Why vocal problems so regularly derail careers

Something I encounter a lot is the phenomenon of the vocal professional who suddenly finds themselves having voice problems. Here’s what normally happens.

At first, the issues are usually shrugged off. Errors are discounted as “just one of those gigs” to others, but inwardly they are a little apprehensive as to why their voice was misbehaving or feeling so off.

Then the issue worsens

Usually in both in severity and frequency. The odd gig starts to get cancelled, and it takes the singer longer and longer to “recover” from one gig for the next one.

Shortly afterwards, the inexorable public announcement follows – typically on their Facebook page – along the following predictable lines…

You may have noticed it’s been very quiet on this page the last few months. I’ve had some unfortunate vocal issues that have affected my ability to gig over the last few months. But I’ve taken some time out to recover, then I’ll be back on it!

I’ve seen more of these announcements than I can count – in fact I’ve seen two near-identical posts in the last week. Both were from relatively young, well-thought of performers with decent followings, that find their voices misbehaving in a serious enough way that it’s preventing continuity of work. At this stage they can’t sweep it under the rug any more.

Reality check: a month or two off isn’t really what’s needed.

The vocal issues are the symptom of a deeper issue

Almost all vocal issues that singers encounter are due to misuse, overuse and/or abuse of their instrument.

In some select cases there may outside factors, but by and large most of the issues I see arise from continued improper use of the vocal instrument. When such vocal issues arise, they are actually the symptom of an underlying functional problem in how the singer is using their instrument. Therefore, to not only fix the voice but to prevent such issues happening repeatedly, the singer must re-train.

Now, you may see why “a month or two off to recover” is practically useless for any singer that falls into this category. The reality is, unless the singer re-trains to use their instrument properly, such vocal issues will only continue to present themselves. And – much like anything else in life – the consequences of incorrect behaviour on your body only worsen as you age.

Why careers get derailed, often permanently

For singers at the beginning of their career, they’ve got time to get things set up right before committing to the big time. But for singers even a fragment of the way into their career, with gigs on the line and maybe even real sales/gig income on the line, it’s a very hard pill to swallow that the thing that got them there is the very thing that will kill their vocals. To go back multiple steps and re-tool and re-train is hard, and remarkably few find the wherewithall to do so. This is one of the many reasons that vocal problems so regularly derail careers, and why they so often do so permanently.

Add in problems that require surgery to fix (e.g. nodules, granuloma, etc). These issues are not just because of poor vocal function (which still hasn’t been addressed), but now they are also trying to recover from surgery. This makes it even harder to correct the underlying issue – still very possible, but it’s like any athlete trying to recover from a bad injury. It would be far easier to train from a fully healthy uninjured body, than one which has already suffered trauma.

Take-home message: get help

If you’re a professional singer encountering these issues, get help. Maybe you’re trying to make your voice a key component of your income and your life – then again, get help to make sure you’re doing it right. The vocal cost of these issues is astronomically higher than just training to use your voice properly in the first place.

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