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Newcomer: Protect Your Voice -
Your Most Important Equipment
 
By Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D.
Broadcast Voice Specialist
 
As a newcomer to this business, you're probably chomping at the bit to do your first voice over job.
 
You no doubt have given lots of thought to what type of microphone to use, what computer program will work best for you, and how you will set up your recording studio.
 
But have you thought about ways to protect your most valuable equipment? I'm talking about your voice.
 
NO HEALTHY VOICE, NO CAREER
 
Without a healthy voice, you won't even get your first job. And if your voice has problems once you begin getting jobs, your career will come to a screeching halt.
 
Here are 10  tips you can use to keep your voice healthy. Most of them don't take much time, but the payoff is huge.
 
1. PRACTICE BREATHING
 
Practice abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing to decrease tension in the laryngeal (voice box) area.
 
Basically, you want to initiate your breath low in your torso. Think of expanding your stomach at your waistband to inhale, and bringing it back in to exhale. 
 
This breathing takes the tension away from your laryngeal area and gives you the most air to work with. Click here  to see my video that explains this type of breathing.
 
2. DRINK FLUIDS
 
Keep your vocal tract moist by drinking half your body weight - expressed as ounces of fluid - per day. This fluid needs to be decaffeinated and nonalcoholic.
 
Why do you need this much fluid? Because you want to plump up the cells in the laryngeal area so they are healthy. 
 
You also want the correct amount and consistency of mucous in your throat. 
 
Mucous protects the fragile vocal folds, which are cords of tissue and ligament about a half inch long, keeping them from being injured as they do their job of making sound waves. 
 
If you'd like to see the vocal folds at work, click here
 
By the way, if you exercise vigorously, you need about two-thirds of your body weight in fluids (in ounces) per day. 
 
Here's a fun app that will help you keep track of your fluid intake. 
 
3. DON'T SMOKE
 
Do not smoke or expose yourself to the smoke of others. 
 
This needs very little explanation except to point out that if you smoke you are bathing the top of your vocal folds in carcinogenic toxins when you inhale and the bottom when you exhale. 
 
Nothing is more devastating to your voice. If the fact that cigarettes kill half of the people that use them is not enough to get you to stop, maybe your livelihood is. Stay away from cigarettes and people using them!  
 
4. LIMIT COUGHING
 
Limit throat clearing and coughing. Both of these activities violently force air through the vocal folds. 
 
When we cough, the air comes through these folds at supersonic speeds. The tissue is very delicate and can be harmed by this forceful use. 
 
If you have a cold and a cough, use cough drops to limit your coughing. 
 
Stay hydrated, as well, for the reasons in point No. 2 above. 
 
5. BEWARE OF MILK PRODUCTS
 
Avoid milk products two hours before on-air work.
 
I say this because many people find that milk products cause more mucous than they need. The result is that they have to clear their throats more often. 
 
You should experiment with this to see if dairy products give you this reaction. 
 
6. NO FOOD NEAR BEDTIME
 
Do not eat close to bedtime.
 
Doctors generally agree that we should stop eating any food at least two hours before bedtime to avoid the possibility of a condition called gastric reflux
 
This condition causes morning hoarseness in people. It is a very common problem, and it can result in vocal damage from throat clearing. 
 
7. NO LOUD TALK
 
Do not talk loudly or yell in noisy environments, such as sporting or music events.
 
Just like coughing, loud talking and yelling blasts air through the vocal folds at high speed. 
 
This can cause inflammation and damage to the muscle and ligament that make up the delicate vocal fold tissue. 
 
8. SHUN MOUTH BREATHING
 
Avoid mouth breathing except for speech. 
 
Breathing through your mouth will cause dryness in your mouth and throat. As mentioned above in point No. 2, it's important to keep the vocal tract hydrated so that the tissue is protected. 
 
Breathe through your nose at all times except when you are speaking. 
 
When speaking, nose breathing is too slow and will always produce some sound.  
 
9. IF YOU BECOME HOARSE
 
If you do become hoarse, limit your talking and use a breathy voice, not a whisper.

