So, you’re new to this voice acting gig, isn’t that right? You’re quickly learning that it’s not just about standing in front of a microphone letting loose, spit flying like Gary Oldman. You’re getting tired, your throat hurts, the sound quality isn’t as good as you’d like, and you dislike your performance. Don’t worry! That just means you need voice acting practice!
When trying to produce voice material for any medium, sounding your best is a must. Be it for a video game, an ad campaign, promotional material, and explainer video — it’s all the same! The bare-minimum industry-standard in 2020 means crisp, clear, on-point voice performances are it; no ifs, buts or maybes.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an up-and-coming voice pro or if you want to improve for in-house productions. Voice acting practice is about getting the best out of your instrument, clearing up your pipes and maintaining them. Keeping up your stamina and vocal health through long recording sessions should be one of your main priorities.
That’s what this guide is here! Keep up these exercises, remember to hydrate, and you’ll enjoy a long and prosperous career. Even more, you’ll get to have the full use of your voice well into your golden years.
Make yourself a nice infusion and let’s move on!
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This post has been updated in August 2021.
The voice: your instrument
When you do voice over work, the operative word is still work; you breathe air through your vocal cords and they produce sound. If this is done repetitively and without a good technique, it can lead to strain.
In fact, even with good technique, actual pros measure their efforts and introduce rest periods. Think of the voice as a musical instrument that also suffers wear and tear and needs maintenance. The thing is, this instrument is inside of your body, and you don’t want to try and switch your vocal cords as if they were guitar strings. I think you need an actual license for that.
Storyarts shares the following definition about the voice as an instrument:
“The human speaking voice produces a wide variety of pitches, offers complex tonality, and has percussive capacity. By subtly shifting the pitch or rhythm of words in a sentence, a storyteller can dramatically change the communication and convey multilevel nuances.
(…)The same instrument, the vocal cords, produces the sound of both speaking and singing. These two tiny muscles allow us to whisper, speak, sing, and scream.”
Nifty, huh? And the more you know about this instrument, the better you can take care of it. Let’s break it down into different sections so you can introduce an effective voice acting practice.
Voice acting practice: the resonators
This is where we come into the phenomenon of vocal resonation. It may have a mystical-sounding name, but it’s actually quite easy to understand. You can think of as the bones and air passages in your body as resonance chambers. When air passed through them without obstruction, they produce a sound that’s better in tonal qualities; that’s pitch, intensity, timbre, etc. The body itself is producing a natural amplification.
It basically looks like this:
- The sound is produced by the passage of air through the vocal cords, which makes them vibrate.
- It then vibrates through the resonant, open ducts and chambers.
There are various places in the respiratory system where the voice can resonate.
- Nasal (mask resonance)
As the voice vibrates and is amplified by these placements, it creates different sound qualities and pitches. That’s why, especially when doing voice acting practice, you need to know the entire system. Not all voices sound the same, meaning that different needs beget different approaches.
You may not want to have a health and safety explainer video done with your best Phoebe voice.
That’ the second Friends reference in this article. If you don’t like that show, just imagine a nasal, high-pitched voice and you’ll see what I mean. When explaining or reading, it’s best to try a “chestier” voice; it tends to produce darker, richer tones. If you’ve got a deep, bass voice, make the best of it!
In any case, it’s as important to learn about the resonators. Your healthy vocal cords, the resonators and the correct administration of air are your moneymakers. If you learn how to “hit” them correctly through breathing, you’ll find speaking and producing sound becomes almost effortless.
Wonder how those voice over pros endure through those marathon, 10-hour recording sessions?
They’re using their resonators!
Learn about the use of correct vocal placement. You’ll find a wealth of information about this on YouTube singing channels. After all, singing is all about using your vocal instrument. The lessons learned will still carry over to your voice acting practice.
If you use your resonators, you can relax, breathe, and let your voice boom. That way, you don’t tire out as much and learn correct vocal habits.
Voice acting practice: breathing
Breathing is going to be another pillar of your practice. You can know all about the respiratory system, have a medical degree — the works! But if you’re breathing In short, shallow bursts, you’ll tear your voice to pieces.
