Over the past few years, there has been much adverse press about touring singers suffering vocal fold pathologies; for example, in 2018 the pop icon Pink had to cancel a number of concerts in Australia due to illness. She was confronted with sensationalist media criticism and how can we forget all the negative press and public outcry over Adele’s vocal pathologies. I am embarrassed to say that there has also been many negative claims from the singing voice community regarding these vocal injuries, blaming the singers themselves for voice misuse and lack of training and technique. Aside from this school of thought, there are others in our singing voice community who continue to amplify the misconception that singing popular music styles, or what we call CCM, can be detrimental to a singer’s vocal health and longevity. I have sat on the sidelines, but in this episode, I replay an interview I did recently with Dr Jenevora Williams, where I was a guest on the podcast, The Thinking Voice. I was asked to share my own personal and professional experiences as a lead singer in a touring rock band and how these experiences, many of which were forced upon me, ultimately lead to my demise vocally, financially, physically, emotionally and mentally. I speak candidly about how I was treated as a commodity, the bullying and the shaming I experienced, the unrealistic expectations from managements, the gruelling lifestyle on the road, and sexual harassment.
This was a raw, emotional and difficult conversation with Jenevora, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to finally share this part of my life that I had locked away and never spoken about. These experiences had a deep impact on me but strangely enough these experiences have shaped who I am today, who I am as a voice educator and they influence my every day teaching approaches especially when working with emerging artists. This has made me far more empathetic with aspiring and professional vocalists, given me a great understanding of the workings and demands of the music industry. My message here is to managements to stop treating artists as commodities, and for the voice community to stop shaming singers who experience vocal pathologies. It’s time to be accountable and leave our biases at the door.
The Thinking Voice podcasts are part of Vocal Health Education. A community of over 1200 singers, singing teachers, voice coaches, classroom teachers, GPs, SLT/SLPs, osteopaths, physiotherapists, carers and patients. Learn more on their website! www.vocalhealth.co.uk
In this episode
01:08 – Episode Introduction
04:27 – Jenevora from The Thinking Voice introducing Dr Marisa Lee Naismith
07:41 – My story as a child who discovered a love of music
14:19 – Dealing with the loss of my first husband & my father
17:15 – My fresh start and high profile performance career in Queensland
20:28 – The beginning of my touring nightmare
26:15 – A typical day on the road with a touring rock band
32:23 – The early signs of physical, vocal and emotional fatigue
42:19 – The bullying and unrealistic expectations from management
45:52 – Finally parting with the rock band
53:20 – My return to the industry after my touring nightmare
59:36 – A message to my younger self
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Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:10
Hey, it’s Dr. Marisa Lee Naismith here and I’m so honoured to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you listen, and you will be inspired by amazing healthcare practitioners, voice teachers and music industry professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialised fields to help you live your best life every day. As singers, our whole body is our instrument and our instrument echoes how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally. So don’t wait any longer. Take charge and optimise your instrument now. Remember that to sing is more than just learning about how to use the voice. It’s about A Voice and Beyond, so without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode. Over the past few years, there has been much at first press about touring singers suffering vocal fold pathologies. For example, in 2018, the pop icon pink had to cancel a number of concerts in Australia due to illness, she was confronted with sensationalist media criticism, and how can we forget all the negative press and public outcry over Adele’s vocal pathologies? I’m embarrassed to say that there have also been many negative claims from the singing voice community regarding these vocal injuries, blaming the singers themselves for vocal misuse and a lack of training and technique. Aside from this school of thought there are others in our singing voice community who continue to amplify the misconception that singing popular music styles or what we call CCM can be detrimental to a singers vocal health and longevity. I have sat on the sidelines, but in this episode, I replay an interview I did recently with Dr. Ginevra Williams, where I was a guest on the podcast the thinking voice, I was asked to share my own personal and professional experiences as a lead singer in a touring rock band and how these experiences many of which were forced upon me ultimately led to my demise, vocally, financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I speak candidly about how I was treated as a commodity. The bullying and the shaming I experienced the unrealistic expectations from management’s the gruelling lifestyle on the road and sexual harassment. This was a raw, emotional and difficult conversation with Ginevra. But I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to finally share this part of my life that I had locked away and never spoken about. These experiences had a deep impact on me, but strangely enough, they have shaped who I am today, who I am as a voice educator, and they influence my everyday teaching approaches, especially when working with emerging artists. This has made me far more empathetic with aspiring and professional vocalists and given me a great understanding of the workings and the demands of the music industry. My message to management’s here is to stop treating artists as a commodity and for our voice community to stop shaming singers who experienced vocal pathologies. It’s time for all of us to take some kind of accountability and leave our biases at the door. Without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.
