Why Prepping Your Pipes With Proper
Breathing Really Matters For Voice Over
By Shelley Cohen
Voice Actor & Coach
Whether you are new to the voice over business or have been in it for a while, learning proper breathing techniques and developing your voice are must-haves to prepare you for producing kick-a$$ auditions and winning voice over jobs!
Many years ago, I went to a voice over job in a 'home' studio. This was long before home studios were even a thing and now, a necessity.
The producer was someone I had worked previously with at a large, local studio and had gone out on his own. The house was older, the studio very small and the 'booth' was no wider than would allow my elbows to reach out to the side walls and the microphone was in my face after one step inside.
I found that I could not read in the deeper tone I had been hired to do, and was asked to leave!
I had suffered a claustrophobic attack and did not know how to control it - and it's the only VO job I did not complete in 40+ years in the business!
Also, this experience made me realize the importance of breath control and vocal development.
SPEAKING 'ON THE BREATH'
Have you ever had a shaky voice in an audition or at a gig because you were anxious or nervous?
Or do you get tired after a short time recording?
Here's a fun thing to try: Take a piece of copy … any will do, and start reading it out loud. Did you run out of breath about half-way through the first sentence or two?
Now, take a deep breath from your diaphragm/belly, not a gulp … but expand your stomach as you breathe in, and then read the same copy out loud as you breathe out.
How did that feel? Easier…more comfortable, right?
You felt and sounded stronger! That is because you were speaking 'on your breath'!
FIND YOUR DEEPER VOICE ...
Reading aloud 'on the breath' (or from your diaphragm) does not come naturally to most people. It is a learned skill that takes time to develop, as it requires understanding the body parts involved and the mental acuity to execute the various parts simultaneously.
It's a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. You have to stop and think about how to do it.
However, once you learn, it becomes second nature and makes you a better voice actor because it allows you to control your phrasing and pauses, as well as help you to find your 'deeper voice.'
I bet you never thought you would have to learn something you have been doing your entire life. Ironically, babies breathe with their diaphragms, so we all did it correctly at one time!
To get mystical for just a moment:
... AND IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH
Why else should voice actors learn how to speak 'on the breath'?
As previously mentioned, and if you did the exercise, you know you felt and sounded stronger as you read. More importantly though, it is also healthier for you because your brain is getting more oxygen and giving you more energy.
Other benefits include sounding more confident and engaged with the copy, plus, it gives you stamina to read out loud for longer periods of time.
Recently, coaching student Luke was struggling with his practice reads. The voice files he would send me for feedback just didn't sound right.
Neither he nor I realized he was breathing incorrectly until we arrived at the point in the coaching where we cover how to connect the breath and voice. Something was not quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it until I saw him doing it on our Zoom call!
I could see that when he inhaled, he contracted his stomach and expanded his chest. When he exhaled, his stomach filled with air.
He had been breathing that way his whole life without realizing it was wrong, and had to relearn how to breathe so he could read the script correctly.
The homework included meditating daily with warm-ups, and weekly, we worked on exercises such as deep breathing with vocal exercises.
Within a few weeks, Luke was able to connect his voice with his breath and has become a much stronger voice actor.
Susan, another student, completed her 10-week coaching program in September 2021 and said, "Speaking on the breath gives my voice more power. My reading endurance improves while I remain relaxed, and breathing from my diaphragm is quieter, so there's less to edit."
DEVELOPING VOCAL RANGE
There is more to vocal development than simply learning to speak on your breath, though.
You also need to develop your vocal range so you can demonstrate versatility, to 'do it different,' since many producers want alternate reads as a 'safety.'
The natural vocal inflections you use daily are likely half of what you need when you are voice acting - especially for animation, video games and commercials.
So, what does 'vocal development' involve?
It is a combination of implementing proper breathing techniques with vocal exercises over time. This is done to expand your range (high and low tones or inflection) and includes warm-ups like tongue twisters.
The exercises build on one another from week-to-week, throughout my 10-week online coaching program and help those with performance anxiety or stage fright sound confident.
Once you grasp the concepts and integrate them internally, anxiety disappears, stage fright is alleviated, and smooth, flowing reads begin to emerge.
When students are breathing properly and doing vocal exercises and warm-ups before voicing their weekly scripts, they are ready to learn a technique to control how they breathe while reading copy, as well as get into 'character' (your choice of course).
I call it B.E.T.S. And this four-letter acronym has helped new voice actors overcome their performance anxiety (we can't help them with their other ones!) and harness that energy to put into their reads to deliver the right tone, in the right pitch, with the right pacing and breathing, sounding confident.
This gives the copy its proper meaning, so you can deliver it with ease and fluidly, which likely results in a satisfied and repeat client.
It takes time and the right coaching, but proper breathing combined with vocal development can help you win those auditions and grow as a voice talent.
Shelley Cohen has been a national Canadian Voice Actor since her radio days in small and medium markets in British Columbia, Canada since the early 1980's. After a five-year stint as Traffic Commentator for the local Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio station in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, she remained a sought-after voice actor. She has voiced hundreds of commercials, corporate and online videos including explainers, e-learning courses, voicemail and IVR telephone systems, as well as many webinars. Clients include the Rogers Group of Companies (Rogers, Fido, Shaw, Today's Shopping Choice channel), Canada Post, the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of History, Canadian Medical Protection Association, Ottawa International Airport, PC Financial MasterCard and National Bank of Canada plus many federal departments/agencies, other telecommunications services providers, banks, hotels, automotive industry businesses, associations, dentists, optometrists and veterinary clinics throughout North America, Bermuda, Barbados and Brazil. She has also been coaching entry-level voice actors since 2007. As a certified Langevin Learning Instructor/Facilitator she combines technical and business theory with hands-on studio practice reads weekly, meditation, breathing exercises, and vocal development. From 2011 to 2020, Shelley offered in-studio group training with her Becoming a Voice Actor program. Since COVID, she now offers one-on-one coaching for 10, two-hour sessions over Zoom. For newcomers to voice over, she offers a free evaluation survey (link below) and free e-book, "Is the Voiceover Business Right for You?"
Free VO Evaluation Survey: www.vocaldynamo.com/survey
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