Safe Voice Revolution

by Diana Yampolsky, a Toronto-based Vocal Coach/Consultant.
(Scroll down for Diana's bio) www.vocalscience.com

If you spend any time reading music industry publications or follow music-related media, you might have picked up on a recent trend: a lot of high profile performers are “experiencing difficulties” with their voices. Examples include Brian Byrne of I Mother Earth, Chico Moreno of the Deftones, Christina Aguilera, Leann Rhimes and many others. Not to sound insensitive, but in a way, this is actually a blessing in disguise. How so you may ask? They have been given a wakeup call that, if heeded, will make them better singers and their music that much more pleasureable to listen to.

Recently, a new client approached me because both his singing voice and his speaking voice were damaged. The person admitted that he had known about me for many years, had seen my advertising all over the place and had read my articles in Canadian Musician and other publications. Like the majority of singers, he did not see the need to consult a vocal specialist until he started having problems with his voice. (I believe this is akin to somebody realizing they should have taken some skydiving lessons after they have jumped out of the plane!) This fellow had damaged his voice by singing for years with incorrect vocal technique and did not decide to contact anybody until his voice was almost literally gone. The fact that he has all but lost his voice and finally decided to seek the help of a Vocal Consultant is actually a blessing because he will now learn how to sing without damaging his vocal anatomy and, as a side effect, will also sound exponentially better.
As strange as it may sound, I have found that these types of vocal problems are the norm rather than the exception. Furthermore, I must admit that I am not that impressed with the majority of professional singers I hear on the radio. Many can sing as well as I can fly an airplane and I most definitely do not have a pilot’s license. Therefore, at the risking of sounding quite cold, I must admit that voice problems are actually a positive occurrence for many aspiring singers. The benefits are two fold. Firstly, they will learn to sing in a way that will not damage their voice. Secondly, they will no longer be insulting listeners with off key singing, strained deliveries, and all forms of “meowing”, “howling” and “whining”! If that is not a blessing, then what is?
A safe voice revolution is my take off on the safe sex revolution. When people realized that unprotected sex could harm their health and even kill them, they started to engage in safe sex. Most people were also motivated to change their sexual habits because they did not want to catch a sexually transmitted disease and pass it on to someone they cared about. Not many performers apply the same type of thinking to singing. As I already mentioned before, they strain their voice until nodes appear and often hurt the ears of the people they should care about the most – the audience. Just as it is insane to have unprotected sex in this day and age, so too is it to not consult a vocal consultant. Vocal Consultant’s services should not be considered expensive at any cost as a safe voice for the performer and increased pleasure for the audience is most important! We all know that the best medicine is preventative medicine, therefore, taking care of your health before illness occurs is a must. In many ways, instruction in the basic technical aspects of singing should be a central part of a singer’s life, as well as a healthy diet and physical exercise.
Unfortunately, the majority of people do not even recognize that there is a technical aspect pertaining to singing.
In art forms such as ballet and figure skating the performers are judged first of all on technical ability and then on artistic merit. With singing most people only talk about the artistic aspects. I believe that vocal technique needs to be recognized and emphasized as it is in other art forms. In the recent movie, Billy Eliot, the main character is an aspiring ballet dancer who auditions for a prestigious ballet school. The judges saw that he was talented, but he did not have any technique to speak of. This did not make any difference as it would be their job to supplement his talent with the correct technical training. This is how I believe it should be with regard to singing as well. Just to give you an example, several weeks ago I was watching an Awards Show when I saw one of the best selling singers in the world struggle through a performance with a voice that was clearly “experiencing difficulties”. I proceeded to contact her management and let them know that as a Vocal Repair Specialist I could help her. Their response was that the reason for her poor performance was anxiety over a dress that she supposedly did not receive until a few minutes before she was scheduled to go on stage! This, in my opinion, was a very irresponsible reply. Unfortunately, when a performer has lost her voice, the managers can simply get a new client but the singer has lost everything. I could have helped her protect her voice for a fraction of the cost of the very dress that was supposedly causing her to sing out of key and crack on every low and high note. Again, this type of response is the norm rather than the exception. I suspect that one reason that vocal technique is not really recognized by people in the music business is because there is no one, true established technique that is accepted by everyone.
However, I am encouraged that a safe voice revolution truly has begun. The increasing acceptance of the importance of my profession attests to it. One of the greatest truisms is that sometimes bad things that happen to you are actually just what you need. I would like to note that even though I can make a decent living repairing damaged voices and I believe that helping the sick is the most honourable thing a person can do, my preference is to work with healthy voices. In many ways, I would compare myself to a builder who prefers to build a castle with good marble instead of cracked and chipped bricks. Too often I have to work with the latter but I find solace in the fact that a Safe Voice Revolution is truly picking up steam. So until next time, practice safe (and correct) singing.