You’re not ready to call Lloyd’s of London to take out a million-dollar policy on it. But once you start doing voice-overs, you think about taking care of the instrument that provides you with an income.
That instrument, of course, is your voice - produced by those little folds of tissue called your vocal cords.
You’ve probably read about the importance of warming up your voice. “Warming up your pipes” is important, whether you sing, do public speaking, or read copy in front of a microphone.
Vocal warm-up involves more than your throat, though. Limbering up your entire body is important, too - including mouth, jaw, tongue, neck, and face.
So, you’ve got everything all loosened up and ready to go for that big session. Now how do you keep your voice going after the 27 th take because the agency guy just isn’t hearing the smile in your voice?
And how do you prevent yourself from inadvertently doing an impersonation of Fozzy Bear after reading the 26th page of a 40-page narration?
It starts with moisture.
Your choice in fluids to keep your mouth and throat tissues hydrated is important. As with most things, simplest is best. Drink room temperature filtered or spring water. Why? Cold water tightens your throat muscles’ vocal cords.
Want something warm to drink? Try herbal tea. Stay away from regular tea because it contains caffeine, which can tighten things up. Also avoid coffee because it can dry you out and has even more caffeine than regular tea.
Do you suffer from “smackies,” those irritating clicks your mouth makes when it gets dry?
Many a voice-over talent totes along a green apple to the session or keeps them on hand in the home studio. Something in the apple juice lubricates the mouth. Just make sure you swallow it all. Pieces of apple peel stuck in your teeth and the corners of your mouth can be very distracting.
What if all of your attempts at hydration aren’t enough, and your throat’s getting dry and a little hoarse?
Popular products for this problem include Entertainer’s Secret throat spray, which has a strong following with singers and voice artists. Thayer’s Slippery Elm Lozenges are an old-fashioned remedy and they, too, have a loyal following. There are many other lozenges on the market that provide temporary relief.
Have your own home studio? Thinking about a humidifier? Be careful.
Humidifiers can be little mold factories, which is not healthy for folks, whether they have a mold allergy or not.
Be careful, too, with air filters. Be wary of air filters and purifiers that produce, on purpose, negative ions. It’s not so much the negative ions, which can actually have a positive effect on mood; it’s the fact that many negative ion generators also produce ozone as a by-product.
Ozone is the second most potent oxidant known to humankind. Ozone can irritate mucosal tissue in your mouth, nose, throat and lungs, and it can trigger and aggravate asthma attacks.
Do not purchase any device that is designed to generate ozone on purpose. Prolonged breathing of ozone, even low levels, is not justified.
For years, NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has been trying to remove ozone generators from the market. Think about it. Ozone is the primary component of smog. Riddle me this: Why would anyone want to put smog in his or her home on purpose?
Your diet can affect your voice, too.
Avoid eating or drinking dairy an hour or two before a session. That can create excess mucous. Also, fruit juices can cause mucous secretion.
If you feel mucous building up on your vocal cords, do not clear your throat! Throat clearing grates the edges of the folds of your larynx against each other, causing irritation. And it just moves the mucous to the side, ready to slide right back over your vocal cords.
Instead, drink water, gently cough, or do the “panting puppy.” Simply stick out your tongue, pointing it downwards, and gently breathe in and out through your mouth, panting like a puppy. Be careful not to hyperventilate! The panting will dry out the mucous. If you have constant post-nasal drip, causing consistent mucous problems, consider nasal irrigation.
And be sure to exercise your entire body on a regular basis.
A tennis player wouldn’t just exercise the arm he or she uses to hit the ball. If your entire body is in shape, then your voice has a lot more support. Your lung capacity, blood flow and mental attitude all improve with regular exercise.
And those are all good things to bring with you when you get behind the microphone.
Take care of your voice and it will take care of you!
Peter Drew, a freelance voice-over talent and copywriter/producer, is heard on radio and television stations, corporate presentations, web sites, and messages-on-hold across the U.S and countries around the world.