I kind of realized halfway through my time at Berklee College of Music in Boston that my true passion was to become a music producer after graduation. I had a deep love for being in the studio, writing songs, producing tracks, and making beats.
But honestly, my ultimate dream was to record incredibly talented artists singing.
I still remember my first gig in Los Angeles right after graduating. I got the chance to work for this super famous pop producer who was known as one of the best vocal producers at that time.
On the day of the vocal session, I arrived full of energy and excitement, only to find the producer looking down and waiting for the artist. Curious, I asked him what was up.
He replied, “I’m guessing this is your first time working with a major artist on vocals?” I nodded, and he warned me, “This artist has been struggling with an eating disorder for a while now, and we’ve been having a hard time getting consistently good takes. Buckle up.”
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4 Ways Weight Changes Affect Your Voice
One of the biggest challenges for many singers struggling with their weight is how hormones affect their vocal pitch and tone. Basically, for guys, gaining weight can make their voices higher and more feminine.
This happens because they produce more female hormones, like progesterone when they gain a lot of weight.
On the flip side, for ladies, gaining weight can make their voice lower and deeper, thanks to the increased production of testosterone.
This happened to famous male singers like Luther Vandross and Ruben Studdard when they were close to being obese. They had these amazing, smooth, and delicate voices that people loved.
But when they had to lose weight for PR and health reasons, their voices changed so much that fans hardly recognized them.
Luther Vandross actually gained weight again so he could sound like himself, but sadly, it contributed to his early death. It’s a really sad story.
I also have a story from my internship about an artist who was touring and recording an album at the same time. Her record label wanted her to look more attractive and sexy on tour, so they put her on a super strict diet.
As a result, anything she recorded before the tour sounded completely different from everything she tried to record after the tour.
When it comes to touring, singers face some pretty tough challenges. One of the main issues is having to perform almost every night for hours, especially for artists who incorporate choreography.
The amount of energy required to give a top-notch performance can be quite demanding. If you’ve gained some extra pounds, your body might struggle to keep up, affecting both your movement and your ability to hit those high notes every night.
On the flip side, if you’ve lost a lot of weight very quickly, it can weaken your singing abilities, including your diaphragm. Not only that, but rapid weight loss can mess with your blood sugar levels, which can cause problems on stage like feeling dizzy, having trouble breathing, and feeling overall exhausted.
Ruben Studdard experienced these same problems when he lost a ton of weight before going on tour. In fact, he had to cancel half of his tour because he was just too exhausted.
Chest Problems and Airflow
The problem with gaining weight quickly is that it adds fat to the abdomen without building any muscle. As a result, the muscles in the stomach and abdomen have to work harder to get enough airflow for the lungs.
This can cause issues in maintaining pitch and vocal power, both in the studio and during live performances. On the other hand, I’ve also noticed the opposite effect in people with anorexia or eating disorders.
Losing healthy fat, which doesn’t turn into muscle, weakens the entire body and affects the voice, as both the abdomen and lungs can’t reach their full capacity.
In the studio, when people have problems with their chest and airflow, producers sometimes have to overdub phrases. This means the singer didn’t actually sing the whole song, but instead provided small clips that are put together. It’s called a comp.
While this technique is useful for choosing the best takes, it often doesn’t result in a cohesive vocal performance that saves a song. Most of the time, when all the takes are relatively weak, they sound disconnected from each other, making it a mishmash rather than an inspired vocal.
I can hear this type of production in many pop records, especially those of younger artists who may be dealing with eating disorders or simply lack the training to deliver a powerful and skilled vocal take on a song.
Apart from the practical challenges of recording and touring, gaining or losing weight super quickly can seriously mess up an artist’s health. Rapid weight gain can lead to diabetes and major blood pressure problems, which can make you feel exhausted all the time.
Having an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, is no joke either. When it comes to bulimia, artists can really mess up their throat and vocal cords. All that acid from throwing up all the time can actually permanently damage the vocal cords, which is extremely dangerous.
As music producers, one of our main roles is to ensure that the artists we collaborate with feel completely at ease. It is crucial for them to feel free to express themselves without fear of judgment.
The music industry can be challenging, particularly for sensitive and less confident artists. They constantly face rejection, the pressure to maintain a certain image on social media, and the exhaustion of managing multiple tasks.
It is common for artists to seek comfort in food. I have observed this happening frequently in the studio.
Lately, I have been strongly focused on raising awareness about mental health and providing guidance to emerging artists at conferences. I firmly believe that the first step in breaking the cycle of using food (or not eating enough) for comfort is to fully accept and love oneself.
Therefore, as a producer, I believe it is essential to start each session with kindness. We must create an environment where the artist feels completely comfortable embracing their true, authentic self throughout the entire experience.