Dr Jenevora Williams 04:36
Marissa is an Australian singer and singing teacher. She is an expert in the teaching of contemporary commercial music or CCM. She has a PhD in studying this she’s also just published a book on teaching techniques in CCM styles and she has her own podcast a voice and beyond. So she is a very well respected pedagogue and academic and teaching in this field. But she also has her own story to tell of her performing career. And it’s such a pleasure to talk to you, Marissa, Marissa is over in Brisbane, the other side of the world for me. And, and it’s absolutely lovely to have this chat. And catch up cue your, your news and your stories.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:34
Thank you so much Ginevra. It’s an absolute pleasure being here. And I know what we’re going to talk about. And first up, I just want to say thank you for giving me a voice. Because a lot of the things that I’m going to share with you today, I’ve never spoken to anybody about and some of these stories only my husband knows because I met him through some of this time. So we’re really going to touch upon things that I had buried very, very deeply somewhere.
Dr Jenevora Williams 06:10
Wow. That’s, that was really moved me. Oh, okay. A special moment. The point of this is, is not because we want to rake up all the issues. No, it’s not hos the things that happen to you have informed the person that you are absolutely you are the teacher, you are the academic that you are. Yes. And it’s really we can’t understand you now, unless we have some understanding of what’s happened in your life.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:49
Yes. And it’s really strange, because some of my colleagues have known me a long time, a lot of years. And I’ve never talked about any of this. But it does absolutely inform my teaching, the empathy that I have for my students, a lot of them are already working. And it really influences my teaching practice every day. Every day, I step into that teacher role. I can’t remove that side of myself, that part of my personality. And also it’s made me extremely resilient. So it’s even how I handle myself with colleagues. So yeah, it’s it’s had a very, very big effect on my life.
Dr Jenevora Williams 07:41
So tell me, Marissa. Yes. About the young Marissa.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 07:47
Okay. Okay. Well, the very young Marissa, and she’s still there, because I’m still very childlike. I started singing when I was very, very young. I was five years old. And I remember locking myself in the lounge room, singing at the top of my voice to all the latest rock and pop hits. I had a very lonely childhood. My parents were immigrants. They were the victims of racial sledging. So they were very protective. And I wasn’t allowed to go out and play with other kids. And I would just lock myself away and spend hours listening to this music. It gave me so much comfort and so much joy. And I would just literally, belt. I mean, can you imagine this tiny little thing I would just belt because I would mimic everything that I would hear and sing the music of the Kinks, The Who? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, all those all those musicians, all those bands, it was so the music became a big part of my life. And I continue to do this right up until I was about 14 years old. And then I started to have formal training. And by formal training, I mean that I went to a singing teacher, who was the closest one to my home. And to get there, it was a bust in a tram. But the interesting thing was this was in the 70s. And she was teaching CCM I don’t know where she got her training from. I’m assuming it was maybe early days of Seth Riggs, some of that Speech Level Singing, I don’t know. But she was a brilliant teacher and she really encouraged my singing. And she was so supportive and and she was teaching all the big rock stars at the time all the touring singers, all the singers that were on the TV programmes. We had a show called young talent time, and all the singers from that show. We’re going To her, but it was by sheer accident that I ended up there. And by the age of 15, I started to work professionally. And I ended up in a band, I auditioned for this band, much to the shock horror of everyone. When I went to the audition, I actually got in the band, because that was only a young kid, I’d only just turned 15, I was at high school, I was going to a Catholic school. So I couldn’t tell anyone that I was in this band. Because I would have got the cane, they would have torn me apart if I had a failed any of my tests. Plus, if you think back to the 70s, young women were brought up to be nurses, teachers, hair dresses, secretaries, you did not raise your girls to become singers in a rock band. But this band was a little tamer than that at the time. I was very, very lucky that I found myself in a band where we were doing some great work. There were four others in the band on males, but they’re very nurturing. They’re very kind. And we were doing very high profile work. We were doing conferences, we were doing weddings, functions, a little bit of travelling all around Victoria. I was living in Melbourne at the time. And so we weren’t touring. But that experience was wonderful. And I was working probably about four or five nights a week and going to school during the day. And the nuns had no idea. So I consider myself to be the real Hannah Montana. Because that’s the lifestyle that I was leaving.
