10 ways to stay in peak vocal shape on tour (+ A BONUS POINT)

1. Rest

When you’re on tour, this is sometimes the most challenging thing to accomplish. Basically, you need to understand how much sleep you need to function, how much talking you can or cannot do to sing well, how to relax in close quarters with others, and how to recover from an intense experience. When I was touring with an opera company, we were often early to bed and early to rise— and I’m a social guy, a night owl, and not a morning person— so I struggled the first few weeks getting into the groove with everyone else. However, my warm up routine is my sacred time to unlock my voice, and I know I can rely on it as long as I have 6.5 hours of sleep.

2. Hydrate

Touring presents a number of issues that affect your hydration. Climate in various settings (the van/bus, the hotel, outdoors, altitudes, et such) causes us to need more or less water. When I consult with singers in the Shelton Private Voice Studio about their tour and performance habits, I spend a wealth of time talking about hydration. Energy drinks are the worst offender because of their high caffeine content and because folks are rushing from city-to-city. Which leads me to the second greatest offender: a lack of time to take a rest stop. “I don’t want to have to stop” is the phrase that makes me cringe. Do yourself a favor planning ahead: add two hours to your trip so you can plan for a stop or two and traffic!

3. Eat Decent

Every city has some glutinous culinary delight that’s deep fried, smothered, salty yet sweet, spicy and savory that you can take part of. HOWEVER. You have to know what’s going to set you off physically. Whether it’s gastric distress or old fashioned heart burn, it can affect your ability to function at your vocal peak.

4. Don’t talk too much

Quiet Time is Crucial Time!! Let someone else put on the manager hat for the band and talk to venues, sound techs, fans, and save your best for the stage. You don’t need to try and warm up over all the noise so you might want to do some of it before going to the venue and do a flash warm up when you get there. Save your voice for what matters and let someone else take the lead!

5. Warm up

Don’t neglect the simplest thing you can do to center yourself and boost your performance. Schedule plenty of time to warm up vocally, and physically, for the show in a quiet place so you don’t blow yourself out. Warm up in a steady way like a slow cooker. Singing your full show/set is like running a marathon, you want to make it to the finish line without injury, and enough stamina to do one more lap (an encore in our case).

6. Sound check

This is the second most important thing to do after warming up.  Take it seriously— sing some of your highs, lows, loud, and soft so levels can be set.  Make sure if you’re using in-ear monitors that you have all the levels set to your liking.  If you don’t like what you’re hearing in your ears at sound check, don’t say go until they’re too your liking.  Beyond this, make sure to thank the sound tech. 

7. Don’t Over-Sing

A number of clients that I work with at the Shelton Private Voice Studio, whether college students or pros, often sing too loud. Over-singing stems from a number of reasons:
  • some folks want to “prove their point” vocally by going hard, 
  • sometimes it’s a bad habit, or
  • sometimes they have no other training to sing at a reasonable volume.
There’s a number of ways to reduce singing too loud:
  • Use ear plugs/cotton balls to plug your ears, 
  • Use in ear monitors, 
  • Practice with a mic and small amp, 
  • Self-discipline (a.k.a. Practice!!), or
  • Ask your teacher. 
Whatever your do, try not to exceed a 7/10 as your loudest volume.  It’ll improve your stamina, help you recover quicker between gigs, reduce risk for vocal injury, and give you room to grow during the set. 

8. Imbibe.. modestly

I’m not lily white, and I have performed with a number of folks who party hard.    But, one of the quickest ways to injure yourself vocally is to dehydrate yourself with too much drugs or alcohol.  Gone are the days of drug fueled hotel trashings; accept it and have a responsible, good time.  Furthermore, we often talk too loud and make poor choices for food when partying which can affect us negatively.  Have a drink or two, but leave it at that. Be the singer that’s fun to be around after the gig, but not the sloppy @$$hole that was out of control. 

9. Cool down

Just as important as warming up, cooling down keeps you at rockstar levels vocally.  Remember that analogy about the marathon from earlier?  Don’t neglect taking care of your muscles after a full day/night of singing just like any other endurance athlete.  There’s never a bad time to start doing a cool down; it’s changing vocal games every day.  Just.  Start.  Doing.  It.  Use SOVT exercises like bocca chiusa, straw/hydro-phonation, and blowfish are great after singing and speaking.  BUT only cool down just before you’re ready to be quiet for the day/night.  It doesn’t have to be long, but a solid 5 to 10 minutes in a medium to low range should do the body good.  (Wanna make it even more fun? Get a kazoo!)

  • SOVT = semi-occluded vocal tract 

10. Have A Sick-Out Plan

You and your band need to make a plan for what’s going to happen when you get sick while on the road.  Inevitably, it will happen.  What melodic adjustments can you make, how sick do you need to be to cancel, can you all transpose things on the fly, etc.?  The motto you need to adopt is, “Live to sing another day.”  Determine if you’re going to cause damage while singing under the weather, and if the answer is yes, then cancel.  You’re no good if you can’t keep performing.  In addition to this point, you need to have a good doctor in your care team and insurance.

11. Know Your Non-Negotiable Comforts of home

This is the bonus point! Know the things that you need on the road to keep yourself happy, balanced, and at peace.  Is it a pillow, blanket, particular candle, pictures, your shampoo, body wash, etc.?  Whatever it is make sure you have plenty of it packed and that you relish in it.  Remember:  touring is temporary and sometimes all you want is that touch of home when you’ve been crashing in hotels.  If you have a meditative/religious/centering practice, don’t forget to keep it going too so you can bring it every night for your audiences.

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