Learning how to breathe from the diaphragm carries many benefits. You’ll be more relaxed, focused, happier, and will do better voice work. That’s a lot of carryover from “just” a pro tip!
If you’re breathing high, it’s very likely that you’re more anxious and tensed up. These things are not good in any case, but they’re veritable voice killers. You need to be loose and relaxed to allow the air to come out and hit the resonators. You also need to be able to keep this up for a while, so breath control becomes a must!
Here, to get an idea of how you need to feel, do a self-analysis after completing this meditation. If like me, you’re finding yourself mellower and breathing without effort, you’re on the right track! If not, try to find any exercise, or combination thereof, that eases your breathing.
Susan Berkley explains that as you breathe incorrectly, you’re constantly gasping for breath, essentially gassing yourself out. This has been informally diagnosed as “reverse breathing.” This is when voice over hopefuls suck their stomachs in instead of relaxing and letting it all hang out. If you catch yourself doing this, take this advice and learn to breathe from the diaphragm!
A suggestion: lie down, meditate, and take comfortable inhales. That natural, rhythmic in-out-in pattern is what you’re looking for.
Always, always breathe through your nose. Mouth breathing is forbidden in your voice acting practice! Not only does it encourage improper breathing, but it also dries out your vocal cords big time! In other words: a first-class ticket to Hurtsville.
Voice acting practice: mic usage
It goes without saying that you should try to maintain proper microphone etiquette with voice acting practice. You don’t want to be taking bad habits into a long recording session. If you do, trust me, you might find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to re-record material. Just a few tiny tips may save you some extra hours later.
In fact, read this guide if you haven’t bought a mic yet. It’ll help elucidate about the ins and outs of purchasing a mic.
Now, it’s go time!
There’s a very fine balance in the distance you can be from the microphone. Usually, 20-25 cm away is fine. The main difference you will see is the number of mouth clicks in recordings. Adjust the distance accordingly depending on how much of a natural sound the recording calls for.
Learn to avoid the popping sound! This happens when the strong blast of air from p sounds hits the mic’s diaphragm. The resulting shockwave is usually too much for mics to handle. That’s where you get the annoying “Pop!” sound in recordings.
You’ll find that if you turn your head slightly to the side, the air from the p will not hit the mic anymore. This is what’s known as “mouth access” in recording studios. If an audio technician is telling to watch your mouth access for plosives, they mean “turn your head, you’re popping”.
Practice sample scripts!
Find scripts that you can practice for a while. Better if you try to practice through a varied palette of script types. Try ads, documentaries, audiobooks, narrative videos, character voices; explore your whole range and you’ll be ready for a wider variety of projects!
If you’re recording for yourself, or for a company, then you’ve probably already got a script. Read through it, read it aloud. What does it call for? What are the necessary vocal qualities you need for this performance? As you read, these and more questions will pop up. Meanwhile, you’ll be subtly adjusting your performance until you have what you need, hopefully. If not, you may need to outsource, if you’re trying to handle a difficult in-house project. Thankfully, any site that has vetted pros should have your back. They should know these rules like the back of their hand.
Record your performances. It’ll serve as a guide so you can listen to yourself before the final recording. You don’t have to do huge scripts either. What you can do, though, is try to go for longer and longer parts so you can have an idea of what your endurance is. It’ll also let you know if you’re following proper mic etiquette.
Trying to know your limitations in a healthy way is part of voice acting practice. If you have information about how long it takes until you get tired, you can plan sessions ahead. You can divide recordings into segments that are comfortable for your current skill and stamina level.
Don’t force yourself and try to have fun, for Pete’s sake! Try variety, try to enjoy the many qualities of your voice!
Start your own voice acting career today with Bunny Studio!
You’ll find that voice acting practice is about achieving familiarity with your instrument. It’s about learning how not to tire yourself out, perform at your best, and know the ins-and-outs of your voice.
It usually takes a while to fully flesh out one’s potential. Remember to stay healthy and practice. If necessary, take vocal coaching, singing or acting lessons. Not everybody gets it right the first time, and it may help you if you’ve got a professional listener critiquing your weak points.
If you want additional information and are just starting out, check out our voice over training guide. If not, it’s just a matter of using this guide and the resources at your disposal to practice, practice, practice!