Let's start with imaginary optimal conditions. A couple of months before recording, a singer goes into strict training. They give up all smoke, alcohol and drugs (including anti-depressants and tranquilizers), dairy products, caffeine and sugar. They attend regular yoga classes and start working with a vocal therapist (as opposed to a coach) to learn to stretch, flex and develop the muscle groups that can tense up and interfere with vocal production. They avoid all situations where they are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke.

This rarely happens.

Singers often come into a session with some half- baked notion that they should give up drugs, cigarettes and alcohol but they fail to realize that timing is crucial when it comes to this. The same two folds of tissue that you use to sing are used to cough mucous out of your system. Mucous is one of the main ways that your body deals with anything it perceives as toxin. It creates mucous and you cough it up. It tends to collect on your vocal folds during this process. Try playing guitar with mittens and you'll get a rough idea of how this can hamper you. Coughing slams the folds together and causes them to swell. Swollen folds are unpredictable and can cause problems with pitch power and resonance.

Quit means quit.

A lot of the people I work with are a bit hazy on this. The body often does a fairly decent job in the short run of assimilating substances that are bad for it. You won't start purging until your body gets a very clear signal that you are not going to ingest that particular substance anymore. A person who cuts down from a pack of cigarettes a day to several cigarettes a day is not likely to start coughing up the tar that lines their lungs and their vocal folds.

A recreational drug user who decides to give up cigarettes, heroin and pizza two or three weeks before an important recording session is quite likely to sound their worst. It's nearly impossible to accurately time when a person is going to get rid of mucous when they quit ingesting things, so let's break this down by substance. The first part of this article will focus on what an individual singer can do to get in shape for a recording session. The second part will focus on last minute tips for engineers when singers inevitably fail to get it together. Purging is the last thing you want to have happen during a vocal session.


Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to man. The failure rate for people trying to quit is 95 percent a year. People often say that they love to smoke but I find this ridiculous. People love not having nicotine fits and are usually embarrassed to admit that they are in helpless thrall to a substance foisted upon them by evil corporations. Most hardcore smokers started as teenagers, a time of life when hormonal changes and a sense of immortality leaves them particularly vulnerable. If you are a social smoker with a habit of less than a pack a day for less than ten years then your prognosis for long-term abstinence is good. People giving up cigarettes with the help of a vocal therapist, acupuncturist and a nutritionist can often purge the tar within three to six weeks. Once again, quit means quit. If you're still smoking an occasional cigarette it's likely that your body will continue to assimilate the toxin rather than releasing it. Hardcore smokers are likely to have problems beyond purging tar from the folds and should try to quit at least six to eight weeks before a recording session. Nicotine withdrawal will cause anxiety and edginess that will impair a vocal performance. Acupuncture and massage will greatly reduce these negative effects. Before you start bitching about the cost of acupuncture or massage, think about how expensive cancer is and think about all the money you'll save by not smoking. You can probably afford a couple of acupuncture sessions a month with the money you save by not buying cigarettes. Unless you're experienced with having bodywork done, never, and I do mean never,...

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