Dr Jenevora Williams 11:52
That is amazing. And yeah, I mean, the the other members of the band were they’re similar aged, you
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 11:59
know, no, no, they were way older than what I was. They were. So I was 15. The next oldest was 23. And I think the oldest member of the band was about 14. So I really was with these people that were very nurturing. And I did a lot of my training with them, between them. And the singing teacher that I was with. And I continued with her for three years, I was really well taken care of I had excellent training, my voice stood up to all the work. And most of these gigs were about four or five hour calls. So it wasn’t like being you know, let’s not being disrespectful, a classical singer, where you get up and you only do a short stint. I mean, we were up there and and we were having we were doing Dinner Music, then we were doing dance music, and about the 70s in the early 80s. It was all about those big tunes, like Shirley Bessie and all those big numbers, and at 15. I was powering all those songs out. And I think that’s because that little five year old had done it for so long. And it just came from this primal place. This need to sing this need to express myself because in my community, Italian women were suppressed. So we we didn’t have a voice in that family environment. We were quieten down. And by the time you were 20 you were barefoot and pregnant. And actually I was but just saying, you know that that freedom and of singing these tunes and moving to the music, it was so liberating, and I just loved it. So from there. I was I stayed with the band for 10 years. Wow. So I was 25
Dr Jenevora Williams 14:15
and long stint that but
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:18
yes, so I married at the age of 20. I married one of the band members who it was a part time gig for him. He was an accountant, full time accountant very high in the public service in the in the state government. And then, tragically, he committed suicide. And I obviously that was the end of the band. And I did go on to sing in another band after that. And then my father passed away 15 months later, and I had so when my husband died My daughter was five years old. Oh, she was our daughter was only five years old. So I had to really put on my big girl pants toughen up, I became mother and father, I could, I had to suppress how I was feeling to try and create a sense of normality for her. And then when my father passed away, it was all too much. And because I was his little girl, and so I developed an eating disorder, which I have never spoken to anyone about. So you are the first person that I’m going public with this. So I developed this eating disorder, and I had bulimia. And I remember the night my father died, I, there was a sponge cake in the house, and I consumed the whole cake. And, and what I was trying to do people don’t understand with some of these disorders, it’s not about your appearance. For me, it was unresolved grief. And it was me filling this void in the pit of my stomach. I felt so empty. And this loss was so so great that I was trying to comfort eat. And so I was binge eating. And then I was purging afterwards. But that’s not what we’re talking about right now. But it is irrelevant to this story. Okay, you’re wanting, you’re wanting to ask me something there?
Dr Jenevora Williams 16:38
No, I’m just saying it is it is hugely relevant. It’s incredibly brave of you to get this out. Now. Yes. And I’m
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 16:47
trying not to cry. Because I don’t I don’t share I am very, very private. And as people will be shocked to hear this, because they don’t know about it. This is like a whole separate life that I’ve led. And anyway, so I then went on, and I worked in another band, another great experience, voice was holding up. And then things got too much for me living in Melbourne, and I’m, I’m moved to the Gold Coast. That’s where I live. I’m actually an hour south of Brisbane, in a beautiful, beautiful place here. And I loved the lifestyle. And it wasn’t long, and I started working here. And I had an incredible career here. I was working constantly was my sole means of income. So I was earning enough money to put my daughter through private school education. By this time, she was about seven or eight. She was going through private school education. I had got myself together. And that’s an interesting story. I didn’t actually know that it was a thing that could kill you till overheard someone talking about it in the gym. Because the story of Karen Carpenter had been on TV the night before. And so people were talking about it. And I overheard the conversation. And I thought, wow, this is this is actually a problem. This is a problem. I thought I was just comforting myself, but I didn’t realise that was an issue. And so that’s a whole nother story. But so I got myself together. I was doing really well. I was high profile. I started getting the best jobs in town. I was working cabaret, I was the support act for international artists. I was doing all the big gigs. Like the Miss Australia quest, the Media Awards, the tourism awards, I was working in so many different venues the best the cream of the work. And then, you know, just kept working and working. I was doing TV. I was doing recording radio jingles. So I developed quite a high profile. I was never out of work. And then I was working. Just prior to joining the rock band. I was working on a paddle steamer. And it was seven nights a week with two other women. It was an all girl review. And so seven nights a week from seven till 10. And it was a three month contract. And then I would go and work in a nightclub four nights a week from 1030 till three in the morning. And so that was 11 gigs a week for three months. So I’m telling you this to give perspective. When I was doing that job, my voice was fine. Not a problem. I was fine. My voice was fine. I didn’t miss a note a beat. I had no vocal fatigue. I was strong and healthy, and so was I. So the three month contract finished. And that was a Sunday night. And I remember this vividly. So we’re talking now, around 1990. I was drawing, I was cycling to the gym. A car pulled up beside me. It was a friend of mine. And he said, Where are you going? And I said, Well, I’m going to the gym. He said, No, no, no, you’ve got to come with me. And I’ve gone put, I’m going to the gym. No, just jump in the car. We’ve started band rehearsals are seen as pulled out. And we need you right now. I know that you finished up in your in your contract last night. We’re all set up. And we’re going to rehearse, you’re coming with me. And I just went well, I’ve got nothing else to do. I haven’t got another job lined up right now. Except for the nightclub was going to, they were happy to keep me going. And when I talk when I say night club, I was in the piano bar of the nightclub. So I get in the car, we go to this rehearsal. And there were four men there. So it was like the rhythm section, bass guitar, drums keyboard, there was a sound guy, and myself. And they said, What songs do you know what rock songs do you know? So I just started with things like dancing in the street and whatever else came out of, you know, some Tina Turner stuffs and Linda Ronstadt. And we started rehearsing. And I thought, well, this is fun. Every one seemed really nice. But can I tell you, that is where my night here began. That is where it all started. That was fine. We rehearsed again. And again. And again, we had our first gig, it was a lot of fun. Big venue was a massive venue. We, we were treated like rockstars. And it was pretty cool being treated like a rock star. But within weeks of performing, things started to go horribly wrong. And I noticed that there started to be little changes happening to my voice. And it started to knock my confidence around, I’d never experienced that. So by then, I had been working professionally for about 15 years. So I wanted to give you context around this, because a lot of people think all people that sing in rock bands, they haven’t had training, they don’t know what they’re doing. They just go ahead and do that because they feel that well. That’s a really cool thing to do. But I had a Korea. So I knew what I was doing. I had some training, I had great training. I had also the experience the training that comes from experience. I had already been in the trenches. So I knew how to handle myself and my instrument. I knew how to take care of it. So
Dr Jenevora Williams 23:50
and you’d been doing this, all of this with this career, very successful career.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 23:55
Absolutely. I’ve won awards. Yes. I had won awards for my singing. I was very successful. I was earning great money. Like life was fantastic. Life was fantastic. I had great friendships. I was going to the gym, I was cycling, I was fit. Everything was my life was was in a really good place.
