Does Rock Singing Mean Vocal Injury?

The Stone Temple Pilots’ tour was cancelled today, after a doctor determined the lead singer risked permanent vocal damage if he continued touring.

With concerning frequency, singers seem to be increasingly pulled from tours for risks to their voices.  From Duran Duran to Kings of Leon, we are hearing about more artists who are put on voice rest or dealing with injury or surgery..

Why is this happening?

Rock singing used to mandate ripping your voice apart. I remember many years ago I had a young singer who was concerned because his manager had told him to “blow his voice out” with every performance.  He was told that if he wasn’t hoarse at the end of a show, he hadn’t given it enough.  This is happening less often, with those surrounding the artist realizing how important vocal health is to their artists’ performances. However, there is still an element of “push it” that is risky.

Another major culprit is the culture of music, particularly rock music.  Rock music has its origins with rebellious, urban youth.  This is music that deliberately fights norms, and sought to defy them.  With that comes a distrust for anything that seeks to change their sound. This often includes vocal coaches and laryngologists. Many rock singers fear working with a coach because they worry they will have to lose what makes them rock.

This too is slowly changing but what isn’t changing is that rock is inherently a rough, harsh method of voice production. The scarring that accumulates in the vocal cords of a rock singer is irreversible. At first it produces a roughness in the voice that is actually desired, as it is textured and gritty. However, over time, it accumulates and becomes out of the singer’s control, where they notice loss of range, endurance, and vocal flexibility. But the initial, most treatable stages often hide in the beauty of the rock sound, coming to attention only when it has progressed.

What are the problems that come up? 

When rock singers do come to medical attention, there is usually scarring, as mentioned above. This is unfortunately irreverisble. However, there is still an opportunity to prevent further injury and improve the voice.

Simple lifestyle changes often have a dramatic effect on the singer’s health. This should be done in collaboration with the artist, their management, and their coach so that there is a uniform message that the artist can adhere to.

Vocal scarring appears as irregularities (bumps) on the vocal fold edge.


What can be done?

An amazing rock sound can be achieved with good vocal technique and vocal care.  Catching issues early by working with a laryngologist and having a good voice coach prevents irreversible problems and keeps the singer on stage, where they want to be.  There are many things that can be identified on examination by a voice doctor that a singer can do to lessen the risk of injury. Early attention to symptoms and evaluation before there is a real voice issue can prevent or treat most vocal problems.