Whispering puts a lot of stress in the muscles around the vocal folds and the folds themselves. 
 
You want to keep your throat as relaxed as possible, especially when it has inflamed tissue. 
 
Practice what is described in point No. 4 in terms of coughing and clearing of the throat, as well. 
 
10. WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
 
See a physician if hoarseness, pain, or odd sensations in the throat last for more than two weeks. 
 
Take hoarseness seriously. There is no way for you to know whether a simple swelling of the vocal fold tissue or a malignancy is causing the hoarseness. 
 
It's always better to be safe than sorry. See a medical specialist like an ear, nose, and throat doctor anytime hoarseness persists. 
 
Remember, as a voice over artist you will be making your living using the two small pieces of muscle and ligament in your throat (the vocal folds).

They are truly your most valuable equipment! 
  
ABOUT ANN ...
 
Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D., is a voice specialist with more than 40 years experience and has helped hundreds of people make the most of their voices, working with broadcasters, voice over artists and podcasters around the world. She has written eight books and over 50 articles on voice, and her Broadcast Voice Handbook is used in newsrooms and classrooms throughout the U.S. It is designed as a self-help book that teaches how to improve every aspect of your voice. Her website offers more information, including a link to her informative blog and a free mp3 to begin your voice improvement.

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Comments (7)
Dr. Ann S. Utterback
9/18/2013 at 4:07 PM
Dean--Thanks so much for your comments! I'd love it if every voice artist had these taped to the wall in their studio! Like you say, common sense advice that always helps.
Dean Ward
7/8/2013 at 2:58 AM
The Ten Commandments are vital for well being and staying on the right track. This article by Dr. Utterback fills that order for a mandate of common sense for our own good. Very handy to keep around and my thanks for publishing it!
Dr. Ann S. Utterback
12/29/2012 at 12:09 PM
Adah--Thanks for your question. Your history of thyroid surgery followed by a sore throat and pitch change is definitely something an ENT should explore. If the one you have is not taking this seriously, I would look for another ENT. I usually find doctors associated with medical schools are up on the latest research. This could be simple gastric reflux, but it could also be more complicated than that. Only a good ENT can tell you. Obviously, being around second-hand smoke is never good for the vocal folds. Try to avoid that if possible. Good luck!
Adah Kennon
12/28/2012 at 7:15 PM
Thank you, Ann. I am new to the industry and looking forward to working as a voice over actor. But, my thyroid was removed about two years ago. Since that time, my voice has dropped a pitch and my throat is usually always a little sore. My ENT specialist is not concerned because this is not life-threatening. I do not smoke; however, I am sometimes around others who do. Any recommendations? Thanks.
Ann Utterback
10/1/2011 at 12:00 PM
Roy, I've had clients tell me that their news director told them to smoke because it would lower their pitch. I always say that's like telling someone to get drunk before they drive because they'll be more relaxed :-| Deadly advice in both instances. Glad you don't smoke.

And Bettye, good to hear from you. Your advice about looking at the vocal anatomy is important. Check the link I included in point #2. Seeing the anatomy gives anyone a greater level of respect for the miracle of voice!
Bettye Zoller-Voicesvoices
9/30/2011 at 4:18 PM
There are wonderful videos on U Tube stroboscopic photos--videos of the voice in action. I find in my work that many students do not even know how the human voice is produced! Take a look at some videos and see what coughing does (major damage to the vocal folds in a very short time), yelling, and what the folds look like when you are hoarse. You should see the voice organs and what they look like and how they produce sound. And as always, Ann Utterback is a gem. I taught with Ann's textbooks at the Univ. of Texas many years. Love you Ann.
Roy Wells
9/30/2011 at 8:32 AM
Ann, this is truly an excellent and extremely helpful article, and I for one will try to follow all its precepts. But, the late Jackson Beck, one of the greatest and most familiar voices that ever there was, used to chain-smoke cigarettes to get that heavy raspy quality to his voice. He died in his 90's. I don't smoke and surely I do not endorse the idea of smoking, just commenting that different things seem to work for different people.
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