So, you’ve finished your voice-over training, recorded your demos, built a home studio, and have a marketing plan in place. It’s time to kickstart your voice-over career.
But there’s one thing that’s crucial to keep in mind going forward: your instrument, which is your voice. Taking care of it is vital. For those really serious about making voice-over a career, a change in mindset is often required. As with any arts-oriented vocation, some sacrifices must be made. Taking care of your body in general – but your vocal cords in particular – is non-negotiable as a voice-over artist.
Let’s talk about some specifics:
We all know that getting enough sleep is important for our overall health. Sleep allows our bodies and brains to repair and restore. But it’s particularly important for our vocal health: if you’re exhausted, you won’t have the energy to breathe properly while using your voice without straining it. Also, when people are tired, they often resort to caffeine to wake them up which has a drying effect on vocal cords.
Eating a well-balanced diet is certainly good for your overall physical and mental health. It is very important for your vocal health as well. A healthy voice requires a strong body with good muscle tone and endurance. Foods good for your voice include fruits, vegetables, and seeds. A moderate amount of healthy fats (like avocado) and oils are also helpful.
Foods to avoid – especially right before singing, giving a speech or recording a voice-over – include spicy foods, chocolate, dairy products (they can cause acid reflux and thicken mucus,) caffeine, soda and alcohol – all of which can dry out your vocal cords. Ice water and other cold drinks are not advisable before a read as well, since they can constrict your vocal cords.
Here are some Do’s when it comes to vocal care:
Proper hydration keeps the vocal cords moist. Drink lots of water (room temperature or warm is best) or hot tea with honey. Hydration also helps keep vocal cords supple, so that they vibrate properly – in a wave like fashion. To keep the proper fluidity, moisture is required.
When speaking to large groups, always use a microphone. Trying to speak loudly over a large crowd for an extended period of time can really wear out your voice. Just think about how hoarse political candidates sound after weeks of campaigning…
Vocal cords are muscles, and they get tired like all muscles in the body do. When you have vocal fatigue – following a marathon speech, a 3-hour singing gig or a long VO session – resting your voice is a must. Don’t talk at all for 4 or 5 hours…even a whole day if possible.
Lozenges are great to soothe a sore or irritated throat. However, the type of lozenge you choose is important. Stick with the herbal ones, like Ricola, and stay away from anything menthol. Menthol may help unclog your nose, but it will also dry out your vocal cords. Slippery Elm lozenges, available at most health food stores, are particularly good. Throat Coat Tea can also help ease a sore throat.
If you live in a cold climate and spend much of the winter indoors in warm, dry heat, you may want to consider a humidifier. The moisture will keep your vocal cords lubricated and supple.
Now for some big no-no’s:
That includes cigarettes, cigars, marijuana – anything! It is absolutely the worst possible thing you can do to your vocal cords.
Screaming and yelling are extremely damaging to your voice. When I have VO students who are big sports fans, I suggest that they find another way to support their favorite team, besides screaming. (Make a sign, use a noisemaker, etc.)
This is a very tough habit to break, but well worth the effort. We’ve all had that sensation of having something in our throat, and the urge to get rid of it. But traditional throat clearing is like grinding the gears of a car. Instead, try drinking some water or warm tea, or even just swallowing.
Excessive or long-term whispering is also damaging to your voice, as it creates vocal tension.
Acid reflux is a common vocal fold irritant. It occurs when stomach acid comes back up to the throat. Symptoms include hoarseness, mucus in the morning, a dry cough and a sensation of a lump in the throat. Triggers include spicy or fried foods, large meals, coffee, alcohol, and medications like aspirin. If you think you may have acid reflux, you should consult your doctor.
Wearing a face mask when you’re around irritants like dust, mold, chemical fumes, nail polish remover, and paint thinner is highly recommended.
Signs that you have damaged your vocal cords include: hoarseness and breathiness, a constant feeling of vocal fatigue and loss of singing range. If you have any of these symptoms, you should probably see a medical professional like an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) doctor. You may have developed vocal nodules (similar to calluses,) or polyps (like water blisters,) which need immediate attention.
A career in voice-overs can be great fun, creatively fulfilling and lucrative. But it does require some discipline, which includes taking great care of that terrific asset which is now your bread and butter…your voice!
Check out our free PDF with pro-tips from real working voice-over actors here!
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