How to Rock When You're On Vocal Rest...

In my last post I wrote about the importance of using silence as part of your overall vocal health. I got a lot of questions about "vocal rest", specifically about how to employ it when you're a busy working professional, and I will attempt to answer them here.

First, a quick review: Vocal Rest means complete rest, as in: no speaking, singing, humming, or whispering. That last one might seem confusing, but although there is no actual vocal tone coming through when we whisper, our vocal cords are still active. Allowing them to FULLY rest is what decreases inflammation.

Clients often ask, "what about sleeping? aren't we resting everything while we sleep?". For an answer, just watch a dog (a fellow mammal with vocal cords) while it's sleeping. Many of us are just as active, if not more, during the night. We talk, hum, moan, and whisper. Some of us are even chronic sleep talkers, waking up with voices that are sore and hoarse. Even if we're mostly quiet during sleep, it's important to schedule regular periods of vocal rest during the day if we want our voice to function at full capacity.

So what to do if you work in a busy office? First, write the words "VOCAL REST" (in all caps) on a blank sticker and apply it to yourself in a visible place (try somewhere above your heart). Now grab a pen and pad of paper (or small dry-erase board), and place them nearby on your desk. When someone asks you a question that demands an immediate answer, first point to the sticker, then to the pad (or board), and write out your response. You can also do all your talking by Slack, or some other inter-office app. Remember: your voice is all about communication, so it's important to let others know that you are still able to communicate even though you're vocally compromised*.

Wear your sticker around the office, even in meetings. Don't be ashamed! Your co-workers will most likely appreciate your dedication, and the fact that you are fully present at work even when you can't speak. Many of my clients tell me that once they start this habit, others pick it up, and it becomes more commonplace and acceptable. Continue to drink plenty of water, use throat lozenges**, and whatever anti-inflammatory assists your doctor may have prescribed. Stay committed to your recovery, and thank your co-workers for their patience once your voice returns.

*NOTE: if you have a job that requires full vocal power, such as sales, teaching, or trial law, consult your doctor for help with reducing vocal inflammation quickly. Most likely you'll be referred to a specialist, commonly called an otolaryngologist, who can help you navigate the next steps. 

**NOTE: consult your doctor before using them

"Does Your Voice Undercut Your Authority?"

Here's a blog post that I've been working on for Covey Club, a unique online org for women over 40. It's founded by Lesley Jane Seymour, the former editor of More magazine. I so enjoyed collaborating with her and Dara Kapoor, who edited my piece beautifully. It's an answer to the many questions I get form women in the workplace, all about how to respond to criticism of their voices while on the job. Read it here.

How Silence Makes Your Voice Stronger...

The human body is a miracle of form, function, and art. If something is amiss with a certain system, other parts of the body will rush in to help out. During acute heart attacks, when a major artery gets completely blocked, the heart can spontaneously create new channels to keep blood pumping. When a dangerous virus enters our respiratory system, the mucus membranes go to work, deploying an enzyme that can destroy the virus' cell walls. Some of our organs, like the liver, can even regenerate if a part of them is lost.

Our vocal cords also have back-up when they need it. During times of acute stress, such as prolonged shouting, they can "borrow" muscles from around the larynx to help relieve pressure and boost sound. This process is called "Extra Muscle Recruitment", and it can be effective for short periods of time. Relying on EMR for too long can create massive tension and chronic inflammation, even full laryngitis. Once your voice is fully gone it's likely to stay that way for awhile. I usually advise my clients to plan on 3 days of complete vocal rest. 

In short, inflammation is a saboteur that can wreak havoc on your voice. A good way to prevent it is to build in periods of vocal rest during your day. Many of my clients schedule an "email hour" at work, during which they do not speak at all while they respond to emails and text messages. They drink Throat Coat tea, and allow the voice some recovery time

Another helpful method of reducing vocal inflammation that I often use with my clients is Guided Breathing Meditation (I created this one), during which we focus on deep, diaphragmatic breathing, and visualize the larynx relaxing and settling into its non-inflamed position in the throat. This period of quiet and reflection can work wonders, as the para-sympathetic nervous system starts to work it's calming, soothing magic. Try it for a few days, and enjoy the extra stress-relief. Who knows... it could become a regular habit!

Another Podcast Interview...

Here's another podcast appearance, this time with Lara Dalch, a Seattle-based wellness and empowerment coach. Her show is called "Women on the Rise" and it's a goldmine of great interviews with compelling women. Lara and I talked about the elements of a powerful voice, how to project genuine (not faked) confidence, and the importance of self-care as we move forward through the world. 

Podcast Interview...

I just did a fun interview with Kate Olson on her "Embrace Change Radio" podcast, all about my background as a singer, and my belief that singing is good for humanity. I also spoke about some basic vocal warm-up techniques, and the most important elements of any good singing voice. I even mentioned a bit about why I chose to walk away from years of training in musical theater to pursue my goal of becoming a singer-songwriter. The link is here

Why Your Singing Voice Matters...

It's been awhile since I wrote a dedicated post for singers. Lately I've been focusing on issues related to public speaking, like self-care, breath support, and eliminating extra tension. These same elements apply to your singing voice, as we use exactly the same anatomy for both speaking and singing. But singing involves an extra dimension that is downright mysterious, even magical. 

For most of us, to sing with technique and skill requires hours of practice. We dedicate this time to getting in touch with the physicality of our voice: our respiratory system, vocal cords, and postural alignment are all strengthened and made to work efficiently together. Improvement comes naturally from these efforts, as long as we are listening and feeling as much as we're producing sound. Eventually we start to come into the full power of our voice, which means we can begin to apply our own artistic interpretation and aesthetic values to whatever we're singing. This is, in fact, the ultimate goal of "studying" singing. 

Yet there is something else, a kind of secret energy, that rises up in a singer when they are practicing (or performing) their craft. It is something related to human emotions, and the ways in which we experience the world through them. When a singer is in touch with this energy, it almost doesn't matter if they have good vocal technique. We can feel that person's connection to their own emotional intelligence, and we respect, admire, and cherish it. We can hear this kind of energy across the board in every genre of music, in punk, funk, jazz, blues, country, folk and opera. We know it when we hear it, and we always want more. 

