If you sing, you have probably experienced that feeling of sticky mucus accumulating in your throat. It is annoying, uncomfortable, and can be a real pain in the ass if you are getting ready to walk out onto a stage for a performance. It leaves you wanting to clear your throat with a powerful “AHEM” and, in combination with something like seasonal allergies, can be the source of major stress for any singer wanting to show off their vocal capabilities.
But what if I told you that there is a good possibility that you are making the problem even worse due to your diet? In our “what is good for you today will be bad for you tomorrow” world, dairy products have had their fair share of criticism, including some that have been launched from within the music industry. So, in true Rocket to the Stars fashion, I went looking for answers and came up with a few singing tips…
Meet Renee Grant-Williams
A native of Johnstown, Pennsylvania now living in Nashville, celebrity voice instructor Renee Grant-Williams has a list of clients that reads like a “Who's Who” of the current music industry. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including Miley Cyrus, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Christina Aguilera, Keith Urban, and Huey Lewis. She has been quoted or reviewed by major publications such as the New York Times and Cosmopolitan and has made television appearances on all four major US networks, as well as CNN, BBC, and MTV. She is also the author of Voice Power.
What is casein
Casein has become the source of quite a bit of controversy over the past few years. Grant-Williams described it as a protein found in dairy products that contributes to the creation and formation of mucus that can find its way to a singer's vocal chords. Casein, which has a molecular structure similar to that of gluten, is also used independently as a binding agent in a number of processed foods and is sold in various protein powder forms used by many fitness enthusiasts. Some people are allergic to casein. Others, while not allergic, are still sensitive to the effects of casein and don't even know it.
“Casein amplifies the thickening of the mucus on the chords,” she explains. “A lot of people are allergic to casein but most of those people don't realize it because they don't notice the symptoms on a daily basis.”
And for those of you living in or near cities infamous for environmental allergies (looking at YOU Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee), casein can become even more of an issue. According to Grant-Williams, a diet high in fatty dairy products can double the severity of your allergy symptoms, including the accumulation of the mucus on the vocal chords, making singing properly extremely difficult and/or uncomfortable.
The controversial protein has drawn criticism from more than just vocal instructors and singers. Some studies have attempted to link casein proteins to the development of cancer cells. In fact a well-known book, “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, argues that casein promotes the growth of cancer cells in all stages of cancer development. The findings in Campbell's book were based loosely on the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, a 20-year study for which Campbell served as a director.
Trying to avoid the mucus build-up
Avoiding consumption of casein is extremely difficult for some people. Research shows that casein makes up approximately 80% of the proteins found in cow milk, which is then used in the creation of several other dairy-based products. The protein is found in higher quantities in dairy products with greater amounts of fat.
“Sour cream in high in fat,” explained Grant-Williams. “The same goes for ice cream. Pizza is something singers should stay away from because it typically has heavy, fatty cheese in addition to toppings that are usually high in salt.”
Grant-Williams also mentioned that casein is less prevalent in yogurt and low-fat milk because both products have lower fat contents, but she did emphasize that the protein is still present in those products. There are some alternatives to which vocalists can turn, including the common choices of both soy- and almond-based milks, which are absent of both casein and lactose.
“I also tell my students to drink water in abundance,” says Grant-Williams. “I also recommend they drink fruit juice.”
If you find it too difficult to give up dairy products entirely, Grant-Williams suggests not consuming them for an entire day leading up to a performance. She feels that allows enough time for them to disappear from the body.
A vocal exercise to combat the mucus
Nearly every vocalist has experienced the feeling in the throat that comes with a heavy build-up of mucus on the vocal chords. Most voice instructors tell their students to try to avoid clearing their throats with the common “AHEM” because it can actually make the problem even worse. So what do you do if you are getting ready to perform and you can feel the mucus build-up at a higher than normal level? Renee Grant-Williams has a technique she refers to as “Three Stutters, Three Swirls” which she demonstrates in this special video she made for Rocket to the Stars (CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO).
While more and more singers are starting to catch on to the idea of reducing or eliminating fatty dairy products from their daily diets, it is important to remember that casein is also used in a lot of processed foods. So, even if you do cut back on dairy products in an effort to combat that music build-up affecting your voice, the problem will still be present if your diet continues to include those processed foods (which also tend to have a high fat content).
Guest post: Rocket to the Stars creator and director Wade Sutton spent nearly two decades working as a radio journalist before founding one of the largest artist development competitions in the Eastern United States in 2010. Get his book Music Industry Blueprint which he co-authored with former Taylor Swift manager Rick barker by clicking HERE.