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Backstage Secrets for Peak Performance

Before a show, the air is electric with anticipation, especially for singers. Each performer, whether they're gripping a mic or cradling an instrument, is a bundle of emotions. As a singer, you're not just dealing with the usual pre-show jitters; you're about to bare your soul, using nothing but your voice as the medium. There's an undeniable vulnerability in this, more pronounced than with any instrument.

Imagine this: The lights dim, the crowd hushes, and it's just you on that stage. Your heart races, palms sweat. You’re under-practiced or, worse, gripped by nerves so intense they turn your knees to jelly. In such moments, every instrument seems like an insurmountable challenge. But for vocalists, it's more personal. A wrong note on the guitar is just that – a misplaced sound in a melody. For a singer, a missed note feels like a blemish on the very essence of who you are.

Consider the complications when you're not at your best health-wise. A pianist might power through fatigue, but a singer with a stuffy nose? That's a direct hit to your instrument. And it's not just about the physical. The psychological aspect is equally critical. Nerves can tighten your shoulders and neck, directly impacting your vocal performance. This tension can trigger a domino effect, causing you to lose focus and forget the techniques you've honed over the years. Before you know it, you're spiraling, fixated on every little mistake, magnifying them in your mind until they overshadow your performance.

This scenario paints a picture of some of the worst things that can happen on stage – barring an actual disaster, of course. It's not meant to scare you but to highlight the importance of comprehensive preparation. Taking care of your voice, body, nerves, and mind before and leading up to a show is crucial. Let's dive into several key practices and philosophies that can help you bring your best self to every performance.

Mastering Performance Preparation in Any Scenario

As we explore the essential practices and philosophies for optimal performance preparation together, it's important to recognize the dual nature of our journey. Initially, we'll delve into what ideal preparation looks like in a perfect world – those best practices that, under ideal circumstances, would be our go-to strategies. However, let's face it: the life of a musician is often far from ideal. It's a tapestry woven with unpredictable schedules, varying environments, and unique challenges. That's why, for each recommended practice, we'll also look into 'real life' scenarios – those common, less-than-perfect situations you're likely to encounter. But we won't stop there. For each of these real-world challenges, we'll offer practical, achievable strategies to navigate them effectively. This way, we're equipped not just with knowledge, but with adaptable solutions to bring out our best performance, no matter the circumstances.

Avoid Certain Foods and Beverages: Before a performance, it's crucial to avoid foods and drinks that can negatively impact your voice. This includes dairy products, which can cause phlegm, and caffeine, which is dehydrating. Also, steer clear of foods that cause acid reflux like sodas, alcohol, and spicy foods. Eating late can also cause reflux, so it's best to finish meals a few hours before bedtime​.

In the real world of touring and performing, ideal conditions for meal planning and diet can be hard to come by. When you're on the road, especially in venues that double as bars, healthy options may be limited, and time constraints often dictate when you can eat. Here are five strategies to still do your best under these less-than-ideal circumstances:

  1. Pack Healthy Snacks: Always carry a stash of healthy, voice-friendly snacks. This can include fruits like bananas and apples, nuts, and whole-grain bars. These snacks are not only nutritious but also less likely to cause reflux or phlegm. Having these on hand means you're less reliant on venue food options.

  2. Hydrate Smartly: Even if your meal options are limited, you can always control your hydration. Carry a reusable water bottle and sip regularly. If you do consume caffeine or alcohol in moderation, balance it out with extra water intake.

  3. Choose the Lesser Evil: When faced with limited food choices, opt for the least harmful options. Avoid fried and spicy foods and go for grilled or steamed options if available. Even in a bar setting, you can usually find some simple sandwiches or salads.

  4. Timing Your Meals: If you're pressed to eat close to showtime, choose lighter meals that are easy to digest. A small portion of protein with vegetables can be a good option. If you have to eat late, go for a small, non-acidic meal to avoid reflux while sleeping.

  5. Supplement Wisely: Consider carrying supplements that can help mitigate the effects of less-than-ideal food choices. For example, ginger capsules can help with digestion, and herbal teas like chamomile can be soothing for your throat.

Stay Hydrated and Rested: Hydration is essential for vocal health. Drink plenty of water, especially on the day of the performance, starting at least three hours before to ensure hydration reaches your vocal cords. Additionally, ensure you're well-rested, aiming for 8-10 hours of sleep each night in the week leading up to your performance​​.