Dr Jenevora Williams 24:24
And your daughter was happy and healthy.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 24:28
She was doing really well. She was doing really well. I had people that were boarding in my home at the time I owned my own home. And I rented a room out and there were a couple of people from the gym, who would always get up very early in the morning and go to bed very early at night so they could do their training. So my daughter would go to bed, they’d go to bed and I didn’t have to worry about babysitting. I knew she was safe. So it all worked out. I had I had Plan and it was all going along really well. When things started to go pear shaped, I thought, I’ve got a look at what’s going on here. I was intuitive enough to figure out there was something not right. And this morning, I went, I had quite a reflect wit had a bit of time to myself where I really reflected upon even deeper than what I ever have before about actually what was going on how I was feeling because I buried a lot of this stuff away. I didn’t want to deal with it ever again. I was ashamed. Like, I’ve never spoken about it because of the shame that I felt. People may say, How could have you been so stupid? How did you get yourself in this situation? There’s all that stigma. My family don’t know any of this. My children don’t know this. As I said, Only my husband knows about this. Because he was there at the time. But so I went back and I thought, Okay, what does a typical day look like? A day that we have a gig 11 o’clock roughly, let’s just say roughly I’ll say 11 o’clock in the morning would be a typical time because we will travel to wherever hours away. We would drive for hours. If I was tired. I wasn’t I It was noisy on the band bus it was would be the four of us. Plus the sound guy because we couldn’t afford a roadie straight up. And the guys would hassle me they wouldn’t leave me alone to get any rest. Then we’d stop and have lunch. Not always. But when we did, it was always rubbish food. The boys wanted to eat burgers, they wanted to eat pies. There was never a healthy option for me, it was always a roadhouse or some corner store. There was never any water. Then we get back on the band pass, we’d arrive at the gig. And when we didn’t have those roadies, I would have to lug with the boys. They did not care that I was a woman. They had no care factor. And I’m only small I weigh and I and even then I weighed about 46 kilos. And I’m only five foot two. I’m only a small person. Now these guys one of them was six foot four is a big burly man. And no one cared. And I had to lug the equipment. And it would take for take a very long time. Sometimes UPS many, many stairs. Because the stage if we’re in those big venues was up high. There was all the the instruments, the sound equipment, the lighting rigs, there was a lot of stuff and then I had to help set up. So no rest. You’ve been on the bus you arrive, you start getting to work, then we do sound check. soundcheck would take approximately an hour. In that time, we would spend probably a good half of that with the drums setting up the mic kit for the drums. You know, bang, bang, bang, Dean Dean, bass drum, whatever, me I get five minutes. And that was it. You know, test 123 We’d run through a song and we all sang in the band. I would do 90% of the lead singing and then and the band members would harmonise we had beautiful that that’s one thing we did have beautiful harmonies in the band. Then I do the harmonies I do B V’s when other people see so I sang in every song. And that’s that’s all well and good. So we do that then we’d barely have time to get changed. And we’d start sometimes we would be given a meal sometimes not the in the contract. There was always a rider and it would always be scotch and coke. There was never any water. I didn’t drink alcohol on the gig I never had that’s been my thing. I don’t drink before during any gigs but after a gig. Yes, of course I’ll have a drink. But that’s always been I’ve always been like that my whole career. So there was never any water. They’ve really didn’t do anything to take care of me. They Didn’t care it was all about them. Then the stage setup Oh, okay. Now let I didn’t talk about the venues themselves. Some of them as I said, were amazing venues, big venues, the the, like the nicest venue in the town, we touring some regional cities, and they had big community centres, exhibition buildings, we were performing those. But we also did some pubs and clubs that were not so good. And we had to take the good with the bad. And I would go to get ready, there was no mirror. So I’d have to do my hair and makeup without a mirror. There was one venue where there were no change rooms, and I had costume changes. Every set, we did a costume change, I had to get changed in the car park in the back of the venue, and the guys had to hold up towels while I got changed. So it was pretty tough going. And then there were the issues on stage where the stage setup was a problem. And I didn’t realise this till I started running into problems. The the stage was set up for everyone but me being so short, the monitors we didn’t have in it years back, then the monitors would go way over my head. So the sound went over my head, I couldn’t hear myself. And then they had the drummer, he was always positioned behind me. And he was really heavy handed. And there was no screen like we have now. So I would stand in front of this drama, no monitors, and trying to sing above everyone else to try and hear myself. So lack of sleep, no hydration, poor diet, fatigued, before we even start the gig, not being able to hear myself on stage. I mean, of course, I was going to run into strife. And what I started to notice happening first up, was a little bit of like vocal fatigue in parts of my range. So I would lose, then I would start losing the top end every now and again, I’d get to the end of the gig and I was really pushing to reach some of those high notes, then I started