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The Perfect Vocal Winter Warmup:
Steam, Hot Tea And A Cold Read

December 29, 2014

By Rob Marley
Voice Actor

Mother Nature has wrapped her icy fingers around the majority of the country, so it's important to think about good ways to warm up the vocal cords before recording.

There are as many ways to warm up the voice as there are voice artists. From tongue twisters, to singing scales, to doing that motorboat sound with your lips while humming,

Each pro seems to have their own tricks and rituals. And I've stumbled across a technique that really works well for me and serves multiple purposes at the same time.

I picked up a Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler. It's basically a heating element and a funky plastic cone that directs the steam up and out. You pour a few ounces of water in the base, turn it on and in about a minute it's steaming.

You could also do this with a tea kettle.


I usually begin my day with a mug of hot tea. I've become a connoisseur of the stuff. One of my kitchen cabinets is filled with all kinds of tea: loose leaf, bagged, Oolong, Lapsang Suchong, Darjeeling, Orange Pekoe, and a bunch of fruity blends that friends have given me as gifts over the years. 

The warm tea is great on the throat, and the steam helps open the sinuses and clear out congestion.

Sometimes I will stand over the boiling tea kettle with a towel over my head, just breathing in the steam while doing vocalizations - which, of course, is hilarious to my girlfriend. 


As most VO's know, one of the cheapest and easiest ways to practice voice over is to read out loud every day. This really helps to improve your cold-reading skills.

So my trick, now that I have the steam inhaler, is to read out loud while breathing in the steam for about 15 minutes. I have a variety of books on my tablet PC. So while my face is over the steam, I turn on the e-reader and read out loud.

Currently I'm reading Harlan Hogan's VO: Tales and Techniques of a Voice Over Actor - Harlan is a great guy and has been doing voice over longer than I've been alive, so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the business. His book is in the second edition (or "Take 2" as Harlan would say) and should be considered a mandatory read if you're just starting out in the VO business.

So I stand over the steamer, reading out loud from the book. This serves several purposes: 
  • The steam helps open the sinuses and loosens any congestion.
  • Reading out loud helps warm up the vocal cords.
  • Reading out loud improves your cold-reading skills.
  • I'm reading a book that will help me to be a better voice artist. 

Steam therapy is a great way to help alleviate congestion from allergies and colds, too.

Personally, when I'm sick, Hot Toddies are my go-to drink. The steam loosens the gunk in my chest, the honey soothes the throat and the whiskey ... well, the whiskey lets me not care so much that I'm sick.

But for non-sick days when there's going to be a lot of time spent in the studio, the "hot steam - cold read" technique is perfect.
A Los Angeles native, Rob Marley is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin TX.


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Comments (5)
David Marcus Gibson
1/9/2015 at 4:24 PM
Great article and tip, Rob. I wouldn't have thought of that. I do, however, remember why I moved to the Sunshine State. I still love my coffee in the morning, though. hee,heh,heh
Debbie Grattan
12/31/2014 at 4:37 PM
Gotta love your multi-tasking approach to prepping for the day. Awesome!
Yvonne Schwemmer
12/31/2014 at 1:55 AM
Thanks for sharing these tips, Rob. My favorite morning tea is Traditional Medicinal's "Throat Coat". Great for loosening things up. Happy New Year!
John Florian
12/29/2014 at 9:35 AM
Rob, I got slammed with a head cold the other day and so when I read your article, I bought the personal steamer you mentioned. My very first breath over the steamer opened up the nasal passage and now I credit myself for being wise enough to follow your advice. Thanks!
Taylor Stonely
12/29/2014 at 9:12 AM
Great article, Rob. These techniques really work, and while I'm not a tea drinker, you can always make a very simple hot drink by cutting off the yellow rind of a lemon and steeping it in hot water. You might want to add a bit of sugar or honey for taste.
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