When you're touring or even managing day-to-day life as a performer, getting enough rest and maintaining hydration can be challenging. Here are some strategies to help you stay as hydrated and rested as possible under these circumstances:

  1. Strategic Napping: When a full night's sleep is out of the question, short, strategic naps can be a lifesaver. Even a 20-30 minute nap can significantly boost your energy levels and mental clarity. Try to find quiet moments throughout the day, whether it's between soundcheck and performance or during travel, to catch some shut-eye.

  2. Sleep Aids: If you're sleeping in less-than-ideal conditions, consider using sleep aids to improve your rest quality. This could include earplugs and a sleep mask to block out light and noise, or a travel pillow for more comfort. There are also apps and audio tracks designed to promote deeper, more restful sleep, even in noisy environments. I personally use the BetterSleep app and I love it!

  3. Hydration Boosts: Alongside regular water intake, include hydration boosters in your diet. Foods like cucumbers, watermelon, and oranges have high water content and can help keep you hydrated. Herbal teas are also a good option, as they can be soothing for the throat and help maintain hydration levels.

  4. Mindful Relaxation Techniques: Stress and anxiety can significantly impact both sleep quality and hydration levels (through excessive sweating, for example). Incorporating relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle stretching can help manage stress, leading to better sleep and overall well-being.

Pre-Performance Routine: Develop a pre-show routine that helps you focus and relax. This can include light exercises, vocal warm-ups, or even mental preparation techniques like visualization or meditation. Find what works for you and make it a consistent part of your preparation​​.

In the whirlwind of live performances, every venue brings its own set of surprises and challenges, making a consistent pre-performance routine feel like a luxury. One day you might find yourself with ample time and a cozy green room, ideal for extensive warm-ups and mental preparation. Yet, on another, you're caught in a frenzy of travel delays, last-minute sound checks, and frantic setups. Amidst this chaos, your well-planned routine can easily fall by the wayside. However, with the right strategies, you can adapt and maintain a sense of control. Here are five flexible approaches to help you cling to your crucial pre-show rituals, even when the clock is ticking, the next band is late, or you're elbow-deep in merch table setup chaos:

  1. Micro-Routines: Create condensed versions of your routine that are quick yet effective. These can be a lifesaver when you're squeezed for time or space. Imagine a five-minute vocal exercise done in the small quiet of a restroom, or a swift mindfulness session backstage. These micro-routines are your secret weapon, ensuring you always have time for essential prep.

  2. Portable Warm-Up Tools: Equip yourself with tools that assist your warm-up on the go. This could be a playlist of vocal exercises on your smartphone, a travel-sized yoga mat for a quick stretch, or a mini-instrument for last-minute tune-ups. These portable aids can turn any space, however unconventional, into your personal prep zone.

  3. Travel Time Utilization: Turn your travel time into an opportunity for mental prep. Whether you're on a bus, in a car, or just walking to the venue, use this time wisely. Listen to your setlist, engage in mental rehearsals, or practice calming breathing techniques. This helps you arrive at the venue already in the right mental space.

  4. Streamlining Set-Up: If you're involved in setting up, look for ways to make it more efficient. Organize your equipment for rapid assembly or delegate specific tasks among band members. The smoother and quicker your setup, the more time you can reclaim for your pre-show rituals.

  5. Adaptable Focus Techniques: Master quick focus exercises that you can perform amidst distractions. This could be as simple as shutting your eyes for a brief moment to concentrate on your breathing, or visualizing the cheers of an enthusiastic audience. Even in the busiest of environments, these quick focus techniques can help ground you, bringing a moment of calm before you step into the spotlight.

Each of these strategies is tailored to be adaptable, ensuring you can hold onto your essential pre-show preparation, no matter the constraints or curveballs thrown your way. Embrace flexibility and remember, consistency in your routine can be achieved even in the most dynamic and unpredictable settings of live performances.

If you're interested in more specific strategies and insights on preparing young musicians for their performances, our article 'Take a Bow: Preparing Young Musicians for the Spotlight' offers valuable guidance and tips.

Preserving Your Voice in Noisy Environments: Activities like yelling or engaging in vocally strenuous tasks can be just as damaging to your vocal cords as external substances. In the bustling atmosphere of bars, festivals, and events, the temptation to raise your voice over the loudness is ever-present. Here are five strategies to protect your voice in these challenging environments:

  1. Mindful Communication: In loud settings, resist the urge to yell. Use non-verbal cues or text messages to communicate. If someone tries to engage in conversation during a loud performance, politely indicate that you'll speak afterwards to save your voice.

