By Rich Van Slyke
“You’ve got a good voice, you ever thought about getting into radio?” That’s how it starts, and the next thing you know, you’re talking 8 hours a day nonstop. When you make a living with your voice, you try to learn as much as you can about your instrument. I’ve worked with vocal coaches, I’ve read tons of articles, watched a million videos, and absorbed as much as I can about the human voice. Here’s what I’ve learned that will help you.
1. We prefer the sound of your voice when you talk like you normally do every day.
Few of us really love the sound of our own voice and when we hear others who impress us, we want to sound like they do. The most natural thing to do as an announcer is to try to make your voice sound awesome! But there’s a difference between sounding awesome and trying to be awesome sounding. Especially when you try too hard. The truth is, we prefer the sound of you just plain talking and not pushing to try to sound different from you do every day. You already know you have an awesome voice. So stop trying to be deeper, or meaner, or more raspy or whatever. I am guilty of this every day and I have notes all over my desk to remind me not to do it. One of the great programmers I work for, James Howard, says it best: “You already sound awesome, you don’t need to do more, you can’t be more awesome than awesome.”
2. You won’t lose your voice if you don’t strain.
Want your voice to be good and strong the whole day? Hate it when you start to lose your voice late in the day? Just stop straining. That’s all. Easy right? Not if it feels good to strain. Not if you like the sound of your strained voice. How do you know when you are straining? Any time you feel tension in your throat, you’re straining. We strain by trying to be loud, or deep, or sexy, or cool. Yelling and singing above your range will strain your voice too. To avoid it, put your fingers right on your neck and feel the muscles in your throat. Do you feel muscles that are tight and tense when you talk? To avoid it, learn to recognize when you’re straining. And then try talking without straining.
You’ll find that it’s easy to do and you sound better. Without straining, I can do voiceovers all day, and then sing for 3 hours at night and not lose my voice. But only if I don’t strain. Otherwise, it’s gone.
3. When you speak with emotion, people will really like it!
If your voice is on the air, it’s your job to speak with emotion. Because people love to hear emotion in your voice. Why? Because the feeling inside as you say something gives them permission to feel that feeling in you. It’s not the words, but the emotion, that they remember. Which emotion should you choose? Doesn’t matter. As long as you choose an appropriate one. Because if you don’t choose one, you are unemotional and boring. It’s your job to identify the emotion. When in doubt, go with “confidence” That is, the feeling that says, “I know exactly what I doing and I’m doing it exactly right!” Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made!
4. Listen back and know what to look for.
Do you know what you sound like when you sound natural? Sometimes we voice something and it feels great as we do it. Then later we find out it was too hyped up. Or too soft. Or that we were d-r- a-w-i-n-g out the words. To sound good, you have to know what your good sound is. When you voice something that gets a positive reaction, save it and refer back to it. Get some vocal coaching to identify problems and things to avoid. Identify your best sound. To make sure you are nailing it, listen back to what you’ve recorded. Do you know what you sound like when you are straining? Or when you are emotional? Can you recognize it? You have to listen back to get better.
5. It’s not the golf clubs, it’s the golfer.
Thinking about spending lots of money? Fascinated by expensive equipment? Think the best way to improve is to buy a new mic and new processor? It’s called gear lust. And we all have it. But the truth is, once you have a $3,000 mic chain it doesn’t get much better. So all you really need is a $1,000 mic, a $2,000 mic pre amp plus a computer and a quiet room. You can spend another $10,000 and the sound doesn’t really get much better. It would be much smarter to spend the extra money on a voice coach. That’s what REALLY helps you improve. It’s not your mic, it’s your vocal technique.
6. A 10 minute warm up is totally worth it.
If you want your voice to sound really good, do a simple warm up. If you warm up, you’ll start the day thinking, “I sound really good.” Just staring reading without recording to get your face and neck muscles moving. The goal is to get more blood flowing to your voice box. And to actually raise the temperature of the muscles in your throat. That’s why it’s called warming up. You can find many vocal warm ups on YouTube. Find one that make you comfortable and do it for 10 minutes. You’ll have much better command of your voice. There’s nothing better than starting at full speed, with lots of confidence.
7. Your thoughts can creep into your voice.
As you are recording your voice, you may be thinking about something not related to what you’re saying that will affect the sound of your voice. The most obvious example is someone voicing a commercial when there is too much copy. The result is that strained, “I don’t like having to rush to fit all the copy in the time allotted” sound. You can read just as fast, but not have the angry/frustrated sound if you are aware of it. Another thing to be aware of is your feeling toward the subject. Do you hate motorcycles and have to voice a commercial for a motorcycle dealer? Be aware that your feelings may creep into the read. Listen back and ask yourself, “do I hear the sound of someone who loves motorcycles?”
8. You should add your own flavor as an extra benefit. How? Go with the emotion.
Have you ever been asked to voice something and do some ad libs? Do people often say, I love your ad libs and the little extra things you throw in? The best way to do ad libs is to go with the emotion of what you talking about. Ask yourself, “what is the feeling here?” Then, keep repeating that feeling and try to make yourself feel it.
9. Learning more vocal skills will give you lots of motivation and energy.
Stuck in a rut? Feel like you’re doing the same thing every day? Get some vocal coaching. If you Google “voice coach,” you will find many. Reach out to several and you will find somebody that fits your style and your budget. A vocal coach will tell you things others won’t. Things you doing that are preventing you from sounding your best. You will be amazed at how much better you sound once you r identify the things to improve. And the best part is the excitement and motivation your get from learning something new. Especially when you know you are getting better. There are many things I learned to correct, that I had no idea I was doing wrong.
10. Two avoid focusing on the sound, focus on the copy and the emotion in your performance.
We all want to make out voice sound impressive. But, the best sound is the sound of you speaking naturally, without trying to sound impressive. So how do you take the focus away from the sound of your voice so you can sound natural? By focusing on the emotion in the copy. And the message in the copy. Record something and listen back. Is that the sound of somebody trying to make their voice impressive? Or is that the natural sound of someone genuinely interested in the subject. Next time to talk to a good friend on the phone, record it. After a few minutes, you’ll forget about the recording and you’ll speak in your natural voice. Remember this sound, and when you voice something for work, ask yourself, “is that my real voice?” If not, go back and record it again, only this time focus on the feeling. I know what you’re thinking – “my real voice is not that impressive.” That may be true, but please remember, given the choice between the two, we prefer the sound of your real voice.