not others, amused(occupied).

    My most recent CD release will soon be up on cdbaby.com and is not singing but a narration by me with my sidekick Voicelive2 GTX enabling what I deem as the precise voice to suit the gravity of the story being told.

    As I see it, it is not whether one has a “Golden voice” that determines whether or not they can produce works that have appeal. Look back at say, Peter Sellers and George Formby for example. Neither could ever have been a Sinatra or Pavarotti, but they found fame and fortune through their singing and narrating style to humorous storytelling as have many others.


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