I believe this extra element of energy is also connected to something deeply spiritual, and fundamental to the human experience. In my best moments as a singer, I feel transported to a place where time stops. There is no past or future, no striving or struggle, only a simple yet extraordinary feeling of being completely present. This is a state of being that can transform us, as a species, in profound ways. It makes me feel hopeful for humanity, and I try to bring this hope into everything I do. For me singing is a kind of prayer, and I take it seriously, with much love.  

How to Give A Speech When Your Voice Is Hoarse...

I get this question at least once a week: "what should I do if my voice is weak and I have to give a presentation/talk/performance?" First of all, if you have full laryngitis, as in complete loss of voice, it won't come back until it's good and ready (and of course, you should consult your doctor anytime you have questions about your voice). I advise my clients to plan on at least 3 days of full vocal rest, and to re-schedule their obligations until after that. If, however, your voice is merely hoarse (which I will define here as rough, strained, and set at lower volume), you might be able to initiate at least a partial recovery on your own. Here are some things you can try:

1) Set aside a period of dedicated vocal rest. Set a timer for 3 hours of complete silence. Commit to this simple act of relief, and don't stop until the time is up. Let your vocal cords calm down and settle. You can also take some Ibuprofen to help with inflammation (consult your doctor before trying this).

2) Drink a tall glass of water. Your voice needs plenty of hydration to function at full capacity. Make a strong cup of Throat Coat tea, and let it cool down a bit before you drink it. The soothing herbal formula should continue to soothe and calm inflammation in your throat. You can try some throat lozenges during this time as well. 

3) Focus on breathing deeply, while relaxing and muscles in the throat that are tense. Close your eyes and feel everything relaxing and settling down into its proper place. Keep allowing this release of tension as you go through your day

4) When your period of vocal rest is done, do some light humming, in a vocal range that feels the most comfortable. Don't reach too high, and don't growl too low. Find the center of your voice, and start there. 

5) Work through your speech, song, or presentation at low volume, remembering to breathe deeply into the diaphragm for support. Slowly increase volume, and see how it feels. Make sure your posture is aligned and comfortable. Don't strain your neck forward, or tense your back. Hopefully you will begin to feel stronger, but save your full voice for the actual event. 

Many of my clients book "emergency" sessions if they wake up hoarse on the morning of a big event. I run them through simple vocal exercises, but not before I've advised them to do this protocol. Try it and see how it feels.... you might work your way back!

Neck Tension and The Human Voice...

As I've stated before, when our body is weak and/or compromised, so is our voice. Two fundamental elements of vocal strength, namely postural alignment and deep diaphragmatic breathing, are often stymied by whatever other physical conditions are going on. Chronic pain and tension can, over time, weaken our voice considerably if we're holding our body in a position that is not what it should be, causing intense misalignment of the spine. Pain can also steal some of our precious breath, if we're breathing "around the pain", and not allowing a full inhale and exhale to take place. In my 25 years of teaching singing and public speaking, I have observed that there is one particular kind of body issue that can sabotage the voice, and that is neck tension.

Take a minute and put your hands around your neck. See if you can touch your thumbs and index fingers together. If you can then you have a smaller-sized neck, but even if you can't the neck circumference is actually quite small, compared to the enormous job it has to do. Crammed inside that area is your spinal cord, your esophagus (where the food goes down), your trachea (windpipe), on top of which sits your larynx, which houses your vocal cords. As if that's not enough, you also have a series of glands, lymph nodes, and veins, including the vital carotid artery. In addition, the neck contains a series of small but mighty muscles that are used for everything from swallowing to just holding up your head! 

It's no wonder that head/neck alignment are so important to the voice. If we are tense in the neck, our larynx can become mis-aligned from its precise position, causing the vocal cords to over-compensate and strain when we sing or speak. Although our vocal cords can "borrow" from other muscles nearby (in a process called "extra muscle recruitment"), this action is not sustainable in the long term, and can cause strain, hoarseness, or even full laryngitis. 

There are many causes of chronic neck tension, and you should consult your doctor* if you suffer from it. That said, a few things that you can try for relief include changing to a thinner pillow, working out regularly to build more muscle in the back and neck, making sure that your work desk is ergonomically aligned, and gentle yoga. One of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is to stand with my back to a wall, and roll around on this therapy ball, which is soft enough to be gentle, but firm enough to loosen tight muscles in the shoulders and neck. Try it gently at first, for 60 seconds on each side of the spine, and see how it feels.

Once you've freed up some space in your neck, your voice should feel more relaxed, full, and free. Everything we do with our voice should have these qualities

NOTE: consult your doctor before trying any of the neck tension relief methods listed in this post.

Client Testimony...

Here's a quote from Nikki Barron's recent LinkedIn article about her work with me. Nikki is a women’s equality activist, community builder, Jedi-master marketer, and excellent photographer. She's a young dynamo with great skills and drive, so I know she'll go far with her voice:

"When I started going to Alicia I went with a goal. It was July and I had booked a show to sing in on my birthday, December 23rd. I built a showcase with all my friends called A Very Country Christmas. I was to open the show with two songs. I had a long long way to go.

During our first lesson, she asked me how I use my voice. I started with "I have a small voice, I want.." and she interrupted me and said, "No you don't." Which really surprised me to hear. I told her the stories of trying to simply order a beer or not being heard in a meeting and she said: "...that's not because your voice is small it's just stuck in a box." I can't describe the sense of relief I felt when a professional voice coach told me that one of my biggest insecurities could be remedied."

Read the full article here.


Every Public Speaker (and Singer) Needs to Improve This....

NOTE: the next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" is coming up on Tuesday March 27th, from 5-7pm in downtown Seattle, and you can get your tickets here.

My voice clients range from complete beginners, working on basic skills and gathering confidence, to experienced speakers, looking to polish their prepared speech for a presentation or event. My job is to meet each client right where they are, and work with whatever's going on in their voice at that time. Each has vocal issues that we address with specific exercises and practice. Each has their own unique vocal qualities and strengths that can be brought out. Regardless of ability, every public speaker can benefit from improving one particular skill.

