December/January 2019

by Cherie Mathieson

Cherie Mathieson & Tami Neilson: Voice Health On Tour

by Cherie Mathieson

Cherie Mathieson & Tami Neilson: Voice Health On Tour

Have you ever wondered how someone with a big singing voice and a performance schedue to match looks after and maintains their vocal health? When she thinks huge vocals, singer and vocal coach Cherie Mathieson immediately pictures Tami Neilson. The two spoke in order to get the inside scoop on some of the tips and tricks Tami uses to look after her voice, to get ready for performances and specifically, to vocally survive the rigorous act of touring.

There was a lot of laughing and anecdotal chatting so well worth a listen to the recording on this podcast!

What do you do daily to nurture your voice Tami?

How I maintain my voice has changed dramatically, even in the last five years. Having children and sleep deprivation played a crucial part in changing my routine.

I never used to warm up or did anything to take care of my voice, whereas now, being a mum of two young children, sleep is a precious commodity. It can be rare to get a solid sleep, and suddenly you have to start pulling other things from your toolbox as you’re not able to sleep 12 hours after your gig. The recovery time just isn’t there.

I tend to be not as mindful when it’s one-off gigs. Most of my performing now is in a touring formula because that’s how I have to manage it. Juggling parenthood and being a musician it needs to be concentrated and getting as much done as I can in a short amount of time.

Especially touring so much more internationally now than I ever have before, being on flights for 20 hours totally dehydrates you and jet lag is a big side effect of dehydration. You land and three hours later you need to be doing a breakfast show that you have to be up for at 4am – after travelling for 36 hours – so there’s no time for jet lag, or rest either.

So what’s in Tami’s singer’s toolkit?

  • Humidiflyer – invented by an Air NZ flight attendant, it’s an oxygen mask that filters and recirculates the air that you’re breathing which keeps out nasty germs in the cabin and keeps you hydrated. I literally can land, no jet lag and keep going.
  • Trtl Pillow – a neck pillow for flying that moulds to your body and holds your neck up so that you can sleep anywhere. I can sleep on planes, in tour vans or in the green room.
  • Liquorice Tea – a great natural anti-inflammatory and digestive aid.
  • NZ Manuka honey lozenges – another natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial aid for oral and throat health.
  • Kiwiherb Throat spray – natural anti-bacterial properties for oral health.
  • Salt gargle – natural anti-bacterial properties for oral & throat health.
  • Nasal irrigation – keeps your sinuses & nasal passages moisturised and free from allergens like dust & pollen.
  • Vocal steaming – topical hydration for your vocal folds. The only way to instantly hydrate your voice. Drinking water can take up to 72 hours to hydrate your body.
  • Massage ball/roller

What’s your daily warm-up & pre-gig routine?

  • Sirens – before getting out of bed for waking up your voice before speaking as well as lightly throughout the day.
  • Lip trills
  • Singer’s stretches – all over body stretches with a focus on neck, jaw and tongue stretches specifically.
  • Singing through songs for getting inspired, as well as the songs that are in the set.

How do you use nutrition to support your vocal health?

That’s another real struggle on the road. Access to healthy food can be very limited. When you’re in a tour van for eight hours you tend to stop at gas stations which only have rubbish. You get to the venue and in the green room they have a rider of crackers & chips – and you hope some veggies & fruit.

Your meal times are all over the place and you don’t know when you are going to eat. I don’t like eating before I sing. I don’t want something heavy in my stomach, so if I don’t get a substantial lunch then I’m not eating until midnight. I don’t want to be burping during the show!

What do you do in-between gigs or when you are not on tour, to keep yourself in good vocal health?

This is something I haven’t been mindful of. As a parent you don’t carve out a lot of times for yourself, it’s hard to, you don’t prioritise it. I have recently started making more time for working out and getting exercise in.

Over the last few years, especially with the extensive touring, I have realised that we are elite athletes! We are using a very tiny part that no-one can see, but we have to take so much care. You use your whole body to sing, and I’ve learned that I need to prioritise that. It is something that is important for staying on top as a vocalist and making sure that I am treating my voice with the respect that it’s due.

We tend to take our voices for granted until we start having issues when we are thrashing it. We are taking from our voices & ourselves, giving everything out and not filling up that well. That’s a big thing I’ve been learning over the last while.

Looking after your voice is more than simply warming up before you sing. It’s about being mindful of your speaking voice, keeping stress levels in check, resting and relaxing mentally as well as physically, nourishing your body, refilling your creative cup regularly and having personalised daily vocal care practices.

Learning and maintaining fundamental singing techniques from a vocal coach that specialises in the style of singing that you are into will take your singing to the next level and keep your gig fit and ready for every performance opportunity.

Cherie Mathieson is a singer, vocal coach, artist development mentor and the founder of Big Notes Get Votes. She helps singers build confidence in their vocal ability, develop their signature sound & discover their artist identity. Check out the website & the social platforms for singing tips & tutorials.