Once upon a time I was a bass player and singer in a rock and roll band (cue the Moody Blues). It was the 1980’s and we were a 3-piece with visions of being the next Grand Funk Railroad.
I got a call one afternoon from a notorious biker bar here in the southwest. The band that was supposed to play that night bailed at the last minute and could we fill in? The bar owner promised us our normal rate plus “all the booze you guys can handle.”
Being the young and terminally broke boys we were, we jumped at the opportunity, believing that if we pulled the owners butt out of the fire this one time, we’d be his first choice for the prime weekend gigs.
The only problem was that it was 3:00 in the afternoon and I had to round up my other two bandmates and pack up all of the equipment that was in our storage (read: rehearsal) room. We also had to be at the bar, set up and off the stage by 7pm. The show would start at 9:00.
Somehow we pulled this off. The show went great. But after four solid hours off playing driving rock music, breathing in copious amounts of cigarette smoke, and drinking half our body weights in alcohol we finally arrived at the final song of the night. Our roaring tribute to Grand Funk: American Band (a song that features my high-pitched screams ala Mark Farner).
The song went well for the first two verses, until we got to the part where I scream, “Hey, hey hey!” just before the guitar solo. All I heard was, “Hey, hulp, huhhh.”
My voice was gone. And not just for the night. I couldn’t speak above a rasp for almost two weeks afterwards and couldn’t sing well for almost two months.
Oh yeah, and the bar owner stiffed us.
So what’s this story got to do with podcasting? Well, everything.
Your voice is your instrument. Treat it well and it will last you a lifetime. Misuse it and you’re out of work. We lost over two months worth of gigs because I had blown my voice.
Now, I’m assuming that you’re not screaming at the top of your lungs for half the day, but stress on the vocal cords doesn’t always happen during extreme circumstances. Stress is accumulative. Every time you strain your voice, be it talking too long, talking with your throat too dry, or abuse it with nicotine and alcohol, you’re risking permanent damage.
Here are 10 tips and tricks you can use to protect your voice and get an all-around better sound with it.
Warm Up Your Voice
I’ve had people argue with me that they weren’t singing, they were just talking. I beg to differ. Not only do warm ups help the singing voice but they also make speaking easier.
You can find vocal warm up exercises on YouTube. If you’d like an excellent workout dvd, I highly recommend Melissa Cross’ The Zen of Screaming (an Amazon Affiliate link). Just 15 minutes every morning will last you throughout the entire day.
You’d think this was a no-brainer but for some reason some people get behind a microphone and their voice completely changes. Whether it’s nerves or an attempt to “sound more professional” they’re putting an unnecessary strain on their vocal chords. Unless you’re trained as a voice actor, just stick to your normal speaking voice.
Use Your Middle Voice
Want that rich, resonant sound in your voice? Try speaking from your diaphragm. Here’s a little exercise. Sit upright in your chair. Place your hand above your stomach and just under your rib cage. Now say the word, “Huh,” three times. Do you feel that tightening under your hand? That’s your diaphragm.
Most people speak from what is called, their “head voice.” This results in a more nasally sound to your voice. Using your diaphragm leads you into what’s called your “Middle Voice,” which is a much more pleasant sound. Again, YouTube is a treasure trove. Just search for the term, “Middle Voice.”
Stay Away From Drying Irritants
Certain foods and chemicals will dry out your vocal cords. On the days you’re recording, try to stay away from:
- Vitamin C (especially in large doses)
Stay Away From the Gloppy Irritants
You know that phlegmy feeling you get in your mouth when you’re trying to talk? This leads to those annoying mouth clicks or lip smacks that can ruin an otherwise stellar performance. On your recording days try to avoid:
Here’s an old voice over trick: keep thin slices of green apples in a baggy close to you when working. The tartness of the apple keeps your saliva glands working and the pectin acts as a lubricant in your mouth to help reduces mouth noises.
Room Temperature Water
It’s always a good idea to have a bottle or glass of water close by. But keep it at room temperature. Cold water constricts the vocal cords.
Try to avoid carbonated beverages while working. Not only is belching an unpleasant occurrence during recording but I remember hearing a story of a podcaster that was having real trouble with a crackling sound coming through his mic. After spending almost 30 minutes checking his connections and software, he realized the crackling was coming from the bubbles in the soda can that was too close to his mic.
Practice Your Mic Technique
Get a feel for how you speak. When is your voice getting naturally louder – or quieter? How are you handling your plosives? How loud do you laugh?
On a good dynamic mic I like to speak about two to three fingers away. Depending on the mic you could slightly turn your head at an angle to the mic to handle the plosives. Are you going to burst into laughter or really raise your voice? Back your head off or raise your chin so your mouth is off-axis with the mic.
Have you ever seen a singer on TV instinctively pull the mic away from their face when they’re hitting a high or loud note? That’s the same effect you’re going for only you’re using a stationary mic.
Discussing compression could fall under a whole host of blog posts. It’s probably the most misunderstood effect out there. Suffice it to say, when used properly it brings up the quiet portions and puts a ceiling on the louder portions of your sound, thus giving you an overall more level recording.
This may be last entry, but probably the most important. The body heals during sleep. If you want the number one thing you can do to reduce the amount of damage you do to your voice, then sleep. Do you remember what your voice sounds like in the morning after you haven’t had a full night’s sleep? I rest my case.
What other techniques do you use to pamper your voice? Why don’t you share them in the comments section.