Quite often, when I'm coaching experienced speakers, I can hear that they've found a comfortable voice that makes sense to them. Their diction is crisp, their inflection is musical, and their tone is smooth. Yet something is lacking in their vocal presence, that elusive quality that makes a truly dynamic public speaker. This quality comes from breath support: being fully connected to the diaphragm muscle as it contracts and expands, and feeds breath to the vocal cords. Support is what gives the voice that extra energy and charisma. 

If the vocal cords are not getting enough breath support they will start to get tense, and this tension will accumulate as you continue to talk. The result is that your voice will start to sound tight and strained. Think of the feeling of shouting across the street to someone, and imagine that feeling growing with every word you say. This is no way to deliver a public talk! Learning how to engage the diaphragm while relaxing the vocal cords takes awhile. As we begin to connect more with the physical action(s) of our breath, we can add more energy and power to our voice. Try this: sit up straight in your chair, and loosen any tight belt or waistband. Now close your eyes and point to your navel. Imagine that you are inhaling and exhaling through the navel, and practice this action with your mouth both closed and open. Breathe deeper, and feel your belly relax and expand. If you're doing it correctly, the belly will contract naturally on the exhale. By the way, I recommend meditation for this particular purpose (here's the one I created for my clients). This video will guide you further.

5 Ways A Strong(er) Voice Can Change Your Life....

Some of us are able to meet the everyday demands on our voice. We might occasionally feel a bit strained, or even hoarse, at the end of the day, but our overall vocal health is stable, and we don't have a ton of fear about speaking up in public. Yet our voice is more than just the physical anatomy of communication. It is our most powerful way of expressing who we are, and all our thoughts, dreams, desires, and plans. As I've said before, when we strengthen our voice we are also strengthening our personal power, and our ability to be fully effective in the world. Here are 5 ways that a strong voice can change your life:

1) Greater impact in business: this is the main reason why clients take my trainings, and come for private lessons. A strong voice gets noticed, for all the right reasons. Asserting yourself at work has been linked to greater career advancement. Making a presentation with a full, clear voice helps others take you more seriously. Negotiating a raise or salary bump with full vocal confidence helps remind your superiors of your value. BTW: here's some info on the next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" events.

2) Greater overall confidence: having a strong, resonant voice feels great! Being able to make yourself heard under any circumstances is a skill that approximates a super power. Knowing that your voice can last through an evening of noisy parties, or a day of team sports, can help you feel more secure in your social life. 

3) More effective communication: voicing your ideas and opinions with gusto is important, but as your voice gets stronger you might no longer need superfluous chatter just to keep someone's attention. The more we feel the effects of our strong new voice's charisma on those around us, the less we are inclined to abuse it out of social insecurity. Judicious use of our vocal power means being selective with it. We'll speak when we have something to say, and we'll be noticed and heard. 

4) Greater leadership ability: a commanding voice is the minimum we expect of a great leader. Everyone's voice is unique, and while there are some vocal qualities such as high-volume and booming resonance that naturally lend themselves to leadership, your voice may have other qualities that make it compelling. In any case, speaking clearly without strain is a skill that can be learned (it is the one most of my clients are working on). Most of us could stand to get used to the new, confident sound of our voice once it is fully supported and resonant. This process can take awhile, but it is always rewarding.

5) More powerful manifestation: articulating out loud what we need and want in our life can bring magical results. I often ask clients to write out a paragraph that describes their goals. Then I have them read it aloud, standing up in a presentational posture, and filling the room with their voice. Hearing themselves proclaim what they are seeking makes their goals clearer. If there is something that sounds or feels false, clients usually know it, and either cross it off or edit until it's right. This process can produce new ideas about the next part of a client's journey, and helps get them closer to where they want to go. Through the years I've gotten many glowing reports from clients about all kinds of progress that started with this exercise of simply stating their target(s) clearly. 

How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking...

Public speaking has been identified as most people's number one fear, more terrifying even than death! Yet we actually do it all the time: when you order in a restaurant, when you make a toast at dinner, when you call to your children across a crowded playground, you are raising your voice in public to serve a particular goal. For each of these tasks you use the same vocal cords, respiratory system, and diaphragm muscle that you need for public speaking on a much larger scale. 

The main difference between performing the daily tasks listed above and giving a prepared speech is the presence of a dedicated audience. While it's true that the waiter who takes your order is listening intently, his/her job (for which they are paid) is to serve your food needs, not take stock of your presence, digest the meaning and tone of your words, and ponder them in a way that applies to the topic at hand. A listening audience has the right to feel anything they want to about our presentation. The way we deliver our talk can win them over completely, or turn them off forever. This is enough to make most of us start to shake.

So where does nervousness come from? It's both a physical and emotional phenomenon. Any kind of perceived threat to our safety can trigger the "fight-or-flight" response, whereby the body starts to flood the body with adrenaline. This powerful hormone is designed to sharpen our senses, ramp blood flow to major muscle groups, and get us ready for a literal fight. Our breath can feel like panting as our heartbeat speeds up. We might start to feel hostile, hyper, or out-of-control shaky, anticipating whatever is coming at us next. Needless to say this is NOT the ideal state from which to deliver a public talk! 

The scientifically-proven antidote to the fight-or-flight response, and one that applies particularly to public speaking, is simply to slow down and breathe deeply. This is one of the reasons why I encourage my clients to meditate daily, so that they can get good at calming themselves. It takes awhile to learn how to slow down our breath when we feel nervous. Like everything else in life, when we practice enough we start to see results. Eventually we become so good at it that we can start channeling the extra energy that comes with nervousness into excitement that helps us give our very best. Ever wondered how your favorite singer manages to put on great shows, night after night? Turning nerves into energy is their secret, and it all starts with the breath.

