A Vocalist's Survival Guide to Touring: Part 2 - The Daily Grind

Just to be clear: I'm not talking about the "I'm flying to Florida to play at a jazz club for three nights" kind of tour. I'm referring to the kind of no frills, back breaking strings of one-nighters that have you totter out of an airplane, get on a bus and roll through a different city every day, every inch of the bus loaded with a full PA and lights, which need to be unloaded, set up, checked, and, at the end of the gig, broken down and loaded back into the bus. That kind of thing...Also, the things I discuss here are based mostly on my own, personal experience. Take what you can use and leave the rest. (But PLEASE DON'T drink alcohol while on tour!)

So how do you stay on top of the juggernaut as a vocalist on the grind? For starters you carve out an hour of prep time (minimum) before the show. You warm up. And ideally you spend a few minutes AFTER the show to warm down, but more on that later.

When you're on the bus for several hours a day (we don't generally do the 8 to 10hour drive to an entirely different corner of Europe, although that HAS happened in the past) watch out for the dreaded car air that'll dry out your vocal folds. Always have lozenges at hand and keep sipping water. Once I have docked on to my hotel room or the backstage area of the club/performance space we're hitting on any given night, I break out my specialized equipment: salt for gargling and a steamer for moisturizing my vocal folds.

If there is time I throw in a few minutes of Yoga just to get a feel for my body again, get some grounding to happen, and focus my mind. Then comes the vocal warm-up, which, as you would imagine, goes from small sounds to bigger sounds, from comfortable range to outer rim - gradually. I will not delve into the details of warming up for a show, as that is a very individual process anyway, but if you don't have a cold, don't overdo it with the warm up. 20 to 30 minutes should be plenty.

If you do have a cold, the warm-up will probably last more like an hour (I have done up to 2.5, depending on the severity of the cold), as you need to take time to get the swelling in the vocal folds down. There are specific exercises for that - again very soft, very, very gentle. Imagine you're an athlete and have a sore muscle but need to participate in an event anyway. What do you do? You try to get the swelling down in that muscle, before you can put it through anything that even remotely resembles the rigorous activity needed for that event. For a vocalist, gargling with salt water is the first stop, followed by steam, and then soft edema reducing exercises. The risk of damage to the vocal folds is just too great if you don't take the time to thin them out.

The warm down after a show doesn't have to be super elaborate, but it helps to simply take a few minutes backstage and "stretch" your vocal folds, allow your whole vocal structure to "cool down" and go back to the much less demanding muscle pattern of regular, every day speech.

Personally I have included steam and gargling with salt water to my post-show routine. It is in my best interest to keep those tiny vocal folds as happy, thinned out and moisturized as possible.

If the room you've played in has been a smoky one and you are, like me, sensitive to that kind of stuff, you absolutely MUST gargle and steam. Cigarette smoke dries out your vocal folds like nobody's business, which means, by the end of the show your folds are very likely not only dry but also swollen. So do yourself a favor and take that time before you collapse into bed (because, of course, you've gone straight to bed shortly after your show, right?)

Make sure you get a good night's sleep - which means: no partying, absolutely NO alcohol, have your eye mask and earplugs ready on the nightstand, because you don't know how noisy the hotel gets once it wakes up in the morning. (I've encountered much enthusiasm for vacuuming the hallway at 6am - which is mind boggling to me.) Oh, and you might want to try a natural sleeping aid, such as Valerian root or Melatonin.

In my next installment I'll talk about all the other little things, such as staying healthy while on the road, food, supplements, medication, physical fitness etc.
Any questions or anything to add? Feel free to post below!

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