to notice a little bit of roughness. And then that a little bit of hoarseness that became a started, this is over a period of time, maybe over six or eight weeks of working with the band. And then it started to take longer and longer to recover. So where I would recover and I’d be fine the next day, I wouldn’t be fine for two or three days. And then it became four days. And then it became a week. And I was the only person that that was I was doing most of the singing in this band. And I was pushing through this. So I started to become paranoid that I was going to lose my voice before even stepping foot on the band bus. I was stressed I was anxious. I was ashamed because I thought I was a bad singer. I didn’t realise back then I didn’t have that kind of knowledge. I knew I wasn’t right. But I couldn’t. Okay, now, you know, you go How could you not know. But you kind of started putting the pieces together. But the whole puzzle didn’t come together so quickly and easily for me. I’d never been in that situation. So it was quite an ordeal.
Dr Jenevora Williams 34:15
I think the pieces of the puzzle really only come together in retrospect. Because at the time you’re coping, you just think oh, I can cope with that. That’s a small thing. I can cope with that and get Yeah, and you don’t necessarily appreciate the cumulative effect.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 34:36
But the thing was, I wasn’t coping. I actually was not coping. I was a mess. I was a hot mess. And when I started to make some noise, I knew it was the situation that I had to get out of, by about November. So for I joined the band in August November I knew It was something that I had to remove myself from. And that was a little hard to because I was a little bit addicted to the lifestyle and the we, you know, we would get this applause we’d be on a high after the gig. We had groupies. I mean, I didn’t do anything with the groupies, but just saying, you know, people were throwing themselves at us, the men were, I’m gonna say this straight up, the men were married. And they, they were having affairs and I had to shut it. And I couldn’t tell their wives. And they were, they were drugs. I mean, there was cocaine, I did not, I’ve never taken drugs, because I know they’re not good for you. But it really frightened me, I had a real fear of being out of control. So never interested me. And plus, I was a mum, I wasn’t going to do anything that was going to jeopardise my daughter’s life for my ability to be her mother. So it was all going on. And the other thing that I’ve never, ever spoken to anyone about, and I mentioned it to my husband tonight, and because he knew about it, and I said that I only really had one ally in that band. And that was the friend who picked me up by the side of the road on my bike that that morning. And even he became my enemy. Because these boys, when I say boys, they were grown men that were way older than me again. And when I started to make noise about leaving, I was bullied. And I was blackmailed. And they were telling me that if I didn’t, if I if I didn’t see through all the commitments that we had, that I’d never work again, they would make sure. And the management of the band would make sure that I would never work again. They made it out that it was my fault. That I wasn’t taking care of myself, that it was me that I partied too hard. I wasn’t even I wasn’t partying, I wasn’t doing anything. I was doing my job. They were the ones with the drugs. And they were the ones having the affairs. I was a mum, and I was going home to my child. And so they put it all back onto me. And this one friend that I had. I couldn’t speak to him any any more. Because there was one time that I was at his house, we were all at his house having a rehearsal. And I was in a room on my own. And he walked into that room with a towel wrapped around him and nothing else wanting to push himself onto me. I had put that, like I had buried that very, very deeply. When when I told the management and the other band members, their response was we always knew he had a thing for you. We always knew that he liked you. And I was I was dating my husband at the time. And he still did that. And the hatred and the resentment that I felt for that man. And I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t even leave the situation, because I was being threatened. So yes, now you see, I’ve never talked to anybody about this. So you’ve actually got more than what you were bargaining for you, Jennifer. And I wouldn’t be the only woman. And I know I’m not the only woman because all of a sudden all these women had have come out of everywhere with the me to movement. But interestingly enough, it wasn’t till today that I sat down. And I just immersed myself and I took myself back in time that this came to the fore. And in this moment, I didn’t realise the impact. So the Yeah,
Dr Jenevora Williams 39:55
this story, Marissa. It’s enormous. It is enormous. Yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the most impactful events in your life and in your single life and in your story. And and as you say, you ask other women, and how many other women have a similar story?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 40:18
Dr Jenevora Williams 40:21
How many of us have a well, yes, of course.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 40:26
