Here at Valcato Entertainment we take Vocal Health very seriously. This is why we recently arranged for top vocal coach Orin Vallely to provide a free vocal health workshop to our freelance performers. The workshop was designed to help our performers get ready to leap back into action as well as help them regain their vocal stamina and strength ready to take on the entertainment world again.
Orin specialises in optimising voice efficiency and health for performers with rigorous touring schedules. In addition to this, Orin regularly visits multiple UK based training institutes as a guest practitioner, working on both voice and stage technique with students in pursuit of a career or further education in the performing arts industry.
Our performers found the workshop to be invaluable, and so as a special treat, we asked Orin to join us for today’s blog post in order to share some of his top tips with you all; so that wherever you are and wherever you work, you can benefit from his expert advice.
V: Orin, thanks for joining us today! Why do you think it is important that all professional vocalists out there should start
to retrain and prepare for working life again?
The larynx (which houses our vocal cords) is similar in construction to the rest of our body in that it is formed of muscle, tissue and cartilage. As such, professional voice users should invest the same time into readying it for use as they would any other part of their body. This really is so important owing to the fact that performers returning to a full-time schedule again after a such a prolonged period of vocal rest, are likely to run into voice issues such as vocal fatigue if they have not taken the necessary steps to build up their vocal stamina prior to commencing work. A secondary impact of vocal fatigue for some performers can also manifest itself as MPA (Music Performance Anxiety), which can be exacerbated by performers worrying about their voice if it isn’t functioning as they feel it should be when they return to work.
V: Some professional vocalists out there that were working 4,5,6 and even 7 days a week had all their work taken away from them overnight and, in some cases, for up to 12 months. What effect will this have on the voice and the muscles that surround the Larynx?
Heavy voice use over prolonged periods such as those mentioned, will inevitably cause vocal cord swelling regardless of the technical proficiency of the performer. However, whilst this is expected to occur and is easily managed with the right vocal health routine, performers who maybe aren’t as well equipped with vocal health knowledge may find that other parts of their body are feeling fatigued/aching. In addition to tightness in the larynx, fatigue can sometimes be felt in the large muscles at the side and back of the neck (Sternocleidomastoid and Levator Scapula) as well as around the pectorals. Knowing how to stretch these muscle groups is really important to allow the laryngeal mechanism to function efficiently, as removing tension from these muscles alleviates the compromises that the larynx has to make as a result of over engagement of other muscle groups. In addition to this, performers who are not well prepared for returning to a rigorous schedule may experience changes of varying severity in the tone, range, flexibility and overall strength of their voice. Whilst vocal fold swelling will impact on these to some extent, it should be noted that a healthy voice with a solid vocal hygiene routine should be able to avoid many of these even when undertaking an intense and extensive contract/tour.
V: If you could give one very quick tip right now, what would it be?
Educate yourself on how to properly look after your voice and work with a professional voice coach or voice rehabilitation specialist to establish a vocal health routine which you can start implementing right away.
V: What can a vocal coach help you with that YouTube links couldn’t do at home?
Whilst there is undoubtedly some helpful information and exercises on platforms such as YouTube, it is also rife with inaccuracy and exercises/advice that could potentially be more harmful than good if not done with a credible voice coach. The main thing that social media videos struggle to achieve are an inability to be person specific and therefore, videos are usually created as a “One size fits all” routine. A good vocal coach will usually use their initial meeting with a client to create a full picture of their vocal strengths and weaknesses, along with enquiring about any physical or phycological issues that could have an impact on or limit them. Time will also be spent discovering vocal strengths and weaknesses so that they can take the best course of action to further their development. Due to the impersonal nature of YouTube video or recorded exercises, the aforementioned topics are not taken into account and can create issues for performers who might try and keep up with exercises that far exceed their range or abilities. There are some fantastic training exercises and content creators out there, but it is important that performers know how to distinguish between the good and bad and that they are also confident/competent enough in their foundational knowledge to undertake these exercises without creating issues for themselves.
V: You have worked with various different professional singers and coaches, what is the most common vocal injury?
Vocal fatigue is by far the most commonly reported issue reported by professional voice users in mine and many other pedagogues’ experiences. I recently conducted research into this specific area and the results were unanimous from all participants. There are of course occasions where more serious pathologies such as vocal nodules, polyps, cysts and haemorrhages occur, but they tend to be far less frequent within the contemporary musical theatre industry in which I mainly operate. It is my experience that many clients think they are suffering from a serious voice issue when they initially see me and this is by and large down to media hype of well-known celebrities suffering from them. Luckily, it is usually something that is less harmful and more easily resolved with the proper time and work.
V: Why do you think this is the most common?