  2. Strategic Positioning: Choose locations for conversations where the ambient noise is lower. Standing away from speakers or in quieter areas of the venue can significantly reduce the need to raise your voice.

  3. Voice-Saving Techniques: Learn and practice voice-saving techniques. Use a relaxed, moderate pitch and avoid straining your voice. Deep breathing can also help in projecting your voice more efficiently without yelling.

  4. Use Technology: In our digital age, smartphones are invaluable. Texting or using messaging apps can be a highly effective way of communicating in loud environments, saving your vocal cords for the performance.

  5. Post-Performance Care: After being in a loud environment, give your voice some downtime. Avoid speaking too much immediately after a performance, and engage in gentle vocal exercises or hydration to help your vocal cords recover.

Navigating the Social Dynamics of Music Scenes: Taking care of your physical and mental health is vital. This includes avoiding harmful substances like alcohol and cigarettes, which can dry out or damage your vocal cords. Now, let's gently address the disguised elephant in the room often overlooked in musicians' lifestyles: the consumption of alcohol.

I recall a time while touring with Primate Fiasco, we had a specific rider (a list of requirements provided to venues, typically including preferred food and drinks) that emphasized healthy options like waters, coconut waters, and fruits. Despite this, we often encountered venues that, perhaps adhering to the typical 'musician lifestyle' stereotype, assumed we wanted pizza and beer. I remember one smaller (and wildly unorganized) festival that provided exactly that—a case of beer and a large pepperoni pizza. While we appreciated the gesture, these were the opposite of what's beneficial before a show.

Let me be upfront: I've definitely had a drink or two (or three) before shows in my music career. And yes, at times, having a drink seemed to dull the nerves. However, personally, I never truly felt great if I drank before performing, especially after the show. It's crucial to realize that the perceived lifestyle of a musician doesn't have to dictate your choices. You don't have to drink just because it seems to be the norm. Here are five ways to navigate this:

  1. Set Personal Boundaries: Be clear with yourself about your alcohol consumption limits. Deciding not to drink is a valid and empowering choice.

  2. Alternative Beverages: Opting for non-alcoholic drinks is a smart choice, especially in environments where alcohol is prevalent. Many modern venues now offer an array of non-alcoholic options, including beers and mixed drinks. Holding a drink like this can ease the social tension for those who might feel uncomfortable if you're not drinking while they are. However, be mindful of the choices you make even in non-alcoholic beverages. It's best to avoid drinks that are excessively sugary or caffeinated, as they can also affect your vocal performance. High sugar content can lead to a quick energy crash, which is not ideal before a performance, and caffeine, as we know, can dehydrate your vocal cords.

  3. Handling Peer Pressure: If you face pressure to drink, have a polite yet firm response ready. Saying something like, "I'm keeping my vocal cords in top shape tonight" not only communicates your priorities but also subtly educates others.

  4. Fostering a Supportive Environment: Surround yourself with people who respect your choices. A supportive circle, be it bandmates or friends, can significantly ease the social pressures associated with drinking.

  5. Reflecting on the Benefits: Remind yourself of the benefits of abstaining, especially as a vocalist. Avoiding alcohol can lead to better vocal performance, more energy on stage, and overall improved health.

By addressing these aspects and implementing these strategies, you're not only taking steps to protect your voice and health but also shaping a lifestyle that aligns with your goals as a musician. Your choices are a reflection of your dedication to your art. There's strength in making decisions that support your well-being and performance, even if they go against the grain of expected norms.

For a deeper understanding of how singing not only enriches our lives but also plays a crucial role in our health and personal development, check out our insightful article 'How Has Singing Shaped Our History, Health and Personal Development?'

Fine-Tuning Artistry and Wellness

In conclusion, the journey to an enthralling performance is as much about what happens off-stage as on it. From navigating dietary choices and sleep challenges to managing social dynamics and preserving vocal health in noisy environments, each aspect plays a crucial role in your artistic expression. Remember, the choices you make, whether it's what you consume or how you communicate, reflect your dedication to your craft and well-being. At Descant Music, we understand these intricacies and offer voice, piano, and guitar lessons that cater to these diverse needs. Our approach is holistic, focusing not just on technical skills but on nurturing the artist as a whole. For more details on how we can assist in fine-tuning your performance readiness and overall musicianship, visit us at Let's embark on this harmonious journey together!

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