cracking the voice

3 Professional Singers on How They Take Care of Their Voices

Photo: Patrick McMullan

David Crosby
Drinking and smoking are no-nos. Drugs? He’ll explain.

“I’m singing as well as ever and it doesn’t make any goddamn sense, because I did everything wrong, like drugs, drugs, and also drugs. I’ve never been a drinker or smoker. Before a show, I avoid dairy because it causes phlegm. My old routine was to smoke a joint. Now I warm up for about ten minutes before I go on, singing the lowest note I can and holding it to vibrate my vocal cords, then I drink fresh ginger-lemon tea with Splenda. In Crosby, Stills & Nash, we did move songs down a whole key because the guy on the top end of the harmony could no longer hit the notes, like for Nash on ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.’ Stills is more normal in the sense that his voice has been deteriorating, but that’s whiskey and cigarettes. They’ll kill your voice faster than anything else.”

Photo: Patrick McMullan

It helps to mute yourself sometimes — and talk in a falsetto.

“Before a show, I eat chicken noodle soup, some steak for protein, and drink a mixture of Gatorade and Emergen-C. Then I warm up for 45 minutes: ‘oohs,’ ‘aahs,’ and vowel sounds. After that, my piano player and I rehearse pieces of songs in a higher key than I’m going to sing onstage. I talk in a falsetto after the show to help my throat warm down. The songs that we do are two and a half to three and a half octaves. They’re into Wagner-land, and I hit the performance so hard that, when the show is done, I have to give the vocal cords a rest. On days off, I don’t say a word. If somebody asks me what I want, I write it on a notepad. All that is why I can still do ‘Bat Out of Hell’ in the same key that I did it in 40 years ago.”

Photo: David M Benett/Getty Images for Charlotte Tilbury

Candi Staton
The soul singer relies on a hand from above.

“I’ve dropped my songs about two keys lower as I’ve aged. If you’re a very good and experienced singer, you know when you’re not able to make a high note. You make a low note, but it goes over the same way because you can hold it. I smoked back in the ’70s and had nodules on my vocal cords that kept me hoarse all the time. A doctor gave me a note saying, ‘You have to decide today what you want to do. If you want a career, you won’t smoke.’ So I stopped. I started taking a blood thinner, to keep my blood circulating properly, and I take turmeric for inflammation in my vocal cords. Saltwater and vinegar are healers, so I gargle with them in the morning. I warm up 30 minutes before going onstage, humming. After that, I drink water and chew gum to keep my throat moist. And then I pray to God.”

*This article appears in the October 3, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.

3 Pro Singers on Taking Care of Their Voices