I didn’t deserve it. I did. That’s one thing I knew I didn’t you knew at the time. I knew at the time, because I had never given this person any indication, I had a boyfriend, who ended up being my husband, I was with somebody. And I was happy in that relationship. I had no, there was never a time where I led this person on, he was my good friend. And I never gave him any reason to think that he had a chance with me in any on any level, whether it was a friendship with benefits, or a relationship. There was never a time I gave him any indication. So that’s what made me so angry at the time actually, I wasn’t tearful, I was really angry. This is not one of my finest moments. But probably about two months later, because I couldn’t stand him. And he became very angry with me because he didn’t get his own way. So it was terrible working on stage, off stage in rehearsals, any kind of interactions with this person. It wasn’t uncomfortable. It was just awful. He gave me a really hard time. The guys in the band didn’t support me. They were making it out that it was my fault. You know that? I should have known that this guy had a thing for me. And your why was I so surprised. And then we’re away. It was New Year’s Eve. This is this was the catalyst for everything else then happening. We had done it was New Year’s Eve. We’re really busy leading up to New Year’s Eve. Christmas is always the busiest time for entertainers. We had done a number of gigs. I was barely surviving. We had a gig the night before. The band bus came and picked me up at about three in the morning to get to Brisbane airport to catch a flight at six in the morning to travel north to this gig, we get there. And we had production was all supplied. So we go and do our soundcheck and my voice cut out one song and it just stopped. Not a sound could I make we’d flown all the way to Cannes, which is right up north in the Great Barrier Reef. Not a sound after that first song. So the manager was there, the band manager and he sent me straight back to the hotel, said you’re going to bed and I did fall asleep. I was exhausted. I was emotionally physically. mentally. I was exhausted. And so I went to bed. The band had already gone to the gig. He gave me enough time to get ready and I basically woke up. Got ready on stage. One song again. The voice went that was it. And the next day we had to do recovery gig. First. I don’t know if that’s a thing. In England were the first of January. They call it a recovery gig. So everyone comes with a hangovers and you’re doing a gig in the morning. Well, it got rained out, thankfully. But I was so angry because I said I need to leave and they were giving me a hard time you’re not leaving. I was so angry that I had quite a few drinks. And this is one of my worst moments in my life in terms of behaviour, and this guy who had walked in with his towel, he was giving me the hardest time we had been set up for dinner at the hotel he was in the pool and I literally picked up everything that was on the buffet and threw it at him in the pool. I threw plates of food, I threw crockery, cutlery, glassware, I was in a fit of rage, I don’t even have a temper. But I was so angry. And so at the end of my tether, and feeling so helpless, and so unsupported and, and I just was at the at the end, I had never ever done anything like that before. And I never had since. But I just couldn’t bear another second. And they still wouldn’t let me leave. And it took another three months before I got out of there. And by then I was a hot mess. I was an absolute mess. And so it was like they had ownership of me. They owned me, I was not a human being to them, I was a commodity I was a product, they did not care in any way about my welfare on any level. So that’s, that was my experience of touring in the rock band. I’m sure there’s other other things that I’ve missed. But I think that’s pretty much you know, the, the crux of it, at the end of it. If I was to sum up how I felt I was ashamed. I was embarrassed for some of the behaviour. I was broke, because it was the worst money I’d ever been paid in my life. By the time you split up all the money, because by then, okay, we had a manager, a booking agent. We had one of the band members who owned all the gear, and most of the time, he would charge us to use the gear. If not, we would have to pay higher for the gear. We had a roadie. We had a sound guy, there was the maintenance of the bus. And I’d be lucky if, if you think if we left at 11 in the morning, and I didn’t get back home till three in the morning. So that’s like what a 16 hour call. And I’d be lucky to get $100. And that was not enough money. For me to live on, we’ll probably doing some weeks we do four gigs. Some weeks we do too. We did. And in between those jobs, though. And this is what people don’t realise is that you have media, we would do TV. There were rehearsals, there were band meetings. So on your days off, there was still work to be done. And some days, some days we would have two gigs in one day. So there was a lot going on, there was a lot going on, and for $100 a gig at that time. I wasn’t gonna wait and destroy myself my reputation, too, for the big money. I wanted to get out of there. It was not healthy. In that time, as I said, I was broke. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I felt like the biggest loser. My relationship with my boyfriend split up because I was not I couldn’t deal with another human. When I had my daughter and mice I couldn’t even deal with myself. And I was taking care of my daughter. She was going to a good school. She was fine. But I wasn’t I would feed her. I would live on a $2 bag of lollies so that she would be fine. That was my life. And I ended up with the eating disorder again. That’s why I told you about that all that emotional upheaval. It there was a price to be paid. So I ended up once again. I fell into that dark place again. