To get to a point where vocal surgery is required is definitely no joke no matter who you are. But when it means having to cancel numerous concerts part of a full-out tour, undergo surgery and then undergo absolute and complete vocal rest for weeks and carry the weight of uncertainty on just how your voice is going to sound once recovered, well… my heart is heavy.
It has been a short three years and a rocket ride of increasing fame for Sam. The excitement began in October 2012 when featured on Disclosure’s breakthrough single “Latch,” then his first number one single in May 2013 subsequently followed by nominations and awards in the UK. But things really exploded with his 2014 Capitol Records debut charting album “In the Lonely Hour,” followed by six Grammy Awards and in February 2015, four Grammy’s, and other awards. Then two months after the February Grammy’s, during a show in Sydney, Australia on April 28th, vocal cord hemorrhaging forced an emergency cancellation of all May and June tour dates and a trip to Boston, Massachusetts for vocal surgery with now famed vocal surgeon Dr. Steven Zeitels, Massachusetts General Hospital.
As Rolling Stone Magazine reported on May 7th 2015: “In an Instagram post, Smith revealed that he had been feeling ‘vocally exhausted for a while.’” Did his support team take note of this ‘red flag?’
The pressure and work load demand that is put on both major as well as major-artists-in-the-making is more than most know and could imagine. When coaching artists / groups of this level, I often find myself at odds with the frequent disregard of their need for sleep and regularly scheduled voice training that will provide them with the vocal strength, stamina and health essential to their touring and recording schedule. Might it have been possible for Sam to avoid this vocal trauma and surgery that now adds his name to a growing list of famous singers?
In the field of sports, management and all concerned take for granted that regular “boot-camp” training and coaching is part of being an athlete: Any major or minor league ball players, Olympic athletes of all kinds – they all train regularly. To get to the top and stay at the top of their game, they regularly train and receive expert coaching. Singers are vocal athletes. For the span of my 40 year career coaching singers and writing book and magazine articles, I have been forwarding this message.
So what’s the lesson here?
Are you a singer? You are a vocal athlete. Your voice has needs. Empower yourself: Ensure you get the training your voice needs including the understanding of your instrument and with it, the regular use of properly designed vocal exercises created to keep your voice in shape and your career longevity intact. Vocal hemorrhaging and surgery CAN be avoided. Even if you have a demanding schedule, it is up to you to look out for yourself.
on May 28, 2015 at 11:25 PM said:YES!! It really helps me to think of myself as a "vocal athlete". I feel like I have a lot more stamina and strength since shifting my relating to my voice in this direction. It helps in making decisions about how to care for myself and my voice.
on May 29, 2015 at 4:54 AM said:Dear Jeannie; what an excellent post... I wholeheartedly agree. Singers ARE vocal athletes. Why indeed would vocalists who have achieved such rarified, hard-won, high-level success take chances with the two little cords whose well-being is vital to continuing to sing at all? Amazing. I hope more read this and heed this caution you have so caringly written. And God bless Sam Smith... may he fully recover to become far more again than a cautionary tale.
on June 2, 2015 at 4:32 PM said:It seems a lot of newer singers let too much air blow across the folds and this acts like a blow dryer and well.....blows them dry. Sam uses a lot of air in his sounds at times, and I think it's possible he created more vulnerability in the folds and left them open to the effects of friction. But then you read and learn that sometimes a fold hemorrhage can be a sharp, sudden damaging move as well.