How to Take Care of Your Voice (For Voice-Over Actors)
The voice is unlike any other instrument. It is a part of your body. When your body is unwell, your instrument becomes unwell too.
As a voiceover actor, you are a vocal athlete.
The capacity of the voice to express a wide range of tone color and emotions is huge.
If you had a $10,000 guitar, you would probably take care of it very well.
Would you say your voice is worth $10,000? Or more? Shouldn’t you treat your voice the same way as well?
Common Symptoms and Causes
Here are some common symptoms of vocal health issues and what may cause them. This is not an extensive list and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a doctor and/or ENT if your condition worsens.
A sore voice/throat can be caused by a cold or laryngitis.
Overuse and abuse of the voice causes inflammation that can make the throat feel sore.
Your vocal folds vibrate at the frequency of the pitch that you’re speaking at or singing. For example, when you sing A4 (440 hertz), your vocal folds vibrate 440 times per second.
As a voiceover actor, you may need to make different sounds with your voice - sounds that you are probably not used to making.
When you overuse/abuse your voice, your vocal folds will swell.
When your vocal folds are swollen, you will feel like there is something in your throat.
Using incorrect breathing and/or vocal technique when doing voice acting creates tension and can contribute to a sore throat.
When your throat feels sore, that means it is inflamed. The inflammation can be present in your vocal folds and/or the surrounding areas of the throat (pharynx).
Voice Loss (No Voice)
If you experience voice loss, it is very likely that your vocal folds are swollen.
In more serious cases, your folds may even be bruised or nodules may have developed.
This can happen because you overuse/abuse your voice, especially over a long period of time.
Cold and cough can also be a contributing factor. When you cough, your vocal folds come together violently. Over time, they become swollen.
A raspy or hoarse voice can be caused by cold and cough.
If your voice gets hoarse after voice acting, you have probably overused it. If your voice is healthy and you warm up before voice acting session, it should not be hoarse.
Vocal folds adduct (come together) before we say something or make a sound with our voice. If the folds are swollen or have nodules on them, they do not close tightly/evenly. Air escapes and the folds do not vibrate as they normally would. This results in a hoarse or raspy vocal tone.
Usually, people with nodules or scar tissues on their vocal folds will also have chronic hoarseness in their voice.
If your vocal issues are caused by sickness (i.e. cold, cough, flu), the best thing to do is to rest both your body and your voice.
Drink more fluids (room temperature or warm water). It helps to flush out toxins and germs - strengthening your immune system. The water you drink reaches your vocal folds after taking a tour around your body. So, keeping yourself hydrated is the key to making sure your vocal folds do not become dry.
Gargling with warm salt water helps to heal laryngitis. Bacteria in the throat is killed before they can enter the body.
Throat sprays are also quite effective in calming down inflammation in your throat. I personally prefer herbal throat spray.
Manuka honey is great for their antibacterial properties. I like to take it as is, so it coats the lining of the pharynx to kill bacteria in the throat.
Avoid clearing your throat at all costs. This will not be easy to do if your throat is phlegmy and you rely on your voice to make a living. When you try to say a line and you feel a lump in your throat, your first instinct is to clear it.
However, if you clear your throat, you are starting a vicious cycle. You are slamming your vocal folds together when you clear your throat. This tells your body to create even more mucous - making you clear your throat more often. Swallow instead. Keep drinking water to boost your immune system. If you really have to, clear your throat only very lightly.
Straw therapy is a therapeutic exercise invented by Dr Ingo Titze. It helps to ‘reset’ the vocal folds by ‘massaging’ them from the top part of the folds. Watch how it’s done (here).
Some people claim that throat lozenges do nothing for a sore throat. I disagree. When I get laryngitis, I take herbal lozenges like “Fisherman’s Friends” or “Throatclear”. They are helpful because they stay in the mouth for a long time. I always carry some in my backpack.
Inhaling steam can rehydrate the folds quickly and make a sore throat feel better.
According to Healthline, here are the steps:
- Pour the warm water into a large bowl
- Drape a towel over the back of your head
- Set a timer to 2-5 minutes
- Close your eyes and slowly lower your head toward the warm water until your face is about 8 to 12 inches away from the water. Be really careful to not to make direct contact with the water
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for at least two to five minutes
I am a strong believer in taking vitamin supplements for additional nutritional support. Vitamin C and cod liver oil help to boost the immune system immensely. Armaforce by Bioceuticals is handy for shortening the duration of a cold.
Avoid medications that cause vocal hoarseness (as a side effect) if you have a voice acting session coming up. These include: anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers.
Monitor your voice use when you are unwell. If your voice is not 100% healthy, be wise about how you use it. You can find out your (mucosal ceiling) during your ‘normal’ days vs days when your voice is feeling subpar. This helps you to judge how much vocal dose you have left for the day.
Always warm up your voice before you start your voice acting sessions. Warm up your voice gently by first doing some stretches, breathing and (sirening exercises). Then, you can vocalize using musical scales. Although you may not be singing for your voice acting sessions, doing singing warm-up exercises will make your voice more expressive and agile. A minimum of 10-20 minutes in recommended.
Cooling down the voice is also recommended after your practice session. You can cool down your voice by doing sirening exercises (using lip trills, tongue trills, humming and vowel sounds).
Learn correct vocal technique and apply them when you are voice acting. Having a good foundation makes a huge difference to vocal health and longevity. The Open Throat Concept is the cornerstone of vocal technique and you can find out about it in this (free ebook).
If your condition worsens or there is extreme hoarseness when you speak, you should book an appointment to see an ENT specialist immediately. You may feel nervous about it but often times, surgery is the last resort. Speech therapy and eliminating the cause will usually solve most vocal issues.
You are born with a unique voice. It is a part of your body and identity.
Your voice is resilient but fragile. It can get hurt easily but it always recovers if you take care of it well.
Just like the rest of your body, the more you train your voice using the correct vocal technique, the stronger it gets. The stronger your voice gets, the more endurance it has.
Treat your voice like the priceless instrument it is and it will endure the demands of being a voice actor for the rest of your life.
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