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I remember that when I was searching for a vocal coach I drank one tot of a nameless liquid, this turned me into a social butterfly the likes of which I never imagined I could be. I then aced my audition.

I'm thinking that from now on, before a vocal performance I'm gonna ingest an ounce of Dutch courage, because it seems to relax my nerves just enough to give a killer performance.

I wonder how widespread this is, or how much of a good idea it really is?

Just to be clear I'm not talking about getting hammered, just a drink to get you loose and in the mood.

Also, I'm not talking about singing Lied at the Concertgebouw, more in the line of singing in a rock ban while touring the pub / bar scene.

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6 Answers 6

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Doing this as a method to give better performances is a good way to slide into alcoholism. Though commonly played down alcohol is a serious poison that will damage your body even in non excessive doses. If you only perform now or then this might still work out, but what if you have more frequent performances?

In the end you might not even be able to perform without drinking. Thus I think even if it works out for some people for some time it is a terribly bad and irresponsible idea for anyone to suggest drinking as a way for anything.

If your problem is that you are not comfortable with letting loose the healthy way would be to tackle the problem, build up the confidence rather than muting the problem with alcohol.

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  • All comments deleted and all further comments discusing this will be deleted. Please do not use this SE for discussing medical or addiction topics or any SE for that matter. Please seek the relevant counseling or medical professionals if you or someone you know is having issues.
    – Dom
    Oct 28, 2023 at 15:43
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My experience from running a small dance band (though with changing personnel) is that almost any amount of alcohol or tobacco is detrimental in the short and long term to singers. For instrumentalists, even small amount amounts of alcohol also reduce the accuracy of a player's timing. However, the players under the influence (though not large) is that they believe that their performance has improved.

Of course, the above is only an anecdote as is the next. The plural of anecdote is not data.

One person I know worked his way through college and graduate school playing bass fiddle in a jazz band. (And classical fiddle in various string ensembles and orchestras.) He told me about using a wire recorder (this sort of dates the episodes) to record his colleagues when they were both smoking weed and using alcohol. He played the recordings at a rehearsal and all his band members postponed weed and alcohol until after a performance.

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  • Makes one wonder why drugs were so readily used by musos in the '60s... 'Cos they sounded better - to themselves?
    – Tim
    Oct 28, 2023 at 11:45
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I'll answer as an instrumentalist, since the question didn't specify only vocal performance. Vocalists definitely seem to focus on the effects of alcohol on their voice as well as on their mood and mind. Mostly I see them avoiding it—maybe avoiding it altogether, all the time, or at least in the immediate days before a performance. Others, especially in non-classical genres, might use alcohol on purpose to get a huskier voice.

But personally, the only performances that I can imagine drinking before would be ones that I wouldn't be nervous about anyway. For instance, if I was playing fiddle tunes in an Irish session or Old-time jam, I'm already there for fun and could imagine having a beer. But in most performance contexts, I need a lot of mental focus. If I'm playing a classical performance, in a solo role with all eyes on me, I need every brain cell I have to manage all the technical demands, remember the music itself, and remember all the interpretive nuances I've planned. Even if it's an orchestral concert where nobody will hear me in particular, I need to stay alert in the hard parts, and stay awake in the boring parts! Meanwhile, most of the non-classical playing I do involves improvisation, and I need a lot of brain power to know what the next "right note" is in time to play it, and to pick up on little things other band members are doing and respond to them.

But to your question about how widespread it is, there's certainly a lot of substance use around music-making. I get the impression that in the rock world it's standard practice to reach a certain level of buzz before taking the stage. And in the classical world, while I've very seldom seen anyone under the influence during a performance, there is certainly plenty of use in the "off hours." But I would say anecdotally that there's also a very high rate of dependance and abuse (of all sorts of substances) in the performing arts. Just because it's widespread doesn't mean it's a good idea in the long run, and I'm not sure it even helps anything in the short run.