When I'm coaching a client's talk I'm also reminding them to breathe deeply (through the mouth) each time the opportunity arises. This is most often at the end of a sentence, but sometimes it's necessary after a comma, so that we have enough breath to finish a sentence, and also so that the listening audience can keep up with what we're saying. In order for our voice to ring out confidently we must have full breath support, which is yet another reason to slow down and breathe deeply before you begin. 

Once we begin to feel the calming effects of deep breathing, we can start to address the emotional side of our task. What is our big fear all about? Most of my clients tell me that they think of public speaking as standing before a firing line; if they get one word or sentence wrong, or if they don't dazzle enough, or if they fail to make an impression they will be (metaphorically) shot. This paradigm gives far too much power to the audience.

The truth is that when we give a public talk, we are in actually participating in a group activity. Each person has a part to play, and a way of playing it. Some audience members will indeed be highly judgmental and seek out all our flaws. Some will be merely polite, and some will be indifferent. Some of them will be genuinely interested, and we'll feel their kind attention on us as we speak. The point is that an audience is made up of fellow human beings, just like us, who are doing the best they can, just as we are. The audience has assembled to receive the information that we are delivering. Feel their eyes on you? They are receiving you, not judging you. Visualize yourself giving your talk to a kind, attentive, and grateful audience. Breathe deeply, do your very best, and remember that we are all human. If you would like to book a private coaching session, contact me directly:

REMINDER: the next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" is Tuesday January 30th from 5-7pm in downtown Seattle. Contact me directly to register:

Your Top-Ten Public Speaking Questions Answered...

In 2018 it will be 25 years that I've been working as a professional voice teacher (singing and public speaking). My students and clients are smart, curious, and dedicated, and I'm lucky to be part of such a great community. Through them I've learned that a teacher's job (in a nutshell) is to be an example, a guide, and a resource of information. I take great care with the questions I'm asked, and I work to help each person find an answer that works for them. That said, there are some questions that seem to be universal, and can be answered in a more general way. BTW, "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" is coming up on Tuesday November 28th from 5-7pm in downtown Seattle. The fee is $100. Contact me directly to register: Now to your questions:

What if I don't care about/am bored by the topic that I'm supposed to give a talk/announcement/presentation about?

You might not love the topic you're speaking on, but you can be passionate about the people you're speaking to. Focus on being a trustworthy and transparent channel of information for your audience. Speak as if the thing(s) you are saying are valuable to them directly. This is probably true, if only for a small percentage of your audience. Give your best with them in mind.

How can I learn to look in people's eyes when I'm giving a talk? 

Understand that your audience's eyes are not judging you, they are receiving you. In order for them to properly focus on what you're saying and absorb it fully, they need to look right at you while you're speaking. Maintaining eye contact with them helps facilitate their trust in you, so take deep breath, raise your head, and look up.

What should I do if I mess up in the middle of my speech? Should I start over again?

There's no need re-do the beginning of your talk. Simply pause, take a deep breath, and start the "messed up" words over again. Your audience will understand your taking the time to enunciate clearly, so they can fully understand what you are saying. They will recognize that you take them seriously enough to pay them this courtesy.

How can I stop shaking before I give a public talk? 

Some degree of nervousness is natural before speaking in public, and there are physical symptoms that go along with nerves, including a light flutter. Extensive practice, visualization, and work with a good coach can help you greatly reduce these symptoms and better ground yourself, but one good habit is to stabilize your blood sugar before you give a talk. Don't skip a meal! Fuel up on protein-rich meals and snacks. I always keep an extra protein bar in my purse for clients who have forgotten to eat.

What should I do if no one is paying attention while I'm delivering my speech(es)?

This is a tough one. Ask yourself some basic questions: are you speaking loud enough? Is your pacing so fast that no one can keep up, or are you so slow that you're putting them to sleep? Do you speak in a boring monotone? Is it a body language issue? Are you slouching, cowering, turning away, not looking them in the eye? These are all actions that "tell" the audience not to pay attention to you. Correct them and see what happens.

How can I make my voice louder when I'm giving a public talk?

Most "low talkers" are not getting nearly enough breath support to the voice. Learning how to take a diaphragmatic breath, and using the air as you speak, is something that a good voice coach can help with. You can also try pitching the sound of your voice a bit higher, which can help the sound travel farther. But be aware that you're going to have to get used to the sound and feeling of your full voice... are you ready to rock?

What if I "blank" in a part of my memorized talk?

Typically my clients who "blank" (forget a line or section of at talk that they have memorized) have not spent enough time visualizing themselves giving the entire talk. Practice makes perfect, and visualization is a vital part of a good practice regimen. Olympic figure skaters don't just practice triple-jumps, they visualize themselves jumping and landing perfectly, over and over. See it and be it.

What if my voice cracks when I'm speaking?

A tiny "crack" in the sound of your voice is entirely human, and usually remedied by light throat clearing. Don't over do it, or you might start to cough, which will rough up your voice further. Say "excuse me", drink a sip of water if you need to, and carry on. 

How should I move my face and body while I'm speaking? 

Studies have shown that actions and gestures that point upward are inviting and attractive to others. Your eyebrows, your hands, and the corners of your mouth can all make upward movements that will draw people in. It's alright to clasp your hands together at your waist, as long as you unclasp them to gesture (upward) when appropriate. Never cross your arms over your chest, or your legs over each other. Align yourself comfortably, then lift your sternum up an inch, so that your chest is relaxed and open. Breathe deeply and feel the power of this stance. Everything should flow from there.

How can I get people to take my talk seriously when I'm the youngest/ least important person in the room?

Use your physicality and voice together. Stand up to your full height, lift the sternum an inch, open your eyes and look around the room before you start talking. Breathe into the diaphragm, and speak from your belly power. Take your time. Don't uptalk (it's that thing? when the end of each sentence? goes up in pitch? and sounds like a question?). Keep your objective in mind, and don't back down. Act like someone who is confident (not arrogant), and you will be.

What if I have laryngitis? How can I strengthen my voice in time for my speech?

First the good news: full laryngitis (no sound coming out at all) is temporary. The bad news is that the human body typically needs 3 days to fully recover from it. I advise my clients to reschedule talks if they have full or even partial laryngitis, because trying to force the voice to work will only prolong the problem. Reschedule, heal, and come back strong. 

