Throat Lubrication Tips for Singers
Let me start this by saying I'm a professional blues singer with a four octave range. I have been gigging for 20+ years and have been recording for record labels for almost as long. I have a bit of a raspy lower register and it's extremely important that I keep my voice in good shape, or I would lose it. Few things can screw a singer’s voice–and a concert–up more quickly than singing with a dry throat or mouth. There are several reasons for this, but I’ll skip most of them and just say that the main reason is that it’ll force you to overcompensate. If you know your voice well, you can pull it off if you absolutely have to. If you know your voice like you’re God incarnate, you can pull it off for three hours straight, in a smokey environment, without anything to drink, whilst suffering a cold–and still be able to do it all over again 16 hours later.
The latter category is cool, to a degree, but it comes with a very high price tag. You see, the only way you can know for sure how much your voice can take, is to actually lose it in its entirety for a few week’s time. Losing it for a day doesn’t count, not even a little bit. You have to lose it to the point you actually start to cry, wondering if you’ve lost an entire octave forever.
The good news is, unless you were a complete moron about your technique, the voice usually does recover. But it’s not something a professional should endeavor to experience. Just take it from me, and others like me, maintaining your vocal chords from the start is an absolute must.
There are a number of ways to do this, and I’m not talking about things like vocal exercises. Nor am I talking about not smoking, which is something anyone with a brain already knows. I’ll get into the other aspects eventually, but the most basic requirement here is lubrication. And I’m going to tell you the best, and worst things that will affect this. I base this on 20+ years of professional singing, in all settings. This includes festivals of 10,000 or more people, small clubs of 50 people, poorly mic’ed settings, and well-mic’ed settings.
The Worst Things to Drink Before Singing
You'll want to avoid foods and beverages that cause mucous buildup. Foods such as dairy, stimulants such as caffeine and spicy foods, soft drinks, refined sugars, chocolate, and iced drinks and alcohol (including wine and beer) should be avoided.
The biggest lie of them all, what a friggin' joke this is. Water is for hydration, nothing more. And while hydration is important, water is not going to get you through a set when your throat feels like it's on fire due to a cold or something else. In fact, there is nothing worse than water, and that’s exactly why you see people drinking lots of it during gigs–it doesn’t make anything slick, it only moistens for the amount of time it’s in your mouth. In fact, nothing makes you more aware of a dry throat than water that’s just gone down it. A good lubricant lasts. It’s not something you have to repeat several times a song. And it's not something you should even need to be thinking about more than a couple of times a set.
This one makes me laugh. People who take tea on stage, especially people who take silly crap like throat coat tea onstage, are just wasting money. Tea is no different than water (unless worse counts), and nothing in throat coat tea is any more helpful than regular water. The warm temp can help a little, but you might as well just be taking hot water up there if that’s what it’s doing for you. And yes, I’ve done the hot water thing when there was nothing else I could get my hands on. It works, if only somewhat.
Beer is about the same as milk–do not drink this within five hours of going onstage. If you’re a lush and can’t face the crowd (you can probably guess from my tone I don't approve of this), take one shot of liquor, and then take pineapple juice up there with you. No beer, it makes you sound like crap, whether you know it or not.
The Best Things to Drink Before Singing
Eating and drinking before a performance can either destroy your signing performance or help it. Making sure you drink the right things before singing can help your singing voice and can help you improve your performance.
1. Pineapple Juice
Far and away, the best choice available. Doesn’t matter if it’s room temp or a bit chilled, but nothing cold. And nothing with chunks in it, those can make you cough. Pineapple juice is slick, it will instantly moisten your throat, wet your tongue–and cause you to salivate, which is the best lubrication you can find. One glass per 45 minute set, a sip or two between songs, that’s all you need. Remember, you’re just lubricating, not quenching thirst. Do not go overboard with pineapple juice, you will spend the next morning in the bathroom. Crazy as pineapple juice sounds, it’s the best thing you can use, and I’ve converted every opera singer I’ve ever mentioned it to.
2. Strawberry Juice
I don’t go out of my way to get this one, but if I can’t get my hands on pineapple juice this will do for a one off. It can be grainy, so just sip it. It will also cause you to salivate, and it will make your mouth very slick. Again, don’t overdo it.
And by this, I mean pure honey. Not honey mixed in with some silly tea. If your throat really gets it, you can carry a small squeezable tube of honey around with you and use a tiny bit as needed. Salivation is instant and that’s what it’s all about.
Again use real olives, not olive oil (though, I suppose that would work in a pinch). Olives are readily available in most bars, just nibble at one until your throat feels nice and wet.