What’s robbing Adele, Céline Dion and more singers of their voices

A music industry driven by live performances puts an increasing strain on singers' most valuable instrument

Canadian jazz singer Sophie Milman has a close relationship with her doctor. It makes sense, given she’s the person that inserts a steroid directly into Milman’s vocal cords with a needle.

Dr. Jennifer Anderson is one of a handful of doctors in Canada that specialize in relieving vocal cord strain, which is increasingly becoming an issue for singers. From opera singers to Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, performers like Milman come to the vocal clinic at the St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto looking for solutions.

“I have had times when I left here in tears,” Milman said. “I usually don’t cry in front of Jennifer.”

The music industry is placing more pressure on singers to perform live and audiences are craving big, bold vocals — a potentially dangerous combination.

Céline Dion and Shakira both recently cancelled concerts because of voice issues. Sam Smith, Adele, and Michael Bublé were all forced to put their careers on pause due to vocal cord strain.

Vibrating 1,000 times a second

It all comes down to the delicate membranes of tissue in a person’s throat. As we exhale, air passes over vocal folds that vibrate 100 to 1,000 times a second, creating sound. But when vocal cords are strained, they swell. At first, singers may feel fatigued and their sound can become breathy because the vocal folds no longer close properly.