How can I make my speaking voice sound more compelling? 

Download your favorite book on tape, and pick a paragraph to work with. Record yourself reading that paragraph, and compare it to the sound of the actor's voice. What are the fundamental differences? Are you speaking too low, too fast, to monotone? Practice the inflection of the other voice by speaking along with it, at the same pace, using the same pitch and volume. Now take a deep breath and try it louder. Record yourself again once you've worked on it, and listen for improvements. And work with a good voice coach to help you develop your own style of speaking. 

An Announcement, A Wish, and a Long-Cherished Dream...

Friends, I've come to a decision that I want to share with you. I've been thinking lately about how I can better contribute to my community and the world at large. If you're a regular reader of my blog you know that I've included tons of resources for health and wellness. In my view the total system of a human being -mind, body, and spirit- must be kept in healthy balance in order for us to live fully, and give our best wherever we go. In my volunteer work as a public health advocate with Planned Parenthood over the past 11 years, I've witnessed the dramatic difference that excellent health care can make. A good health care system can uplift an entire population, and I've always wanted to be part of that process in a deeper way. Today I am announcing that I've accepted the position of Board President of the Udistrict Community Acupuncture Clinic!

Why acupuncture? I've been receiving it since I was a teenager, and I've experienced its benefits firsthand. I've also seen it work on many people that I've known throughout my life. Here in Seattle, our clinic founder is Susie Sabunciyan, an extraordinary healer. I've been her patient for almost 8 years, and I trust her abilities and her vision. Community acupuncture is exactly what it sounds like: acupuncture for everyone. Instead of an office with individual spaces, treatments take place in a large, communal room (you can see it on the front page of the clinic website). This arrangement helps keep the cost down, at a sliding scale of $20-$40 per session. Our goal is to reach people form all walks of life, particularly those who would not ordinarily have access to acupuncture, for reasons that include financial hardship, lack of insurance, lack of knowledge about acupuncture, and abandonment by "traditional" health care institutions. 

Right now the clinic is offering 5 sessions for $75, which is about as good a deal as you can find anywhere! You can also come in and try one session. Some common reasons that people seek acupuncture are sleep trouble, anxiety, PMS, arthritis pain, digestive problems, and migraines, but the treatments have been known to help all kinds of ailments. Tell Susie what's up when you come in for your appointment, and she will create a personalized treatment plan for you. Once the needles are in you'll relax in your easy chair while soft, soothing music plays as the treatment works its way through your body. Susie will check in on you, and when you're ready she'll remove the needles and send you on your way. Most sessions last 30-60 minutes, but some people need more time, which is perfectly fine. Come and try it out for yourself, and let me know how it goes.

My dream is to help get the clinic into a permanent space (right now we rent), and turn it into a huge community resource. There's a ton of work to do, problems to solve, and many questions to answer. With acupuncture to fortify my constitution, I know I'm up for it! See you at the clinic...

My Monthly Newsletter is Ready to Launch!

Friends, for the past year I've been working on an exciting new project that I'm getting ready to launch. It's my very first monthly newsletter, filled with all kinds of awesomeness! Along with behind-the-scenes access to my music projects (for example... did you know my band Diamondwolf is about to release our first new single in 3 years?) and short pieces of writing, I'll also include a curated list of magical stuff I've found on the Interweb on arts, culture, politics and more. If that's not enough, I'll throw in links to the things I use on a daily basis (as a musician, author, teacher coach and human) that I can't live without. 

My first goal is 250 sign-ups before I launch in April. Enter your email in the box below, and get ready to rock with me!  

5 Free Things Artists Can Do to Empower Ourselves Right Now...

This is a supplemental, emergency blog post. I am writing in response to some things I've been noticing in my community, in the wake of the election results.

My beloved community: artists are a vulnerable part of the population, because many of us are low-income, with barely enough resources get through our daily lives. For most of our lives we often make huge sacrifices in order to keep making art. Many of us NEED to make art as a therapeutic healing process, to work through dark and often traumatic origins. At times like this, when our larger world becomes terrifyingly unstable, and our vulnerability is brought into sharp focus, we are at risk of losing all hope. So great is our existential dread that we might be tempted to engage in behaviors and practices that are harmful to our wellbeing.

So I am writing to tell you: STOP! If you are self-harming through substance abuse, reckless behavior, abandoning or destroying your art projects, or any other kind of self-violence, STOP STOP STOP!!!

Please take a minute and breathe deeply now.

Understand this: throughout history, artists have survived war, plague, famine, rape, and genocide and come through making art that heals and uplifts the entire human race. 

And this: the forces of tyranny and oppression depend on vulnerable people giving up.

And also this: your voice is NEEDED! YOU ARE NEEDED!!

Let's take another breath, and another.

Now let's look at 5 things you can do, right now, to get your power back:


  • Harness the awesome power of your mind. Learn to calm yourself, center your thoughts, improve your focus and mental clarity. A calm, strong mind is essential if we want to respond instead of reacting. Go deep within yourself and find a peace that no one and nothing can take away. Do it every morning, before you get out of bed, for 10 minutes. Once you're good at it, try 30 minutes sitting up in a chair, with your eyes closed. How long can you keep your mind calm? Try for an entire hour. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote, played, and narrated a Guided Breathing Meditation that is available for sale on my site, but email me directly and I'll send it to you for free). 

Take full advantage of your medical insurance

  • (This one might involve a co-pay, but it is absolutely worth your time!) Right now we don't know exactly what will happen to our insurance, so take this time to use it to its fullest. Make an appointment with your PCP and get a full physical. Gather data about yourself! As questions about your overall health, and find out if there are any particular aspects you should be working on as you age. Get as many immunizations as you can, including a flu shot. Fill any necessary prescriptions, renew your birth control, and get tested for STI's and cholesterol. While you're working on your health, get more sleep! 

