We all have our silly little routines and rituals on stage and in the studio.
A Dutch actor I once interviewed had to sweep the entire stage before the show. He said he wanted to get to know every square inch. His colleague always wore the same pair of striped socks for a premiere; socks his mother had given him some twenty years ago.
A famous actress wouldn’t start a performance without a waft of her favorite Eau de Toilette: “Je Reviens.” One night she lost the bottle, and her assistant had to go on a wild-goose chase to find a new one. The Diva kept the whole theater waiting for over an hour until the fragrance was found.
These silly, idiosyncratic rituals don’t make any sense to you and me. To those who are displaying these behaviors they make all the difference. What they have in common is this. It’s outward behavior that’s meant to change someone’s inner state.
For some it’s a way to get centered and calm the nerves. For others it comes close to superstition.
I’m pretty sure that, as you’re reading this, you might ask yourself: “What is it that I do before I step up to the mic?” I bet you anything that you’re not even aware of what you’re doing because it’s become second nature.
My personal rituals are very practical and they start before I’ve even set a step into my studio. Pretty much all of them have to do with self-care. I suppose I could leave a couple of them out, but somehow I wouldn’t feel the same. To me it would feel like leaving the house half-dressed.
So here’s what needs to happen in my world.
I won’t start recording until I have brushed my teeth. Guaranteed. I want this fresh feeling in my mouth before I taste the words I’m about to speak. This is not optional. It must happen. Of course this doesn’t qualify as eccentric behavior. We all brush our teeth after breakfast, right? But hang in there. Here’s where it gets odd.
When I have finished one project and I’m about to move to another, I go back and brush my teeth again. It is as if I need to rinse my mouth of the previous experience before I can move on. On any given day, I can repeat this a number of times. This makes my dentist very happy (as long as I brush gently with a soft brush). It also gives me a very clean sound.
I will often use a tongue scraper too. It’s a cleaner meant to clear the surface of the tongue of bacterial build-up, food debris and dead cells. I’ve discovered that after using this device, my mouth noises are drastically reduced. You should give it a try.
Warning: if you’re using the scraper for the first time, you’ll be surprised how much gunk has been living on your tongue for all these years. It’s kind of gross. This thing does have nice side-effects. Using a tongue scraper gives you better breath and you’ll taste flavors more intensely.
Another thing I must do before I go down to my studio, is moisturize my face. Not only is it soothing, it loosens up the skin, helping my facial muscles relax and bend into different shapes as I enunciate the words I’m recording. For that reason I also have to apply and reapply generous quantities of lip balm.
Dry lips and a dry mouth are a major source of those annoying mouth noises. And it’s not just voice-overs that suffer from these clicks and smacks. Here’s a collection of Senator Marco Rubio sound effects, as he delivered the Republican response to this year’s State of the Union:
If my mouth feels particularly dry, I’ll use some moisturizing mouth spray which contains the same protein-enzymes found in saliva. I also make sure to breathe through my nose. Mouth breathing may even cause something called laryngitis sicca, in which the tissues of the larynx become very dry.
Frequent hydration is also part of my studio ritual. I like to add a slice of lime to my filtered water, which I always drink at room temperature. Cold water can shock the vocal cords. Not a good idea.
I live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, one of the worst areas of the United States when it comes to allergies. Reluctantly, taking care of sniffles, sneezes and congested nasal passages has become part of my routine too.
I’ll often take an over-the-counter medication such as fexofenadine in the morning. Throughout the day I’ll use a gentle saline spray or a Neti Pot to relieve sinus problems. Lately, I’ve added a nasal decongestant inhaler with menthol.
Allergies can also affect the vocal folds. There’s even such a thing as allergic laryngitis. Symptoms include hoarseness, itchy throat, excess phlegm or mucous in the throat, a feeling of dry throat, coughing and sneezing.
Again, hydration is essential in the treatment of allergic laryngitis. The water lubricates the vocal folds and it thins the mucous.
A DUTCH TREAT
If my throat simply hurts after a recording session, I’ll often turn to one of my favorite home remedies: Dutch licorice or licorice syrup. Dutch black licorice comes in many shapes, flavors and sizes and it’s definitely an acquired taste. If you’re up for it, get the real thing (not the licorice-flavored candy) and make sure you eat it in moderation.
If licorice is not your thing, try a cup of organic tea, such as the Throat Coat blend. It contains licorice as well as slippery elm .
Less eccentric than eating black and often salty licorice, is a habit that’s more preventative. It’s part of my preparation for voice-over work, and that’s why I want to mention it.
Over the years I have learned to avoid places with loud music and loud crowds; places that would force me to shout if I wanted to have a “normal” conversation. That type of vocal abuse can -if repeated frequently- result in scar tissue formation within the vocal folds, thickening of the vocal folds and vocal fold lesions.
THE DUTCH DANDY
So, if you were to walk into my studio today, you would notice a whole lineup of self-care products, sprays and black candy, fit for a Dandy. Taking good care of my face, throat and voice has become quite the routine. Some may think I’m overly protective, but to me there is no such thing. My voice is my bread and butter and I’ll do everything to treat it with love and respect.
I’m still not sure how this whole brushing my teeth-thing started, because there’s obviously more to it than dental hygiene. Having to go up to do it gives me a welcome break. Instead of sitting down staring at a screen all day long, I’m forced to climb the stairs and clear my mind. It may be weird, but it works for me. And that’s what all these eccentric behaviors have in common.
They’re weird and at the same time wonderful.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… it’s time for my facial, followed by a nice manicure.
I wonder which of my silk bow ties I will wear today.
By the way, what recording rituals do you have?
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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