Things I've Learned About Singing in a Mask

It's the end of March 2021. The pandemic has been with us for over a year. Things are improving. People are getting vaccinated. I, like many, feel like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I have been extremely fortunate in that I have managed to continue playing music through the past year. While not maintaining the number of shows of the past few years, I have managed to keep playing.  

One necessity for doing this was playing in a mask. I know there is debate around masks, or should I say it has been a problematic issue. Whatever. It wasn't for me. I like simplicity. I like eliminating decisions. I also am an avid distance runner and a singer, so anything that has the potential to mess up my lungs seems like something I really want to avoid. So, while in public indoor places, I have worn a mask for over a year. Full stop. No exceptions. 

In the first few months of the shutdowns, I was wearing a 2-ply cotton mask (my wife makes them), but as things got seemingly more complex, I opted for a KN95. The cloth ones are much easier to sing in. The KN95 or N95 or any other mask that offers significant protection muffles your voice quite a bit. 

I can manage pretty well on solo shows. My vocals only have to compete with my guitar. I have noticed, seeing videos of the band, that the mask is way more problematic when trying to cut through electric guitar, bass, and drums.  

Anyway, here are a few things I've learned about singing in a mask. 

1. It is difficult. No way around it. It's harder to breathe (though you adjust). Your nose feels pinched and you sound more nasal. You can't move your mouth and face in the full range of motion that singing sometimes requires.  

2. Your monitoring becomes really important. I have never had really bad pitch problems. I mean, I'm by no means a great (or even very good) singer, but I can stay generally on pitch. However, not being able to hear my own voice through the band has really made it harder to sing in tune. It sounds obvious, but it is a factor. 

3. You need to turn up your vocals in the front of house. I am just now realizing how important this is. I know, I know, it took me a year. It's not an issue, as I said, playing solo. With the band, it is a big issue. 

4. If you want to cut through, over-emphasize sibilance and consonants. I just figured this one out after a particularly difficult 2-gig weekend with the band. It helped to hit the "S" sound harder and emphasize consonants to try to push lyrics through. It's kind of ridiculous when you are playing covers. I mean, everyone knows the songs. Nonetheless, it's something to think about. 

5. Not all KN95/N95 etc. masks are created equal. Size, thickness, strap length, and sound muffling all vary a LOT. Find the good ones for you and hoard them. Well, maybe in a few months it will be a non-issue, but it's something I learned. 

6. Finally, some people just don't get it. They disagree with my wearing a mask for political reasons. They say they can't hear my voice. Now, having seen a lot of video of the band through all of this, I know this to be untrue. At worst, my vocals were a little low in the mix. Personally, I think there is always a lot of "hearing with the eyes" in music. People think visually exciting bands sound better. People automatically assume that someone singing in a mask will be harder to hear, so their brains conspire to make them right about their assumptions. Some people get downright unpleasant about it. I ignore them.  

Being diligent about wearing a mask has allowed me to continue to do what I love to do without too much interruption for the past year. All of the cons to wearing one are outweighed by the fact that I believe doing so has protected me and others. 

I could go on and on, and I think I have. However, we are closing in on some kind of return to normalcy in the near future. In the grand scheme of things, having to cover my nose and mouth when I'm in an indoor public space for 12-15 months or so is just not that bad. 

That's all for now.

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