Sign up to volunteer for local and national orgs

  • Now is the time to be the change we wish to see in the world. People in your community, and in our nation, need your help. Sign up and be generous with your time. Commit to 1 volunteer hour per week, and increase it as you can. Here are some good places to start:

Perform a daily selfless act of kindness

  • Do this every day, no matter how small. Comfort someone by listening and holding space for their emotions. Give up your seat to a stranger on the bus. Clean up some trash in your local park. Help a snail make it all the way across the garden. Be completely present in the act, and do it with no expectation of reward, or even acknowledgement. Don't perform it on social media! Do it privately, without telling anyone. Make a it a daily practice of integrity, compassion, and love. Let it be your reminder that love is the most powerful force on earth.

Completely eliminate sugar from your diet

  • It may seem implausible, even ridiculous, but those tiny white crystals are whiplashing your moods, hampering your immunity, and draining your vital energy. Encourage your most healthy, powerful self to emerge by cutting out all refined sugar, and keeping sweet things to a minimum. NOTE: alcohol gets transformed by your body into sugar, so cut back as far as you can. Look for healthier and more nourishing ways to calm your nerves (see #1). 

Lastly, re-commit to your art projects. Dig deeper, fight harder, love stronger than ever before. It's OK to feel afraid, just stay centered and open. Use your art and your heart. And never, ever give up!

Special Announcement....

Fellow artists and creative people, for the past 16 weeks I've ben blogging about all kinds of aspects of our lives (thanks for all your feedback letting me know that you've found my writings helpful!). I'll be blogging sporadically throughout the summer, while I work on my upcoming book about creativity, and various articles for publication. Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to book a voice lesson, CLE vocal strength workshop, consulting or coaching session, I am available by email:

In the meantime, enjoy this list of blog topics, and feel free to add your comments and feedback:

5 Ways to Stand Out From the Competition (And Rule the World With Your Art)...

How to Overcome the #1 Obstacle to Your Creativity...

How to Destroy Perfectionism and Make Your Best Art Ever...

5 Skills for Successful Artists...

How to Jump From Hobbyist to Full-Time Artist...

How to Stop Procrastinating...

6 Ways to Propel Your Art Forward...

How to Overcome "Impostor Syndrome" and Rule the World With Your Art...

5 Ways to Build Your Brand Without Losing Your Soul...

The Only Thing Prince Ever Did That Truly Shocked Me...

Ten Wellness Tips for Artists...

5 Tis for Sparking Creativity...

To Master Your Art, Teach Beginners...

5 Tips for Artists About to Turn 30...

New to Creative Collaboration? Focus on Shared Discovery...

30 Movies About Artists and the Creative Process...

How to Get Your Creative Inspiration Back...

Why People Don't Learn (And How They Can)...


5 Ways to Stand Out From the Competition (and Rule the World With Your Art)...

Congratulations! This post marks 16 weeks of your creative and artistic growth. During this time you've overcome impostor syndrome, perfectionism, procrastination, and the #1 obstacle to your creativity. You've also learned how to collaborate with others and teach beginners how to do what you do. Your health and wellness is on track, you're working on new skills, working out your brand, and you've found new sources of creative inspiration as you move forward on your path. You may have even decided that you're ready to become a full-time artist! Next up is a full reckoning with your competition. Are you ready to rumble? 

Here are 5 ways to stand out from the competition:

1) Identify the competition

  • Not every artist dreams of climbing to the very top. Some of us prefer to operate within the confines of our community (friends, city, state or otherwise) and distinguish ourselves within that group. Some of us are only concerned with competing against ourselves, seeking to outdo our best work with every new creative project. And some of us are already wading into the shallows, getting up our nerve to swim with sharks. In any case, it's crucial that you figure out your own definition of the word "competition" (while you're at it you might also want to do the same for "ambition"), and adjust it accordingly as you travel forward. Set aside some time to meditate on what you truly want to do with your art, and write down any and all images that come to you. Create a sentence that describes your exact hopes and dreams, and write it in the first person present tense, as if it's happening right now. What feelings come up for you when you read it? Does it strike you as true, or do you feel like an impostor? Doubt your doubts, and believe in your dreams. Ground them in reality by taking daily actions that further your ambition.

2) Keep current with your competitors' work

  • Do you know what's currently going on your art form? Who are the biggest names and rising stars? What is their latest work all about? Why are they having such an impact? Get busy finding answers to these questions. Knowing exactly who and what you're up against will clarify a lot about how your own work might flourish in the marketplace. Fresh, innovative ideas often show up when we look critically at our competitors' work and fantasize about outdoing them. Don't be intimidated, get inspired! Challenge yourself to go where you've never gone before in your art, and be prepared for your current audience to be just as shaken up as you are. Tell them you have resolved to live purely by inspiration, and your new work will reflect this mandate. Now get to work!

3) Write out your origin story

  • Want to be a creativity superhero? Write out your origin story. Your beginnings play a huge role in who you are and how you make art. Understanding exactly how your past plays itself out in the present can illuminate all kinds of fascinating insights. From our current vantage point we might be able to identify recurring themes in our work, and trace them back to our childhood. Many of our greatest strengths were formed during that time, by people and events that may not have been within our control. Is there something from the past that's holding you back? Set a date for resolving it, and make this process part of your art. By examining our origins we might also get a better sense of our personal values, and consider bringing them even deeper into our work as artists (this is where that whole "be the change you want to see in the world" thing can manifest itself). You can even take this archetypal superhero process farther, and name your kryptonite, nemesis, sidekick(s), and magical accessory or costume. Remember: the way you present yourself to the world counts as much as the art you make! Knowing where you came from and how you got here translates as greater personal charisma, that essential force of attraction that can draw others to you like bears to a salmon-slick river. 

4) Challenge yourself regularly

  • Are you keeping yourself small? When is the last time you rose to a genuine challenge? Not just in your work, but in the way you market it to the world. Are you reaching everyone who might be interested in what you do? Have you approached every possible contact, and researched every possible marketing strategy? Take a good hard look at your goals, and throw them all out. Assume that lack of ambition has been holding you back, and resolve to create a brand-new paradigm, where you challenge yourself to surpass every success in both your creative and professional work. Not sure where to start? Read some biographies of famous artists and creatives that you admire, and learn about their trials and victories. Study the creative process of innovators in your field and borrow from their stable of techniques. Embrace happy accidents and coincidences, and remember to thank everyone who leads you to them. Get in the habit of meeting challenges and eventually it will feel like a natural extension of who you are. 

