Tips for Vocal Health and Clear Delivery
Different artists have different tools to do their job, and for voice actors those tools are the muscles in the mouth and throat. Different factors can affect performance, from illness to even just what someone has had to eat or drink. So in this post we'll discuss some of the ways voice actors can take care of their voice, and some of the things they should avoid in order to ensure a clear and good-quality vocal delivery.
Obviously illnesses such as the cold or flu can negatively impact vocal performance. Those with experience in vocal training, especially with singing, may know of ways to “work around” the pain and/or the strain. But it still means that much of the performer's range has been limited, when it comes to voice acting. Maybe you can still sound like one character, but your ability to do another voice in a different range or with a different degree of warmth is hindered by vocal cracking and raspiness. The best practice is to let your clients and agents know that you are just temporarily unavailable, and focus your energies on resting and healing. If you try to do too much while sick, you could damage your throat even more, making it take longer for you to recover your full range.
Even when you aren't sick, injuring yourself through overworking or straining your voice is a very real possibility, so be sure to pace yourself and take breaks when needed. If you're at a studio working with a director, let them know when you start to feel the telltale signs of strain, and ask for a break—either for a brief one there before continuing, or for the rest of the day. They should understand, and they don't want you to be injured any more than you do. If recording at home, be sure to make yourself take breaks, and don't push yourself. If you're swamped with work it might mean contacting people to let them know that certain jobs may take a little extra time, but that's preferable to hurting yourself and putting your voice out of commission. Plus, clients would rather you deliver a good quality recording, instead of one that's compromised by you straining and hurting yourself. Making sure to pace yourself and take breaks is especially important if you're doing a voice or multiple voices that are already taxing/straining. Like if you're doing a character for a game that gets rather high-pitched or has a lot of intentional vocal cracking, or if you're doing an audiobook and constantly switching between different voices quickly.
Other factors that can injure your throat are temperature and humidity. When it's cold, try to keep a scarf over your mouth and nose to prevent breathing in the cold, dry air, as that can irritate your throat. Regardless of time of year, if you find yourself waking up with a sore throat in the morning, consider getting a humidifier for your room to run while you're sleeping. If you repeatedly expose yourself to conditions that dry out your throat and cause irritation, you could damage the tissue. This could not only negatively impact your performance, but also cause you real harm if you try to push yourself and work regardless of the irritation.
Before you even start your recordings for the day, also be sure to go through a series of vocal warm-ups. Again, this may be something those with backgrounds in chorus or musical theatre may already be familiar with, and so is just habit for them. But if you haven't had any such training, look into different types of vocal exercises and warm-ups you can do. Find what routine works best for you, be it singing the scales, making lots of weird noises that go from quiet to loud, or any number of other things. Doing this before starting your day of recordings helps to prevent injury, and it also improves the quality of your voice in recordings. There are also warm-ups to help with enunciation, so you're less likely to stumble over words and thus need fewer retakes.
But even if you're healthy and did proper warm-ups, your performance can still be negatively affected by what you eat or drink. Chocolate bars, granola, coffee (especially with cream and sugar), ice cream, and many other things can reduce the quality of your vocal delivery. Some may produce more mouth clicks when you talk, some will cause tensing in certain muscles that can lead to strain, and some might just coat your throat in a way that makes it difficult to deliver a clear voice. Because of this, it's a good idea to make sure you've thoroughly brushed your teeth after eating and before performing, and only drink things like water or certain non-caffeinated hot tea while in the process of recording. Some tea, depending on the blend or contents, may also coat your throat or bring about those annoying clicking sounds. “Mouth feel” is kind of a weird phrase, but it's really what you need to pay attention to when determining what to drink while recording. Not even all water is the same, and some voice actors prefer filtered water or specific brands of spring water for when they record. But definitely keep a beverage handy while recording, as that—in conjunction with proper pacing and rest—can help prevent you from damaging your vocal cords while performing. It also helps keep away some of the mouth clicks (which can occur because your mouth gets too sticky, and needs to be hydrated), and ensures your delivery is clear and strong.
Maintaining your instrument if you're a musician is crucial, and the same goes for voice actors and their instrument—their voice. But even if you aren't a voice actor, and maybe just need to deliver a speech or head up an important work meeting, some of these same tips can be applied. Do some warm-ups, pace yourself, and keep a glass of water handy.