Are You Over-Doing It?

I have to be very careful writing this blog because I am aware that as performers and singers we always want to do our absolute best.  I don’t want to encourage anybody not to give his or her best, however does your “best” have to mean busting a gut?  I routinely work with singers who have damaged their voices.  This damage is likely to occur due to a variety of factors including lifestyle choices, dehydration, sleep deprivation and vocal abuse aka over-doing it.  Firstly, let’s look at a few reasons why people over-do it with their voices.   

Performing is a peculiar thing when you think about it.  I know people who literally feel physical sick just before they get on stage, and yet still put themselves through the rigor of performance because they love it.  I know people whose body’s go into some kind of spasm during singing and I guess we’ve all had the dreaded “dry mouth” syndrome from time to time.  When all of that adrenaline kicks in, it can make us do or feel some pretty funny things, and one of them can be over-doing it with our voices.  

Now don’t get me wrong, this is incredibly easy to do, especially if you are a relatively inexperienced singer.  You want to prove yourself, you’ve probably worked hard rehearsing for your performance, and the odds are that once you’re onstage you probably can’t hear yourself anyway near as well as you could in your sound-check (presuming that you had one; you probably didn’t) and so when that adrenaline kicks in, you “go for it” and off we go.  

When I first started performing in Gospel Choirs and had to sing a solo, my right leg would go into involuntary spasm (luckily hidden by the robes that we wore in the choir), which was really annoying.  It wasn’t until a year later that I suddenly realised that the spasm had stopped, and it only stopped as I became used to performing, so experience played a huge part in my ability to shape my performance, however, I would still over-do it on stage.  

It wasn’t until years later and having worked in a number of different environments from temp work, to telesales, to IT sales, to performing and then teaching that I realised that as performers we could probably take a leaf out of the corporate world when it comes to performing.  What it boils down to is that no matter how much you enjoy singing and performing, it’s still your job.  

Which means that you’re expected to complete your job in order to get paid because by getting paid you can live and facilitate the continuation of your passion without having to take another job and therefore continue to sing and perform.  

So, how do people in the corporate world approach their jobs?  Well I’ve got it down to three modes of operation, which I think as singers we can also apply to our performance.  

  1. Working from home.
  2. Working in the office
  3. The boardroom presentation.  

So number 1, “Working From Home”.  

If you work in the corporate world, you may from time to time find it necessary to work from home.  This may involve you sitting around in your sweat pants for half a day, watching “Jeremy Kyle” and updating your Facebook status every fifteen minutes or so.  You will eventually get around to doing some work, but overall I wouldn’t imagine that your efficiency output would peak at more than 60%.  

Number 2, “Working in the Office”.

Working in the office is probably where you are at your most consistent level of efficiency.  You make an effort to make sure that you look and dress appropriately.  You turn up on time and make sure that you do the work that’s required of you throughout the day.  You may skive a bit here and there (odd sneaky tweet from time to time) but by and large you do a good day’s work.  You’re probably worked at about 75% efficiency.  You go home fairly tired but not exhausted by any means.  

Number 3, “The Boardroom Presentation”.

So here’s where you pull out all of the stops.  You’ve put on your best suit, your makeup is impeccable.  You’ve spent hours on your PowerPoint presentation (Keynote if you’re a mac-whore like myself) and you’ve arrived early to make sure that you’re especially prepared.  This presentation today is key to your career so it’s an important day.  You’re probably pumped and working at about 90-95% efficiency.  You go home exhausted but can’t sleep because you keep replaying the presentation over and over and over in your mind.  

Where am I going with this?  Well, if you treat every gig like “The Boardroom Presentation” and lay awake at night replaying every moment in your head, then you’re probably over doing it.  

Why not try to separate out your gigs/performances by the above criteria.  Do you have any gigs that would qualify as your “Working From Home” gigs?  Like restaurant work, where you’re essentially ignored whilst people dine?  What about that covers residency that you play at for that popular bar in town?  Would that qualify as your daily bread – your “Working In The Office” gig?  What about that EP launch, or showcase for some A&R people?  “The Boardroom Presentation” by any chance?  

Try to figure out which gigs you can hold back on.  You don’t have to give 100% of your voice all the time!  You can easily use your body language and facial expressions to create the illusion that you’re killing yourself on stage if that’s what your genre requires.

Now there is a compelling argument that says that in reality, your body should be fit enough to meet the demands of performance and your voice should be in peak condition in order to maintain your very best – and that’s all good, and I agree with a lot of that, however, I still think there is a strong case for not over-doing it all of the time.  

Think about it.