Some degree of vocal fatigue is an inevitable part of touring life, particularly when performing for many consecutive nights. This is essentially down to the sheer amount of vocal fold collisions (VFC) that will occur every show. No matter how good a performers technique, VF swelling will occur in some capacity and if this is not managed and cared for correctly vocal fatigue is likely the next backwards step. The main reasons vocal fatigued develops are:
Lifestyle– Touring life often comes with a busy social life, which involves late nights, consumption of alcohol and talking over music/crowd noise.
Routine– it is an all too often occurrence that new clients I see do not have any set or regular voice care regimen. To sustain and manage heavy voice use it is imperative they know how to effectively warm up and cool down their voices, stretch the supporting muscles surrounding the laryngeal mechanism, steam at the right times and for the proper duration and also know SOVT exercises, which will help relax the vocal folds between and after voice use.
Education– It is my experience that many drama schools and conservatoires do not place enough focus on the importance of good vocal health. This is slowly changing though, with some institutes holding workshops and seminars specifically pertaining to proper voice care.
Rehearsal Processes– Referring back to my recent research project, it unearthed a plethora of issues that performers experience during rehearsals for contracts that they feel caused or worsened their vocal fatigue issues. Rehearsal processes often require highly prolonged voice use over many consecutive days and often without suitable
amplification. In addition to this vocal health and how to care for your voice is very rarely part of any strategy for the company which results in performers becoming fatigued and finding their voices steadily declining throughout the rehearsal process. It is imperative that this is changed. Musical Directors are often made to be responsible for the vocalist’s general wellbeing when they are not qualified to do so. It is essential that performers are educated enough to be responsible for their own voice care and how best to manage the negative impact rehearsals can potentially have on their voice.
V: Is there a different vocal technique that comes with singing on a microphone?
Vocal technique should remain the same throughout, regardless of the amplification being used. However, it should be noted that every venue has different “sound” and this will have a large impact on how performers use their voices as if they feel they cannot hear themselves they are likely to become hyper functional and begin driving more air through the vocal folds than is needed which will lead fatiguing much faster than if their sounds is good. I highly recommend that vocalists utilise IEM’S (In ear monitors) whenever possible to ensure they have a consistent sound that is synonymous with their technique. IEM’s also allow singers to have their own levels and hear their vocal/track balance the way they like. An ideal IEM set up will allow performers to sing with minimum effort, which will lead to reduced risk of fatigue or injury.
V: For all those that have been practising a few times a week in the comfort of their own home, what would you suggest they do to prepare for singing with a full PA again?
If you have your own PA system at home, then use it whenever you can! Practicing without a PA is great and helps fine tune things that singers might miss when they have the “bells and whistles” of a good sound system to help support their vocal. However, getting back into the habit of using a microphone accompanied by louder music will better prepare a performer for the real thing. Again, if at all possible, then also use IEM’s and utilise this time to familiarise yourself to how they feel and the levels that you personally like. If you don’t have access to a PA system, try and be mindful of the vocal choices you are making when practicing are transferrable to a live environment. For example, when practicing at home with a quieter track you might find that your M2 (head voice) is packing a punch that it doesn’t usually have but when you get on stage, the louder track and
surrounding noise may negate this considerably
V: What would you expect to see if a professional vocalist had not trained or sang for 6-12month and then jumped straight back in to a 5 day a week tour?
In this scenario, I would expect the performer to report feeling fatigued or tense very quickly and it is likely that they would experience discrepancies within their range, passagio(break), and overall vocal tone if they persisted to follow this routine without a good vocal health routine. This of course would vary from performer to performer, as there are a fortunate few singer who seem able to soldier on with little to no impact on their voice regardless of the circumstances. These people are rare but do exist.
V: To conclude our interview, what should production companies like ours do to prepare their performers for tour life after lockdown?
Educate and advocate for vocal health education within their business. Not only does it represent their company in a positive light, but it will also likely save you money and stress in the long run. A well-educated team of performers with a good base knowledge of how to care for their voices and where to turn if they don’t will inevitably result in less vocal
problems and time off needed further down the road. It is a company directors’ responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of their performers and investing into their talent can only have a positive outcome. Remember… Anything you eat, drink, suck or swallow will NOT come into contact with your vocal folds. Do not take out a loan to afford your
expensive honey habit. Sleep well, stay hydrated and steam are the best cure for a fatigued voice. If your problems persist for longer than 7-10 days, seek help from a voice professional immediately. Finally- problems and injuries are an inevitable part of any professional athletes’ life. As a vocal athlete, there is no shame in sustaining a vocal injury or issue. Know how and where to seek help so you can get back out on that stage again as soon as possible.
We’d like to thank Orin for taking the time to speak to us today. If you would like to provide professional guidance and support to ensure your show teams or freelance performers are at their optimum vocal health then please contact us today to see what our professional team can do for you.
In the meantime if you’re a freelance performer concerned about your own vocal health, or wish to schedule your own assessment with Orin, you can visit his website to find out more.