5) Understand the true nature of networking

  • Many of us are confused about networking, and unsure of how to make it work for us. We might feel uncomfortable with "using someone" to get ahead, but this is not how networking actually works. Effective networking is a mutually beneficial relationship between two people who respect and admire each other, and want to help the other succeed. This kind of connection has a ripple effect that can change everything. Every time you connect someone to good resources and/or contacts in your community, you are taking one step closer to your own goals, because that person will remember your kindness and return it when opportunity strikes. You'll also be known as someone who cares about others, and is not threatened by anyone else's success. Know how to recognize a fellow power-networker when you see one, and consider creating a group of like-minded networkers who meet monthly with the express goal of sharing resources, information, contacts, and goals. Having a diverse and dedicated list of people that you can count on increases your visibility and social influence, two qualities that play a vital part in helping you stand out in a crowded marketplace. 

How to Overcome the #1 Obstacle to Your Creativity...

Our creativity is a powerful force of nature that is constantly moving through us. This energy powers not just our creative work, but everything we do, and it informs the way we see the world. We can engage with it as much or as little as we choose, but it needs to flow freely in order for us to do our best work. Right now, in your life, there is an obstacle to your creativity. Feel it? It's just sitting there, blocking your path, sucking up air and light like a bad-ass black hole. This obstacle is unrelenting, and it will continue its nasty business until you decide you're not going to take it anymore.

The greatest obstacle to your creativity is the issue that you've been neglecting to attend to in your life, outside of your creative work. Is it a recurring health problem? An antagonistic relationship? A regret about something from the past that sabotages your present? Or is it a secret dark belief about yourself that needs to be transformed? Look around for the one thing that feels completely stuck, or out of your control. You might have a feeling of dread when you think about this issue, and your body might tense involuntarily. Or you might run toward a distraction, something to take your mind off it. Maybe you've told yourself that this issue will never be resolved, and you're locked in with it forever. You can make this choice, but understand that it will directly effect the flow of your creativity. 

How does this dynamic play out, exactly? Just think back to that image of the black hole. Consciously or unconsciously, you're using your full creative powers to manage the ongoing issue, and it feeds off that energy like crazy! Even if you've been completely ignoring the issue, the energy required to willfully ignore something so huge is intense. Don't you want to take that power back? 

To be clear, artists and creative people often face giant obstacles to our creativity that have to do with basic survival, and the issue of time vs money. Most of these are external issues that we may not have much control of. Fortunately there are some ways that we can take charge of our life and our work. As we strive to overcome what's in front of us and keep moving forward, we can learn to take better care of ourselves, collaborate with others, market our work effectively, and take time to observe significant milestones in our progress. We can teach others how to love art as much as we do, and learn from those who came before us, and let go of limiting paradigms that no longer serve us. We can also take charge of our own creative process, and seek out fresh inspiration to keep us going. These are actions we can all take form the inside out, and they will serve us well. But we're talking about your particular issue, the one that is so persistent that it may have become part of your very identity. This is the one that needs your full might to overcome. Put your back into this job, and you will reap tremendous rewards. 

Here are 5 steps to help you overcome your greatest obstacle:

1) Ask yourself what you're getting out of your issue

  • Define the exact issue and the way it affects you. Now dare to be completely honest with yourself, and name the exact benefit(s) of keeping your ongoing issue around. Does it make you feel special, as if martyrdom elevates your sense of self? Are you grateful for the distraction from the powerful art you could be making? Does your issue prevent you from facing hard questions about the state of your art, and what your artistic future looks like? Is it a convenient way to avoid moving forward with your art and life? Or are you convinced that you can't make art without the tension of your issue informing your creative process? Think again! This is a dangerous myth that only serves to prevent you from doing exactly what you claim to want most: live a fully creative life. In any case, facing up to your shadow feelings will illuminate the necessary changes that need to be made. 

2) Ask yourself what it would FEEL like to be free of it

  • Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and think about your issue. What kind of emotion comes up when you think about releasing it? Does your body feel less tense, or your heart more open? You might feel shaky, tearful, or giddy. Take full stock of your feelings, both physical and emotional. Are you suddenly flooded with daydreams about new creative avenues for your art? Or do you simply see yourself getting a full night's sleep and facing each day with full clarity and purpose? Write down how your life and work will be different without this obstacle, and keep track of it you go forward through your process.

3) Tell a trusted friend or loved one about the issue

  • Who do you know and trust enough to share this process with? Chose wisely: someone who loves your work and believes in you can help keep you accountable to your goal of releasing and resolving your issue. Let this person know what's going on, and ask them to be part of your process. They will play a big part in your new post-issue paradigm and the way you will be living your life and making your work from now on. Treasure this person and let them know how valuable they are. Remember to thank them, and offer to do the same for them should they need it. 

4) Identify 10 resources to help you resolve your issue

  • You're a highly creative and resourceful person! Who and what can you turn to for help with your issue? Ask trusted friends and family for names of professionals who can guide your process (or just gather wisdom and counsel from people you know). Read as much as you can about your issue, and find examples of people who have resolved their own. Research current solutions for your issue, and find out who the leading figures are in that world. Read their works and case studies. Make a list of 10 action steps you can take to resolve your issue, and visualize yourself taking each one. This is your action plan.

5) Set a date for resolving the issue and stick to it

  • Time to put your plan into action! Pick a completion date that feels realistic, but don't wait too long (more than 6 weeks is too much time, unless there are special circumstances). Remember: your issue is not necessarily a problem that has to be solved (although with neglected health issues it is often the case that we DO need to take that approach, or risk a terrible worsening of the problem). Resolution and release are the goal, and this could mean a simple (though not easy!) paradigm shift in the way you approach your issue, and the effect it has on your life and art. You may even feel fresh creative energy start to flow right away, as you let go of your attachment to the issue and begin to move forward with your plan. Take time to note and celebrate each step, and reward yourself with something magical when you're all done. 

