It saddened me a great deal to hear that Sam Smith suffered from a vocal cord hemorrhage, which is now requiring very serious surgery. I must admit I was rather surprised. From what I have heard of him singing, Smith seemed to have a decent technique and didn’t seem to sing in an abusive manner. Yet, on deeper consideration, I have come to realize there are several factors that may have been at work. Regardless of the real reasons for Smith’s vocal troubles, there are some points to consider that can help you avoid the same problems in your own career.
A grueling touring schedule such as Smith has been under is very difficult for any vocalist to withstand. A singing artist under that kind of pressure really must train vocally with a highly qualified coach to be in the kind of vocal shape necessary to withstand the pressures of such extreme vocal demands. Just like an athlete or a dancer wouldn’t perform on a large professional scale until they had built their bodies up and trained to withstand the demands of their professions, neither can a vocalist expect to walk into a world tour under-prepared without consequences such as extreme fatigue or damage to their instrument.
Studio recordings are not the most reliable examples of how a singer is actually using their voice live. Very often the vocal on any given track of a studio recording is actually a compilation of many different takes taken over days, weeks or sometimes even months of time. Singers have the luxury of taking the very best moments of each performance and then having them “comped” together to sound like one, strong vocal take. It’s possible to record a single phrase or note and then rest and recuperate the voice before recording again. In addition, it is possible for the voice to be electronically enhanced to make it sound much more powerful than it actually is.
In a concert tour, however, singers who are unprepared for the demands of live performance often realize recreating the same sounds they made in the studio is beyond their current technical ability.
In addition, newer singers are often guided to using coaches that may not be actually giving them healthy advice in order for the singer to simply get through a concert, show or tour.
When a singer sustains damage such as a hemorrhage during the run of a show or a tour, they will usually have to cancel the rest of the run. This causes a huge loss of money for the tour, and great damage to the career of the singer. In the case of a musical theatre tour, the artist is simply replaced and often doesn’t find work as easily afterwards, even if their voice does heal.
In order to mitigate the need for any vocal damage, performing singers would be wise to consider a few very key points:
- Find a vocal teacher or coach who really understands what they are doing; someone who is experienced in working with professional singers, and with whom you feel you can work over the long-term.
- The beginning of a tour or the start of the run of a show is not the time to consider starting your vocal training, or trying out new vocal coaches. Start building your vocal technique early in your career. Act as if you are preparing to be a successful vocal artist long before you get your break so that you are ready for your success when it comes.
- When working with a producer or director on any studio recording or show rehearsal, always ask yourself, “Is my voice capable of producing and maintaining the sound they are asking me to make nightly throughout a long tour or run?” If not, then discuss a different vocal approach with your director, producer or coach.
- When you are preparing for a tour or run treat yourself like an athlete. Begin training for the actual tour many months in advance with your coach or voice teacher. Also, find professional help about proper nutrition and exercise required to support your health and longevity and make sure you give your body and your voice ample rest.
- Your voice is your own, own it. Do not allow yourself to be convinced by anyone to make sounds that you know are unhealthy for you. If you are hoarse, sore or unreasonably fatigued after a performance, recording session or coaching session, discuss it with your director, producer or coach. Take care of your voice early before it becomes a problem.
Contrary to what is often stated in newspapers and magazines, it is completely possible to be a world-class, performing artist and never once need surgery on your voice. You only get one voice, so treat it right from the start. Train intelligently; take care of your voice and your body, and you can have a long and profitable singing career.