Voice-over work (and all else) got you uptight? Relax!
Feb 23 2017
Almost everyone’s voice sounds more relaxed in the morning. In fact, a well-known voice artist once confided to us that – even though he is prolific throughout the day – he sometimes reserves the top of the day for jobs where he needs to sound especially deep. Another voice actor has told us that, early on (when his VO career was only a hope), he figured he’d make an appointment at one of those massage franchises for a neck rub before each job. Fortunately, as soon as he got some training he dissuaded himself of that approach. There are more practical ways to shed the tension that comes with a day’s physical and emotional trials.
Which of these might work for you? And why is this important?
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Let’s answer the second question first. Relaxing your voice gives you many advantages. One major advantage is that it’s more appealing. When you are tense, your listener hears and feels it. But, like sincerity, vocal ease is not so easily faked. To sound comfortable, you should actually be comfortable.
A relaxed voice also gives you greater tonal range, has more endurance, enables you to follow direction more accurately, helps you enunciate better, adds to your confidence, and simply makes VO work (even) more fun.
So, how to achieve that state?
Get proper sleep. Working at home, it’s all too tempting to work late into the night. Or even get up in the middle of the night and putter at the computer or mic. If you must do that once in a while, okay, but don’t make it a habit. If you don’t get back to sleep, you’ve shortchanged yourself in many ways. Not having that “early morning” voice is just one of them. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation hinders overall performance, risks good health, and may even shorten one’s life. From a more immediate standpoint, it also makes it difficult to maintain your schedule through the day. And keeping to a regular schedule is one of the secrets to accomplishing all the various chores that are essential to running your business.
On the other hand, it’s generally accepted that adults benefit from a short afternoon nap just as children do. (Did you know that napping helps kindergartners retain their lessons better?) But if you feel the need for a brief siesta and are lucky enough to be able to take it, set your alarm for 20 minutes. That should be enough to “restart” your voice box – and your mind. A longer sleep is no more refreshing, and in fact can disrupt your sleep schedule as well as your business schedule. Even more concerning, a recent study has found that daytime napping for more than an hour may raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 45 per cent. (If we recall correctly, the research didn’t establish cause or effect, just a correlation.)
Mindful meditation. 8% of Americans practice some sort of meditation. Maybe you should be one of them. There are various types of meditation and related practices, some of which don’t even require you to stop other activities.
As WebMD.com describes, “Mindful meditation is all about being present – no matter what the activity.” The thing is to approach the activity with awareness, and a positive attitude. Observe what you are experiencing. For example, doing dishes? Note the water’s wetness, its temperature. How your body feels at that moment. Thoughts that come into your head. Don’t judge these things to be good or bad, just ponder them a bit, then resume or continue your activity.
One side benefit of this approach is that it does require you to take a break from you work activities. We doubt it will suffice to experience the feel and clack of the keyboard as you are typing an email pitch. But simply distracting your mind can be a start.
For more intensive approaches, consider basic (beginning level) yoga. Or simply sitting and rejecting all extraneous thoughts from your mind. For example, close your eyes and envision a dot or line, keeping that mental vision and ignoring all thoughts that attempt to intrude on it. The WebMD.com link above has further reading on the subject.
The results can be dramatic, if only because the meditative process distracts you from wasteful or harmful activities. (Do you really need to finish the movie you started at lunchtime?) When the schools of Baltimore, Maryland, added mindfulness and meditation activities to the students’ day, the incidence and level of emotional and behavior problems went down. Students felt better about themselves, and about their school … even practicing yoga together on their own.
Sense memory. The term “sense memory” is usually thought of in an acting context. But it also works in our personal life. In the morning hours before the workday, or whenever you are very relaxed, observe how you feel. Remember that feeling. When you’ve become tense, that recollection will help you get the feeling back.
The usual warm-up exercises. Just as an athlete does, it’s always good practice to warm up your voice and your body. Begin each day or session with whatever you can arrange to do where you are. Lying down on your back, letting go and breathing deeply is a great ingredient, but might not be practical when you’re not at home. On the other hand, limbering your tongue by extending it as far as possible might be seen as gross in general public, but in a voice-over setting, it’s respectable behavior. To help put warm-ups in perspective see Improve your Daily Practice Right Now, by Edge Studio coach Danielle Quisenberry, who, incidentally often begins her group classes with a brief warm-up session. “Grip-Top Sock,” anyone?
Take voice lessons. For many people, voice lessons can be considered optional. By the way, if you’re new to the voice-over field, please note: Voice lessons and voice-over lessons are not the same thing. The former trains you to make more and better sounds and maintain vocal strength and health. The latter trains you in how to apply that capability (and when not to), as well as how to interpret copy, act, use recording equipment, work with others, and all else that’s important to know in our industry.
Some voice artists will benefit from voice lessons more than others. Some have already acquired voice training, or have come by it naturally. In any case, one of the things voice training will teach you is how to strengthen all the mechanisms that make or influence your voice (such as breathing). A stronger voice and better knowledge enable you to produce your sounds more easily, thus with less stress and greater endurance.
Recognize the situation. Virtually everyone can benefit from knowing how to relax their voice and body. Proper training will extend your range of pitch, and make you sound smoother or more robust. But if you don’t happen to be a basso profondo or lyric soprano already, your basic sound may just be your lot in life. Whatever your limitations, a secret in building a voice-over career is being able to work within that range. And there is a lot you can do even if your voice is naturally tense. Consider Gilbert Gottfried’s character, who has been very successful at sounding tense. But recognize also that Gilbert Gottfried the actor surely has a lot larger range than that.
As you bring all these tips together, you’ll see a lot of overlap. For example, deep,
diaphragmatic breathing is relaxing in itself, and also reaches into warm-up and meditation territory. Find the entrance point that works for you, step right in, and explore.
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