Meanwhile, you might look into other ways of "hacking" your own mood. Many people take beta blockers to deal with strong performance anxiety. But if the goal is simply to "get yourself out of your shell," you might even find that a bit of cardio has a similar effect. Run a few laps around the green room and you'll get some blood flowing to your brain. Similarly, making sure you've eaten recently enough that you have a good blood sugar level can be important.

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    There are even simpler, free, and quick ways to reduce anxiety. I've had great success in recent weeks with a simple trick I saw in some social media reel (of all places). Find a foreground and background object in the same sightline that are separated by at least 5 - 8 feet (a couple meters). Focus on the foreground object, then the background, then the foreground, then the background, etc. Just do that for 3-5 minutes. I don't know how or why but I do this in aural skills class when we have to solo sight sing in front of the whole class and it makes me barely feel the nerves. Oct 28, 2023 at 4:36
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    @ToddWilcox There are also any number of mindfulness-type exercises that can help reduce intense anxiety in the moment, like the "5 4 3 2 1 technique". I imagine everyone's experience may vary, and people find what works best for them. Oct 28, 2023 at 15:37
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The short answer is No.

The longer answer is to think about consistency and about superstition. For instance, some players have lucky socks/shirt whatever. If they're wearing their lucky charm and perform well, it reinforces the idea that the success is due to the charm.

I'd suggest that the most beneficial thing for a good performance is consistency - the same breakfast, same mealtimes, same warm-up routine, same amount of coffee. Nothing out of the ordinary, because if you do particularly well or badly, you'll attribute your change in fortune to the thing that you did differently to your normal routine.

As for drinking, I can imagine how a drink before a performance could become a "cannot perform unless there's a drink first".

As for me, if I give a good performance or bad, I know for certain that I'm responsible, and it's not due to my socks or my blood alcohol level.

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  • So, it's not lucky socks or underpants! Could be interesting (but maybe disallowed on this site) to produce a checklist of the factors which DO work to enhance a performance beyond doubt. Food (or drink!) for thought..?
    – Tim
    Oct 28, 2023 at 15:39
  • This makes a good point that isn't touched on elsewhere: placebo effect. How much of Neil's "social butterfly" experience was due to expecting an effect? Oct 28, 2023 at 15:44
  • Placebo effect may very well be the case.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 28, 2023 at 16:19
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In general, alcohol before performance tends to be a somewhat bad idea rather than good.

The direct effect on your voice is likely to be slightly (but probably not too significantly) detrimental. Since ethanol evaporates more easily than water, alcoholic drinks (especially strong ones - even if the amount of alcohol ingested is the same) make your throat dry. Not great for singing.

(For instrumentalists, my experience with even very small doses of alcohol that don't as much as make me tipsy is that my hand gets imprecise and I often hit a different string than I meant to on the guitar. So not good for playing either. I guess for most people something like one beer doesn't make a noticeable difference either way but honestly can't imagine it being straightout helpful.)

It can cloud your perception, so you may think you sing better than you actually do.

What's worst of all, getting into the habit of dosing yourself with alcohol on the regular specifically to cope with a problem carries a risk of developing an addiction. Don't!

And, of course, you wouldn't want to accidentally overdo it and find yourself performing drunk, where you could get an upset stomach, or do something inadvisable under the influence...

I'm sure stage fright can't be improving your performance either, so I believe you a drink has been the lesser evil for you so far, but you really shouldn't rely on it long-term. Work on building up your confidence so that you don't need any kind of self-medication.

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For singing a rock gig? Sure, if you feel it helps, take the tot. If you fall over, make it a smaller tot. But if the tot doesn't help, probably not a good idea to double it up.

For a gig where more precision is required? Be careful. I remember a particular production of 'Rocky Horror Show' where the band were notorious for being first to the bar in the interval - to order four coffees! And I think our performance was improved for our NOT being slightly 'relaxed'. And I have plenty of memories of other shows where I dreaded matinee days because the evening show would suffer due to between-shows drinking by both band and company. A particular pity as Saturday night, which should be the climax of the week's run, was so often the sloppiest performance.

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