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6 ways to improve your VO performance, away from the mic

Edge Studio

If you keep busy at your mic and computer, you may have no reason to leave your studio, other than to go to the kitchen and to sleep for the night. But unless you get out and about from time to time, you could be losing more than muscle tone. That lack of variety could leave you short-sighted, figuratively, and maybe even literally.

Here are six ways you can improve yourself as a voice artist and strengthen your business, while you’re away from your mic.

We’ve all seen articles by “efficiency experts” who say to, oh, buy stamps online instead of at the post office. Heck, these days you could do the same with groceries and half the other stuff you need.

But go there anyway. You can get more than stamps at the post office.

1. Get acting inspiration. In just about any stable crowd, you can find acting inspiration — because you see and meet other people of every sort.

So if there’s a long line of customers when you get to the post office or supermarket or wherever, don’t view it as a negative. Use it as an opportunity. Look at each person around you, and imagine what they’re thinking. Come up with a word to describe whatever emotion each person seems to be feeling at that time. In fact, do this with everyone you come across. This mental exercise (or let’s call it a game) has been proven to be an effective technique in enhancing your ability to empathize (to know what other people are feeling). Empathy is part of a voice actor’s stock-in-trade. Imagining and understanding the thoughts of your audience is helpful, especially considering that your audiences are people you can’t even hear or see.

2. Get ideas for voice characters. Leave your earbuds at home. Listen to the voices of the people around you. Now and then you’ll hear a voice or notice a mannerism you’ve never encountered before. Maybe someday you can use it.

And don’t just listen for odd voices. Listen for the way people phrase things, intonation, etc. “Character” is in the way they talk, not just how they sound.

3. Also get away from people. Studies have shown that a walk in the woods is better for you than walking down the sidewalk (even discounting the effect of heavy traffic). It’s not just that uneven ground provides more exercise. “Forest therapy” is said to change the brain, reducing risk of anxiety, depression and stress-related issues. Is it the solitude? The sounds? The aroma? Simply the contrast? We suppose it’s all of these and more.

Is that an acting tip, or is it a health tip? Both. Because your physical and emotional health are important to the health of your business. And being more relaxed can help you sound more relaxed. (For another thought regarding physical health, see below.)

4. Listen to Nature. As noted in our article, “Listen, just listen, to all the people all around you”, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton says that listening to nature can help you be a better listener to people.

But if there’s no forest near you, a walk in the park — or even down that sidewalk and around the block — must be better than sitting at your computer all day.

5. Use a noisy spot to exercise your voice in peace. Consider finding a personal place that is NOT necessarily quiet, but is away from other people. For example, the middle of a large bridge’s walkway, or next to a busy expressway.

What can you do there that you can’t always do at home?

Shout your lungs out! (Important clarification: We don’t mean literally shout, and certainly don’t strain your voice, or for that matter your lungs.) If you have been taught vocal exercises (by a voice teacher, singing coach or acting coach), this can be a great place to perform them, to improve your vocal stamina, tonal range and control. You won’t be tempted to artificially hold back, yet you won’t annoy anyone around you.

Heck, if saxophonist Sonny Rollins could practice on New York City’s Williamsburg Bridge, why not you?

And wherever your private spot, it’s another destination — for when you don’t happen to need groceries or stamps.

6. Promote your physical health. As we’ve mentioned, you can get some exercise along the way. You also get sun. In fact, you might even get better eyesight. Researchers are looking into data that suggests kids who get outdoors more often are less likely to become nearsighted. Some suspect it’s the benefit of sunlight, some see value in varying your “focal plane” (not focusing on a close-up computer all day.) That subject is outside our expertise, but we do wonder, can it be good never to focus farther than the other side of a room?

So include time in your schedule to get out and about. Just remember to budget your time and head home again, and if the day isn’t done … get back to work.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please send to [email protected].