Voice Care for Burning Man (and other tricky terrain)

By Kate Conklin
August 21, 2018

Photo: infernoasis


I seem to know more and more people who attend Burning Man. I like to think this is because I increasingly know people who are creative in their lives, and make efforts to be with other people in extraordinary ways.

So, when Emma; my singing, acting, fire-spinning, hooping, cabaret-performing, sky-diving friend, asked my advice for caring for her voice at Burning Man, I was happy to oblige.

First off, I am not fond of pitting any of our creative endeavors against each other. If something is good for you as a whole, it is generally good for your singing and creative life. If going to a festival or any event helps you refuel your creativity, I see it as nourishing for you as a whole. Having accurate information and a reliable process will help you to do what you wish to do, avoid being ruled by fear, and take care of yourself and your voice.

That being said, there are many conditions in such events that present difficulties for our bodies and voices, and accommodations must be made. Among them are dry air, dust, smoke, heat– all sorts of things that are present in deserts, airplanes, Santa Ana winds, and wildfires. Having lived and sung in Vegas for a couple years, and LA for much of my life, I have experience with these things.

Here are six things you can do to keep yourself in ship-shape shape, and the principles behind them, so you can improvise your own solutions.

*Common sense caution: This is not medical advice. Please use your judgement or consult a physician to suit your particular needs. I also highly recommend you work with a coach who can help you learn to navigate your vocal life with ease and confidence.

1 Hydrate: Body and Voice

Drink water to hydrate your entire body.
To do this effectively, you have to balance your water intake with salt intake, so you can hold onto it. The advice I have gotten is to put a pinch of salt in your water, ideally Celtic Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan salt, as they contain minerals. Drinks with electrolytes (or powders you can mix with water) are also helpful.

Hydrate the surface of the vocal folds.
This can be done with steam in the shower, a steam room, or from a steaming device (or tea kettle) – and a cool mist humidifier is also excellent.* This keeps the surface of the folds hydrated and smooth, and additionally can help with any irritation. Gently humming in steamy environments helps to keep the steam in longer, increasing it’s effectiveness.
(*I realize these things may be hard to come by in certain situations. The Humidiflyer is excellent to use on planes or in the outback, for minimum accoutrements.)

Photo: Gen Shib

2 Protect Your Airway

Your vocal folds are the top of your airway.
Particles of dust and smoke irritate your nose, sinuses, throat, vocal folds and lungs- you want to keep those out. When you are singing, running, or doing other strenuous or breathing- intensive activities, you are passing more air through your airway, and more quickly, into your lungs. You can protect your airway by limiting strenuous breathing, using a mask, avoiding dusty areas, and using the Humidiflyer.

3 Voice Use

Keep your vocal use coordinated and gentle.
You are your instrument, no matter what you do- in singing, this is especially true. Screaming and yelling and pushing and all that sort of stuff will be all the more irritating in a dry, dusty environment. If you can, do a gentle vocal warm up before you start your speaking for the day. This can be done with gentle humming, rolled Rs, or with pre-phonatory warm ups. Using your whole self coordination in all of your movement will support coordinated speaking and singing.

4 Rest

Get lots of sleep, and take frequent breaks from speaking or singing.
Rest is essential for all humans at all times, especially in extreme environs, and before, during and after travel. A rested whole- self is key for a rested voice. The vocal folds restore themselves very quickly, so even short breaks will greatly improve your overall vocal health.

5 Recovery

Plan time when you return to your normal routine for a gentle, gradual re-entry.
This is essential to bringing your voice and your entire self back to optimal functioning. If you set yourself up to be hurried, you are more likely to overdo it, and also more likely to pit your singing life against your adventuring. Just plan a week or two of being gentle, and coming gradually into your optimal vocal use. Bonus: You will learn a ton from about recovery and resiliency from doing this.

6 Consider the Whole Picture

If you know these conditions are particularly difficult for you, consider the entire ecology of your life.
If you have important singing engagements immediately following something like Burning Man, use your best wisdom to determine how, and whether, you can participate. Any action has consequences, and the more information you have, the better you can cooperate with your design and your short and long term desires.

Photo: Victor Habachy