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was stressed I was having panic attacks. My health had never been worse. I could I would go home every afternoon or I would Make sure I was home every afternoon and even my husband remembers this because when he was dating me, I would have to say, Sorry, darling, but I have to go home and have asleep. I would go home and sleep every afternoon for two hours. I had no energy. I was, I looked terrible. I was just a mess. There’s no other word to describe it. I was a mess. And no one knew about it. No one knew how I was feeling it. I couldn’t. I had to put up front for my daughter. I couldn’t tell my family because they gave me a hard time when I moved away from Melbourne. And they’re an Italian culture, they wouldn’t have understood. I couldn’t tell my other people in the industry. I was so ashamed that I was having voice problems. I wasn’t going to tell people. I had nowhere to turn. The only person that knew was the man I was with who I ended up getting back with after I was well removed from the situation. And I started fixing myself. And we ended up back together. We’re married now. And that’s all we had our 28th wedding anniversary. So it was an awful time. It was a really awful time. And I don’t think that everyone goes through that. But I was smart. I was street smart. I was voice smart. I knew how to take care of myself. And I fell into that trap. I ended up on a treadmill that I could not get off. It was like and I spiralled. It started in one spot. And I just plummeted. By the end of that time I had plummeted. And I was I was rock bottom. And then I ended up rebuilding it I didn’t go and see anyone about my voice because I didn’t know, back then we didn’t talk about vocal issues it was in you kept them to yourself. So I didn’t see an EMT, I didn’t even know that you could go to an EMT. I did go and see a voice teacher. And she was a nurse as well. And she suggested that I had inflammation of the vocal folds. And slowly but surely, I just had vocal rest. And I took time out. I started to get back into the gym, take good care of myself again. I wasn’t going out anywhere. I was very isolated very on alone. Throughout that time. I didn’t really mix with other people. I kept away from all my friends in the industry. And my first job back was doing b V’s for a guy who was launching an EP. And I was happy with that. It was embarrassing. Because if you think I’d gone from a high profile Korea, to doing babies for somebody, but I just wanted to get back on what do you what’s the saying again? Just get back on the horse again. Yeah, that’s right. And I just wanted to just start singing again and just doing a little bit of performing. And it really crushed my ego that he was front and centre because I had always been that person. But I still did it. And then I ended up launching back into my career again, took me some time to get over the anxiety of performing. I was a little bit worried about my voice. But it was fine. And I ended up having a great career for another 12 years. And did fantastic work once again, doing TV work, doing high profile work, but I always made sure I was in charge that I was front centre. And if an agent I had several booking agents that I worked for, if they rang me, they would say Marissa, we need a Duo or Marissa. We need a five piece band. And they’d say I don’t care who you work with. We want you and you just gather up whoever you need. So I had I had charts. I had backings tracks, I had chord charts, I had everything and it didn’t matter what the gig was. I could turn up with anybody and go And that’s how I worked for the next. And then I went back into cabaret work again. So I had, once again the chops or came out and started doing some work as a support artist. So went back into that career after all of that, and never spoke about it ever again. Till now,
Dr Jenevora Williams 55:24
wow. But inside you, you’ve got that memory of what it feels like to be literally without a voice.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 55:35
Absolutely. And when I thought about our talk, this podcast and you having me as your guest, I thought, well, jenever is giving me a voice. I’ve never spoken about any of this. And I really wanted to share it with everybody. I felt it was my time to speak up. I felt safe enough to speak up. It doesn’t matter now because I don’t have a performance Korea, but I thought, if I can help other people, if I can share my story, and let other people know, this is what it’s really like, when what happened to Adele happened, and people were on those forums, it broke my heart for her. When I hear people shaming singers for what they go through, they don’t know the half of it. And I’m sure I still haven’t spoken about the half that I’ve only spoken about the things that have come through me today. Upon reflecting what happened. And it’s tough. It’s not what people think it is. It’s not poor vocal health, like in terms of you or technical ability. Adele had training, I had training. She was in a much better place than me, but it still happened to her. It happens. And it’s not our fault. Because people don’t listen, management’s don’t listen, we’re a commodity, we’re making their money. When we don’t work, they don’t make money. If we don’t, for these artists, they rely on touring, there’s no money in music sales anymore, unless you happen to write your own music. Then you have the copyright, or your song is picked up by a movie or a TV ad. The money is in the performing in the touring. So these people are now managed by music, labels, not recording labels. So they have to record sorry, they have to tour they have to do all these performances for these management’s to make money and they have huge entourages. There’s a lot of expenses there. When I read the shaming of other singers and other artists, it breaks my heart for them. And that’s all I can say. I pity the students that some of these people work with, how can you have empathy and an understanding for these singers? If that is what you feel about what we do for a career, the sounds that we produce the the lifestyle that we have to endure. It really horrifies me. So as a teacher, I have a very deep empathy for my students. A lot of them are gigging and I’m on I am actually on high alert with all of them. I’m so vigilant with all of them. And I think that’s what we need to do we need. We’ve talked about you’re giving me a voice. We need to ensure that we’re giving our students a voice, not just me, but the whole music community. These management’s the venues. They all need to be taken care of these poor singers. They’re put through the wringer.
