“Name one of the most beautiful musical instruments on the planet.
What’s your favorite?”
When I ask people these questions, they’ll usually say something like “cello,” “piano,” “harp,” or “flute.”
Bagpipes, cowbells, and kazoos never seem to make it to the list, and I can understand that.
But much to my surprise, people tend to leave out my favorite instrument: the human voice. Why is that?
Even though many of us sing in the shower, somehow we don’t recognize our voice as an instrument. Is that why people usually take better care of their violin than of their vocal folds? Is that why many of us don’t know the first thing about voice strengthening, proper breathing, and voice protection?
I find that very strange, especially if you’re using your voice to make a living.
We spend years practicing scales and arpeggios on the piano. Teachers tell us how to breathe correctly when playing a clarinet or trumpet, and we make sure to have the right posture before we put that French horn to our lips. But when I ask my voice over colleagues how they have trained their voices, I usually hear a long pause.
IGNORANCE OR CARELESSNESS?
The truth is simple. We fully expect professional singers, athletes, or dancers to get their bodies into shape, but we expect our voices to do whatever we want them to do at any given time for as long as we want, without preparation.
This includes dying a thousand different deaths in video games or animation, or narrating an audio book from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, five days a week.
If you’re not properly trained, that’s not only impossible. It is also dangerous.
We fully expect professional singers, athletes, or dancers to get their bodies into shape, but we expect our voices to do whatever we want them to do without preparation.
I say to them: “The fact that you even believe that, tells me you’re not taking this seriously.”
“Nobody would dare to swim the English Channel without proper preparation, unless you’re suicidal. So, what makes you think you can just jump in when you barely got your feet wet?”
PICKING A PRO
The other day, a colleague was complaining that famous people were taking voice over jobs away from not so famous people. “They’re already making a fortune,” he said. “Why do they have to cut a big piece from my pie? It just isn’t right.”
First off, it’s not his pie, and secondly, there’s a reason why well-known actors are paid good money to do voice over work. It’s not only because they’re a celebrity, but because they spent years honing their craft.
They have learned to strengthen and control the muscles of the larynx. Not from a book or from some website, but from a professional.
“Real” actors realize that they use three-quarters of their bodies when they speak. They have learned how to move purposefully, and breathe properly: low and expansive. They know that good posture and deep breathing not only affect the voice. It makes them feel more centered, confident, and calm.
“Real” actors know the difference between a strong, resonant voice, and a loud voice. They know the difference between projecting and yelling. Their voices are flexible, and don’t diminish in quality during long sessions.
Because they’ve memorized their lines, these actors keep their heads up, which results in a more powerful and open sound. Many voice overs glance down to read the script. This bends the neck and throat, and the voice sounds contorted, lower, and softer.
“Real” actors never start talking without a warm-up, they drink lots of water (6 to 8 glasses a day), and they stay in good physical shape. That means: regular exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of rest. They avoid clearing their throat, screaming, whispering, and noisy places. And of course they don’t smoke.
Too many voice overs are serial sitters, shallow breathers, and unhealthy eaters and drinkers. Most of them have never taken singing or dancing lessons, or seen an otolaryngologist.
Too many voice-overs are serial sitters, shallow breathers, and unhealthy eaters and drinkers.
Now, here’s a quick question for you:
How can you tell a voice talent just came back from a VO-conference?
Because they lost their voice!
If you’ve ever been to a WoVoCon, Faffcon, VO Atlanta, or other convention, you know I’m right. The unavoidable Karaoke is a killer! You’d never expect ballroom dancers to come back crippled from a contest, would you? So why would voice overs abuse their vocal folds for a day or two? And why do most of them start taking care of their voices once something’s wrong?
It just doesn’t make any professional sense.
A DAY FOR THE VOICE
A change in behavior has to start with increased awareness.
April 16th is World Voice Day. It is the brain child of an international group of scientists, specialists, teachers, and artists who came together in 2012. One of the missions of World Voice Day is “to encourage men and women, young and old, to assess their vocal health, and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.”
Trust me, that’s not as boring as it sounds. It’s also a day to celebrate the magic of the voice with over 300 events in more than 50 countries. Expect a series of talks and concerts, as well as videos about the many different facets of the voice. The 2023 motto is: YOUR VOICE MATTERS
For more information on World Voice Day, and a list of all the activities, go to world-voice-day.org. The website will have info on live streams, on how to take care of your voice, warm up exercises, and educational videos from around the world. The World Voice Day Facebook page is also a good way to follow what’s going on hour by hour, on April 16th.
Your voice is unique. It’s instantaneously recognizable.
It’s the only one you were born with, and you don’t have to be a professional speaker to be nice to it.
The Dutch philosopher Erasmus was right when he said: “Prevention is better than cure.”
So, don’t wait until it’s too late. In fact, it is vital that you begin today! All the things you can do and must avoid are not only good for your voice. They will enhance your well-being across the board.
Be a pro and start taking better care of yourself. Sign up for singing lessons. Hydrate. Move those muscles. Warm up. Read out loud. Rest up. Use a microphone when speaking in public. Don’t whisper, or clear your throat. See a specialist when you’re in pain.
And please, do me one small favor.
Don’t leave a comment saying: “Great post, Paul. Thanks for the reminders.”
Reminders are rubbish. You file them away and forget.
If your voice becomes hoarse or raspy; if your voice feels raw, achy, or strained, or if it becomes an effort to talk after a while, I can tell you this:
You don’t need more information.
You need to take action.
PS Click here for Tips for Healthy Voices, and click here for more tips.
PPS Be sweet: subscribe & retweet!
T Diaz says
Ok, so it’s 04/25 and I’ve missed World Voice Day, but better late than never, or maybe I’m just really, really early for next year’s WVD. Glad it happens annually 🙂
Paul Strikwerda says
Hindsight is 2020! It sounds like you’re ready for next year.
Sean Daeley says
I hope you are doing well in these crazy times. You’ve mentioned a vocal warm-up app you use as part of your routine, but I’m having difficulty finding the specific article you mentioned. Could you send me an article link or the name of the app, please?
Thank you for all you do!
Paul Strikwerda says
It’s in your mail box, Sean!
Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt says
I’ve always had singing. When I moved to our new retirement community, I started a folksinging group to replace the one in Princeton, NJ, I was in for over twenty years.
Then the pandemic came along, and both church and folk group were suspended – for months.
I hadn’t realized I had stopped singing – and when I tried to, it was awful (that’s what happens when you’re older).
I now make the time – several times a week, and over the full range. It was terrifying to feel I had lost something so important to me, and I won’t let that happen again!