How to Destroy Perfectionism and Make Your Best Art Ever...

My fellow artists: let's permanently break up with perfectionism. Perfection, like control, is an illusion. The word implies an objective, static state that is literally impossible, because time is constantly taking its toll on everything. What appears to be perfect today has already begun to decay, and will soon look a whole lot different (maybe as soon as tomorrow!). If we decide we're going to focus on perfection we are basically saying that we do not respect the essential nature of being alive. Perfectionism, when taken to an extreme, can divorce us from the ferocious magic of our own mortality, and the myriad ways it can shape us for the better.

Especially in our creative work, perfection is (at best) a fleeting moment of recognition that sometimes things seem to line up in a way that is harmonious, and we arrive at a place that seems exactly as it should be. But the fact remains that this moment is temporary and will eventually pass (just as we will also). There is no "perfect" creative work. It simply does not exist. There is only what you have the courage to discover, shape, express, and share. To become a creative master you must let go of your idolatry of perfectionism and embrace a completely mysterious vision of your work and yourself. Dancing with this mystery IS the work, the process by which you will do great things.

So here are some ways to destroy perfectionism and make your best art ever:

Meditate on limitlessness

  • The effect of perfectionism is severely limiting. We believe that by pledging to make perfect works of art we will achieve the highest vision of what we're capable of, but like a mirage on the horizon that constantly recedes as we move forward, it is ever more elusive and distant. Driven by anxiety, consumed by the chase, we could miss valuable detours that lead to major insights and expansive growth. This is not to say that we shouldn't maintain quality standards: each of us gets to decide what level of work we refuse to fall below. But if we let perfectionism consume our creative process there is no room to breathe, let alone evolve and thrive. Resolve to give yourself a 30 day break from perfectionism. Create an image of something that symbolizes freedom and limitlessness, and hold it in your mind during meditation. Visualize it clearly and feel it helping you take back your power, as you breathe deeply and enjoy its soul-stirring effects. Understand that the intentions you have for your art have real effects on you and your audience. Trust in your creative process and know that you don't have to control how it moves through you. Allow it to work itself out and show you the way. [AUTHOR'S NOTE: I recorded a 12 minute Guided Breathing Meditation, with ambient music and narrative, that you can sign up for FREE in the box on the right of this page]

Expand your definition of beauty

  • Many perfectionists consider themselves to be connoisseurs of all things beautiful: houses, clothes, cars, and people. As mentioned above, perfectionism is limiting and can put a narrow filter on everything we see. Are you dismissive of anything and anyone that doesn't meet your beauty standards? You could be missing out on extraordinary sources of inspiration that can take you far outside the boundaries of your awareness, and force you to examine, and expand, the way you make your art. Loosen your grip on your aesthetic sensibilities and allow some fresh air and light to come into your creative vision. Breaking your own chains can feel scary at first, as you veer off into unknown and/ or unexamined territory, but what you find there could change everything. For starters, have a look at this and this and this. Notice what feelings come up as you peruse the images and read about how they were made. Release all judgement and embrace a new paradigm of awareness and understanding. Set your work free!

Examine other obsessive behaviors in your life

  • Obsessive perfectionism can be a sign that something is unbalanced in the mind. Human behavior is somewhat predictable in this way. If we are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety we may strive to micro-manage things around us, so that we can feel some sense of control. Are your perfectionistic work habits part of a larger pattern? Do you reject things and people that do not live up to your standards? If there is a larger problem that is not being addressed you could end up lonely, isolated, and joyless. Treat yourself with compassion! Your total health and wellness, which includes your physical AND mental health, is vital to your creative process, and to your continued ability to keep making art. There is no shame seeking help with maintaining your mental balance. In fact, we can all think of numerous examples of artists in all disciplines who struggled with mental illness. Ask friends for recommendations of good therapists and mental health workers. Call your insurance provider and find out what kind of mental health services are covered. Take full advantage of what you are allotted, and consider it a good investment in yourself and your art.

Reconnect with Beginner's Mind

  • I've written about the importance of staying in touch with Beginner's Mind before. For artists who have been at it for a long time and are more advanced in their work, it can be hard to remember those feelings of limitless wonder and discovery. Being in Beginner's Mind allows us to work without self-doubt or judgement, as we pick up, discard, and invent new creative ideas, and allow ourselves to dream about all the possibilities of our artistic projects. If we can no longer access Beginner's Mind through our own artistic category, we can find it by trying out other ways of making art, for example: a painter can take dance classes, a novelist can learn to blow glass, and an actor can try origami. You can even find your way back to Beginner's Mind by cooking a complicated meal or learning to bake a pie. Free of expectations or pressures, we can enjoy putting our creative talents to work on something completely new. As you work, notice the way that you are present in the moment and cherish each step forward. Take this feeling back to your current art project and let it be your guide. You might just create your best work ever!

Respect Your Own Artistic Evolution

  • Most of us can't see clearly when it comes to our personal creative process. Heads down in our work is not the ideal posture for perspective. By looking back can we can see just how far we've come, put our work in context, and better understand the kind of art we truly want to make. Write out a timeline of your artwork that shows how old you were, what tools or skills you learned, and what your major influences were for each major piece, and what (if anything) you learned from completing each one. Start with the first pieces you did in school (or wherever), the ones that sparked your passion for your art, and continue all the way up to your current piece. What do you notice about your evolution? When did you first start to feel your own artistic voice come through? If you haven't felt it yet, how can you bring it out? Are there any recurring blocks or interruptions in your journey? Is anyone interfering with your ability to do your best work, or are you holding yourself back out of fear? What is the nature of that fear and how is it tied to your perfectionism? How can you get free of it once and for all? Has anything surprised you about looking back on your work? Take some time to learn about yourself and what hinders, harms, motivates and inspires you as you work on your art. Give yourself credit for what you've accomplished! Go forward with respect and compassion for yourself, and trust that your creative process will take you exactly where you need to go.