Epidemic of Singers in Surgery

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Throat repair silences several major music acts as one doctor blames it on overwork.

It seems every week brings word of another music star going in for throat surgery. In early October, Adele said she was canceling all appearances through 2011 to undergo laser microsurgery to repair a hemorrhaged vocal cord. Two weeks later, John Mayer revealed he had gone under the knife and was confined to vocal rest for a month or more. Then Keith Urban said he was postponing all but "one-song performance commitments" leading up to surgery in November to remove a polyp on his vocal cords.

Many in the music industry are wondering whether the rash of surgeries is a coincidence or a sign that singers are being overworked. After all, touring, an artist's best chance to pocket revenue in an age of anemic record sales, is more demanding than ever. "Ten years ago, I used to see hemorrhages twice a year; now I see them once a month," says Shawn Nasseri, a Beverly Hills otolaryngologist who has treated dozens of singers from Justin Bieber to Kelly Rowland (she bowed out of the U.K. X Factor in October due to a throat infection). "When they're successful, there's a lot more of everything -- press, promo, they tour and record simultaneously … and don't slow down because you've got to strike when the iron is hot. Before, the market would forgive a one- or two-month hiatus; now it's very different."

Indeed, many singers go decades without properly maintaining their instrument (primarily, rest and proper diet and vocal techniques). Paul Stanley of Kiss, who had surgery Oct. 26 to "tweak" blood vessels in his vocal cords, says he powered through four decades of concerts "through sheer willpower" so the band could "cram in as many shows as possible to maximize profit." Throw in cigarettes and alcohol (two of Adele's well-documented vices), late-night meals, heavy travel and a five-nights-on, one-night-off itinerary -- up from the more sane two-on, one-off, says Nasseri -- and you have a recipe for damage that could cancel the rest of a tour (17 dates, in Adele's case, at a potential loss of up to $10 million). Without pricey cancellation insurance, unforeseen medical hiatuses can impact a performer's bottom line, but not resting can lead to potentially career-derailing damage (think Whitney Houston). Music executive Ken Komisar, a 16-year Sony Music veteran, says the age-old "exhaustion" mantra holds true. "It's a 24/7 business, and the expectations are more," he says. "So much overuse of a singer's vocal cords can be extremely detrimental to their ability to perform. We should all be advocates of taking better care of ourselves and our artists."

 
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