Can I perform when I am sick or experiencing vocal problems?
The best answer is - it depends. If the vocal problem is minor, if it's a temporary voice problem, and if you can perform without pain, then probably yes -- it's okay. Rarely will you make your voice problem seriously worse with just one performance. If your voice is not up to the level of performance you know you are capable of producing, do you want to perform? Only you can determine whether you want to take public (artistic) responsibility for your voice. However, if you continue to perform repeatedly while you are experiencing vocal problems, then you may be inviting more serious laryngeal damage that will require you to miss a large block of performance time. We recognize that sometimes you can avoid performing, and other times it is extraordinarily difficult to cancel an engagement.
There are a range of secondary problems that can occur when a performer suspects laryngeal damage, from "guarding" (trying to protect the voice and in the process, using incorrect muscle activation patterns that actually make it worse), to trying to "sing through" the problem with adjustments in vocal tract posture. If you are unsure about whether you should be performing, come to The Voice and Swallowing Institute for an examination. We'll be able to give you more specific information about your larynx that will help you make an informed decision about whether or not to perform.
I get hoarse when I perform and my doctor/voice coach/agent told me to rest my voice. Is this appropriate?
Complete voice rest (not using your voice at all) is a great way to reduce any swelling of the vocal folds, since the mucosa of the vocal folds is not vibrating and the vocal folds are not coming into contact with one another frequently. In instances where you have minor, short term hoarseness that you know is due to an infection or dehydration or the like, voice rest can be used to help your vocal folds recover more quickly. If you find, however, that you have to follow performance with voice rest frequently or consistently, then obviously voice rest is not curing an underlying problem, and you should seek a medical voice evaluation.
Furthermore, voice rest is de-conditioning. Just like an athlete who stops working out for a time, going from complete voice rest to full performance is risking injury. Voice rest should be followed by warm up and rehearsal until your voice has returned to performance level.
Is it okay to use steroids to get through a performance when I am sick or experiencing voice problems?
The steroids reduce inflammation, allowing improved contact of the vocal fold mucosa during vibration, and better voice production. Very occasionally, we recommend steroid use for that reason. The danger of relying on steroids is that you may become over-confident with the improved sound, and use your voice to the fullest performance extent. The underlying damage to the vocal fold mucosa is still present, despite the use of steroids, and you may be risking further injure to the tissues.
Like voice rest, the consistent and repeated need for steroids should alert you to an underlying problem that requires medical evaluation. Steroids have many side effects, some of which can be serious. They should not be used lightly.
Singing lessons were recommended, but I like my singing voice and I don't want to sound like an opera singer. Can I preserve my own sound?
Contrary to popular belief, singing is not a natural process. Be it commercial pop, rock, rhythm & blues, reggae or classical, it requires not muscle strength but fine motor coordination that must be learned and practiced. There are a small handful of performers who achieveed greatness without lessons. They are the unusual and extraordinarily talented. The great majority of performers are very talented but need to develop their artistry with expert guidance. A good singing teacher will respect your craft and your personal sound, and will provide you with increased vocal flexibility to extend your abilities and enhance your performance.