Dr Jenevora Williams 59:36
So if you could go back in time, to the younger you in the spring of that year after the New Year gig when you are at your lowest or Huh, what would you say?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 59:52
That’s a really difficult question to answer because there’s so many sides to that. Firstly, that anxiety is really? How do you tell yourself not to be anxious? And that it’s going to be okay. When your voice is what makes you money. I had a child, I was a single parent, no voice, no job, no income. So how do you stop that anxiety. And we’re already in our heads as singers, we’re already messed up, I call us messed up. Because we’re in our heads about everything. We listen to ourselves, if the sounds not what we want, we’re so judgmental of ourselves. And we’re so hard on ourselves, oh, that’s not how I want that to sound, you know, we’re constantly criticising. So of course, when your voice is not behaving itself, you’re only going to be hard on yourself, you’re going to be hard on yourself, and then your anxiety builds, then you start to stress, then you start to become depressed. It’s like this vicious cycle. So it’s very hard, even now to say, How did how would I have dealt with that. And knowing what I know, now, I should have gone to see an EMT, I should have sought help. But it was a different place, then it was a different time. And there’s still shame, there is still a certain amount of shame around all of that I didn’t want booking agents knowing that I had these problems. I think, these days, being a singing teacher, I think we have a really big responsibility we always have. But I think we need to be aware of that responsibility. It’s not just training the voice, we need to take care of these students, we need to ensure that we have empathy. We understand the music that they’re singing, leave our biases at the door before we enter that teaching studio. If you’re working with a singer, and they have a signature sound, it’s not up to us to change that sound. It’s about making that voice sustainable. How can we work with that voice? So they can have a career for as long as they want to have a career? Quite often we are the frontline workers. And we had that responsibility to then refer. We are not psychologists, we all know that. But you can’t silence someone who needs someone to talk to but it’s what we do with that information. That’s important. Well, it’s funny, because I was thinking to myself, I really don’t have a lot to say. And then. And then once I started talking a couple of times, I thought chief really got a lot to say. And I really did open up. And yes, it’s it’s been in one way it’s really healing to be able to speak to and to speak your truth. Yeah, no one’s probably ever bothered to ask me before. Isn’t that interesting? And I probably not I, as I said, I’m very private. And I’ve probably never made a big deal out of anything that I’ve done. People know I’ve had a career but no one’s ever really asked me too much about it. Probably why I have become so resilient. And if someone says something to me, I’ve got an answer like this. I’ve worked with drunks at three o’clock in the morning in a nightclub, belittling me yelling out, yeah, love, get your gear off. So you have to learn to respond to that. You’ve got to come back. And you’ve got to come back in a way that you kind of be little them back. You have to have that banter, where you have that put down, you can’t go into a corner and cry, you have to be strong. And you have to say something. So I got really good at standing up for myself through all of that, so all these experiences have really shaped me to be who I am. And the weird thing is what would I tell myself back then is well, haven’t you learned a lot? Because I have I’ve I’ve had experiences that nobody’s had as a singing teacher to have had to have lived all this stuff. It’s incredible. It’s it’s what drove me to do a PhD and to be Come and advocate for this music for CCM to write a book, to launch a podcast, it’s all been because I wanted to give other people a voice. It wasn’t to share my story, funnily enough, it was to allow other people to tell their stories. And I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t have gone through all this. So thank you, Ginebra, for letting me speak.
Dr Jenevora Williams 1:05:29
Thank you very, very much, Marissa. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for all the work that you do. Thank you for writing that PhD and writing that book, and for teaching all of your students and for continuing with this work.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:05:49
Yes, I don’t think I will ever stop.
Dr Jenevora Williams 1:05:52
Nope, there’s more to come.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:05:54
Thank you. Ginevra. I don’t know if I how I feel right. I don’t know if I need to go and have a stiff drink. Hey, I hope you enjoyed this episode have a voice and beyond. Now is an important time for all of us to spread positivity and empowerment in our singing voice community. It’s time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow. So you can show up for your students feeling energised, empowered, and ready to deliver your best. Be the best role model and mentor you can possibly be and watch your students thrive as you do. Thank you so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please make sure to share it with a friend or a colleague who you think will be inspired by this. Copy and paste the link and share it with the people you think will enjoy listening to this show. Please share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. If you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would love to know what it is you enjoyed the most about this episode. And what was the biggest takeaway for you? I promise you there are many episodes to follow as I’m committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one. I’d like to finish up with my final thoughts. Remember that to sing is more than just learning how to use the voice. As singers. Our whole body is the instrument and our bodies echo what we feel physically mentally and emotionally. So singing is not just about the voice. It’s about a voice and beyond. Please take care of yourself and I look forward to your company next time.