Matthew Edwards

Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Celebrity Vocal Fold Problems: It’s not necessarily their technique that’s at fault

Meghan Trainor postpones Chicago show due to vocal cord hemorrhage - Chicago Tribune

Meghan Trainor is the most recent of several high profile performers who has had to cancel performances due to a vocal fold hemorrhage. Some voice teachers on social media were quick to blame her technique and suggest she needed “classical training” to prevent such a disaster in the future. More than likely, that is just NOT true. Most vocal fold injuries at the professional level are a result of insane performance demands, not poor technique.

Let us compare the demands of a classical singer to Meghan Trainor. Famed opera singer Jonas Kaufmann’s schedule consists of six performances in the month of July and seven in August, for a total of thirteen performances in four cities. That’s a pretty significant performance schedule for an opera singer. Trainor had fourteen dates in July, ten dates scheduled for August, and four for the first week of September for a total of twenty-eight performances in twenty-one cities. That is a significant difference!

When a performer such as Kaufmann gets sick, there is usually an understudy capable of stepping up and taking his place. When Trainor gets sick, it’s not so easy. If she cancels, there is NO ONE to take her place and there are A LOT of bills to pay and no ticket revenue to pay them. If a singer notices that they are losing their voice early in the afternoon on the day of a performance, it is already too late. The venue has been rented, advertising has been paid for, security staff have already been hired, stage crew members have already built the stage and hung the lights, and all of the support staff have already arrived and clocked-in. If the show is cancelled the artist still owes all of them their money AND the artist also has to provide refunds to those who bought tickets (Read a Washington Post article on the topic here).

Knowing all of this, performers often feel like they have no option but to go on with the show. No matter who you are, if you try to sing (or give a speech) through hoarseness, an upper-respiratory infection, or a cold, you are at risk for a vocal hemorrhage. That has NOTHING to do with technique. You could be the greatest vocal technician in the world and still get hurt. Meghan Trainor is not to blame, she is a vocal athlete and just as star quarterbacks sometimes get hurt, so do star singers. NO ONE should be shamed for getting a vocal injury. Does she need to see a laryngologist? Yes. Will she need to go through voice therapy? Yes. And there is nothing wrong with that. Should she have been under such extreme pressure to perform in the first place? Probably not. But we are not the producers or the investors, and neither we nor Meghan have much say over that. It’s just how the business works.

~Matt

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13 comments on “Celebrity Vocal Fold Problems: It’s not necessarily their technique that’s at fault

  1. Carol Westcott
    July 12, 2015

    Thank you for this post. I also believe that these artists may not have built up the vocal stamina needed for the tour. I tell my students that singing one Adele song is vocally demanding, what about singing 15 Adele songs every night?

  2. Brenda Earle stokes
    July 12, 2015

    It’s also important to note that these performers also have to do tons of interviews and media appearances in the midst of all of these. Talk all day and sing all night, then get on a plane. Insane!

  3. Cate Frazier-Neely
    July 12, 2015

    Hi Matt, the only part of your article I have to disagree with is the demands of an opera singer vs pop singers. In European opera houses, contracted singers often sing two different roles in the same week–5-6 times! I have friends who have toured with Met productions singing as often as 10 shows a week. I used to sing with an opera company out of Baltimore where we sang two trunkated performances of Hansel and Gretal BACK TO BACK, 3-4 times a week plus our other singing and teaching work. I am not sure Megan Trainer and Jonas Kaufman are a good comparison.

    • auditioningforcollege
      July 13, 2015

      Thanks for the input Cate.

      ~Matt

    • Sarah
      July 13, 2015

      Let’s also not forget that an opera singer has to cover a much wider range of notes and dynamics and tone colors than a pop singer, and does not have the benefit of electronic amplification. These facts are also important to consider when making a comparison between opera and pop singers.

  4. Jennifer
    July 13, 2015

    There is certainly some truth to this, especially these days, with all the personal appereances they do in between, but I still wonder at their technique anyway. The ones that have indeed had some issue such as hemmorhage or nodes have all had some not great technique. And there is someone like Celine who has a pretty demanding schedule as well, but (to my knowledge, I very well could be wrong) I’ve never known her to have vocal issue that take her out of commission for a longer stint of time. I also know she has always coached and worked on her voice. And as far as I’m concerned that’s why she’s been around in this business as well as being on top for so long. I can’t think of many other mainstream artists that are still going just as strong as they were when they first burst on the scene and her voice has hardly aged a day…and as I’m sure we all know she does some heavy singing! She actually cares about her art because she knows once her voice/work goes, so does her career. Sadly this world is in the business of making ‘stars’ not actually artists. Because of this many of these current made stars will fade and quickly because their art suffered. Audiences are smarter about this than I think they even realize, hence the quick fading of these ‘stars’. Their art fades, their audiences realize this (though mostly on the unconscious level) and they move on and start this vicious cycle all over again.

  5. Molly Webb
    July 15, 2015

    Love this. As you suggested, it’s so important to remember that singers are vocal athletes and that it’s okay to need treatment. Unlike with other physical skills, somehow vocal injuries are used to make value judgements about a singer.

  6. cindy
    August 3, 2015

    Thanks Cate! Comparing only one opera singer, who happens to be twice less busy than Meghan is, it’s too easy. Yes, any singers can be sick but, even the way you talk and the way you sing, if you have to much tension, its irritating your vocal cords. Opera singers have this advantage: they can’t sing with tension, most with «appogio» (yes the famous movement of diaphragme)

    • auditioningforcollege
      August 13, 2015

      Opera singers can sing with tension, tongue tension being one of the most common (here is a post on the subject from famed teacher David Jones). Many get hurt from singing improperly. Dr. Wendy LeBorgne, CCC-SLP has been scoping singers at elite conservatories for nearly ten years and she has found that approximately one third of all of the classical singers she scopes have some sort of vocal pathology. However, almost none of them will admit it. ~Matt

  7. Michael Hadary
    August 12, 2015

    I agree with a lot of what you state in this post, Matt. You bring up some very valid points. My question has to do with whether or not you know for sure If these artists who have had a cold? Are you speculating or do you actually have firsthand knowledge?

    • auditioningforcollege
      August 13, 2015

      Michael: My comments are based on comments by the singers themselves. For instance, Adele wrote on her blog post concerning her problems. In her post she says “i made a skype call in the morning on the day of the show and during it my voice suddenly switched off like a light! it was literally as if someone pulled a curtain over my throat.” What she describes is common when a person hemorrhages. Recently Megan Trainor said “I was being careful and taking precautions, but I have hemorrhaged my vocal cord again. I got bronchitis & have been coughing a lot & that pushed it over the edge.” ~Matt

  8. Pingback: Vocal damage in CLASSICAL singers: It’s not just pop singers that get hurt | Matthew Edwards

  9. Pingback: Headlining Singer’s Vocal Demands

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This entry was posted on July 11, 2015 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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