Staying healthy on the road – is it a myth? Can it really happen? Well, nobody will tell you it’s easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Every road-worn musician has developed routines, habits, and tricks for keeping themselves healthy while touring around the country. I’ve interviewed and collected a few tips from some of the best hardworking musicians in Canada and compiled them here. Take it from these road vets – these tips are tried and true.
Guitarist and vocalist Joey Landreth of The Bros. Landreth spoke to me from Calgary.
Keep your voice healthy
“I lost my voice while working and touring hard. It was late nights, early mornings, all the time. You end up talking a lot, using your voice a lot. Talking with folks after shows, in the van, and then singing every night.
“I found that I had to police the volume at which I was speaking. Speaking at full volume results in a lot of wear and tear on the voice. Before and after shows, I made sure to keep my voice down to a conversational level. Obviously, this can be hard to do in a loud club, post-show, with excited people everywhere and loud background music.
“So beyond that, it sounds silly, but I really tried to take some vocal rest – keeping talking in the van down, drinking lots of water, and so on. But don’t whisper! Whispering is basically as bad as yelling. You end up pushing really hard to be heard and it has the same effect on your vocal cords.”
How do you soothe your voice and recover from a long night?
“As far as concoctions, I used ginger root and hot water, and honey and cayenne pepper. Couldn’t tell you what the cayenne pepper does, but it seems to work. It apparently does a lot to help to boost the voice as well as your immune system!
“Lemon, stay away from. I know a lot of people do the hot lemon water thing, but citric acid does the opposite of what you want, especially if you drink a lot of it. I also wouldn’t encourage vocal spray; that’s a bit of a band-aid measure. It can numb your throat, and then you’ll end up pushing harder and blowing [your vocal cords] out again.”
Jess Ayre, who sings and plays guitar in Sweet Alibi (you can check out their new album here), spoke to me from her hometown of Winnipeg. The band tours relentlessly: three weeks on the road, home for a week, and then another three to four weeks from March to November, with a busy summer touring schedule jammed in there as well.
Take care of your mental health
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to set time aside for yourself. When you have a few hours between your hotel check-in or before a gig, after a gig, or in the morning, make time for yourself. Run, meditate, do yoga. Whatever gives you a little break from the fast-paced touring lifestyle.
“Also, have somebody to call outside of the band. It balances out the group dynamic when you’re surrounded by same people day in and day out. Ten days in is when I start to feel a little homesick. Whether it’s talking to mom, your significant other, or friends, having that other person helps, just to get a different thing happening.”
Nathan Crook, a talented guitarist living and working out of Toronto, recently did a summer tour with Johnson Crook in support of their new single, "Minnedosa, Manitoba." Immediately after that, he hit the road for summer dates with For Esmé. He’s toured on and off for nearly his entire adult life, so here's a slew of tips from a guy who knows!
Separate the workload
“The biggest one for me is ‘don’t be a hero.’ What I mean by that is that there’s always going to be times when one person wants to do everything. They want to drive, haul the gear, send the emails, and have control. Properly distributing duties driving or lifting things is huge. It’s so easy to get burnt out and tired on the road."
Stay hydrated throughout the day
“My second tip is learning to stay hydrated throughout the day, so you don’t have to during a show. If you hydrate immediately before and during show you’ll have to pee, which is very distracting.”
Switch to healthier road snacks
“That being said, it’s hard to follow all of these ‘tips’ on the road. I mean, I try my best, but I used to be way worse. When I toured with Take With Audio, we would buy and eat pizza and subs from gas stations every day, and after four shows of that, you feel like you’re going to die.
“So finding the right type of road snacks was huge. Of course, you can say you’re going to buy a bunch of carrots, but seriously, is that going to happen? Rather than doing that, just make sandwiches that aren’t terrible for you.”
Switch to clear alcohol
“Also, everyone says you shouldn’t drink, but that’s nearly impossible. What I’ve tried to do is switch from beer to clear alcohol with no sugar, like a gin and tonic or a vodka soda. You’ll be a lot less bloated, and it’s a lot less calories.”
Daniel Jordan, a member of Winnipeg folk trio Red Moon Road, has toured around the world singing and playing songs.
Tackle the "tour belly" when you get home
"Our band eats really well on the road – a lot of home-cooked, delicious food. Our main problem is keeping our cardio up. When I get home, I begin my 'War On Tour Belly.' I bike everywhere when I'm home.... [And] yoga is amazing because it makes me really aware of my body in so many ways, which helps when you're constantly lifting things and playing.
"I try to live and eat a little more spartan when I'm home – not indulging like I do on tour. So, I start my morning with a blended smoothie, and for another meal I would get creative with a tin of lean tuna and a salad. Realizing what I actually need versus what I want/am used to stuffing in my face was very important."
Liam Duncan is a full-time musician from Winnipeg, Canada. He likes to record music with friends and tour with The Middle Coast.