Is the Voice Actor’s blessing, also their curse?

Is the Voice Actor’s blessing, also their curse? Here’s the thing. We love the fact that we can go into our home studio in our jammies with our coffee and get to work, it’s definitely a perk of the job. But just because we can … should we?

  • Does it ever take you multiple takes to just be able to get your mouth around the words?
  • Do you ever listen back to your character auditions and they sound way flatter than they did when you recorded them?
  • Do you ever feel hoarse or vocally tired after a narration or game job?

Yep, I’ve been there too. 

The thing is, even though Voice Acting seems like we can just rely on our voices, it’s actually a full body event … and well, acting! We really need to warm up properly, engage with breath and movement and get our articulators ready to roll. This is especially important when working on characters, because we are trying to build whole, rich and complex personalities … from an isolated soundproof cell, using only the voice! And, because almost all animation and video games are animated to the voice, meaning the voice comes first, our primary job is to fully inhabit the character and give the animators something to work with.

The fullness of a character needs to be imbued in the body,  before ‘the voice’ gets behind the mic.

My quick and dirty guide to getting physical for the vocal athlete:

  1. Make sure your body is warmed up and stretched out. 

This could be yoga, fast walking, dancing whatever you enjoy, just make sure it’s a little bit cardio and a little bit stretchy. Obviously for our purposes it’s more important to be stretching the chest, back, sides, neck, jaw and shoulders, than the hamstrings, but if you have time to do it all, go for it! 

  1. Make a hydration station. 

Most of us don’t drink enough water, but I’ve found that a large glass jug of room temp water on the counter catches my eye and encourages me to fill my glass and drink it. 

  1. Breathing

Yes, obviously we all know how to do it, but so many of us have weird and funky habits around it, like shallow breathing or breath holding. I like to imagine that I have a big wide tube from my mouth directly connecting to my belly. When I breath in through my mouth it fills my belly like a balloon and when I exhale my belly deflates and moves in towards the spine. Then, when I’m empty and I let my belly relax it automatically sucks air in like a vacuum or bellows. Remember, this is imagery not anatomy 🙂 Try breathing in to your belly for the count of 10, holding for the count of 10 and then exhaling for the count of 10. Make sure you keep your shoulders relaxed throughout.

  1. Warming up the voice

Do some cat meows or siren sounds,  stretching your face and finding areas of  resonance, then try lip bubbles, and pitch glides using a short narrow straw if you have one. Wake up your articulators with tongue twisters like “The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the lips the teeth.” or “toy boat, toy boat, toy boat” Too easy?  Try “11 benevolent elephants”

Here’s a link to my 5 minute warm up video if you’d like something to work along with.

  1. Moving into character

If you have a character in mind for a game or animation audition, play some music that is evocative of the game and then begin to move your body around the room as they would, how are they holding their weight? Where are they breathing from? Singing is a great way to tap into the soul … and a character. 

  1. Vocal textures.

Which I’ve always liked to think of as adding more paints to your paintbox. While you’re experimenting with a character, try altering pitch, volume, breathiness, nasality, disruption (that crackly fry sound). See what feels good and authentic to the character. If you’re working with an audition … What’s the artwork like? Are they heavy, slight, jowly? Do they have tusks or a big nose? All of these things are going to change how they sound. Remember that breathiness can be very tiring on the voice if overused …  AND never do anything that feels like it’s pinching, burning or straining. 

  1. Recovering by cooling down

Whether you were recording a character or long form narration, the same lip bubbles we did for the warm ups can also be used to cool down. Use a drink stirrer straw if you have one or better still these metal reusable kits are my favorite. Here’s a 10%off coupon (don’t worry if you don’t see the discount immediately, it applies once you go to check out).

With the straw, lip bubbles or a quiet siren sound, sing descending pitch glides to reset the voice to the pitch of your natural speaking voice. It’s a great way to cool down after an intensive game session or long narration session … you should actually  do it in the middle as well or whenever you feel the need. 

So there we have it, you could keep your jammies on and go straight in the booth and rock?  But my money is on your auditions being SO much more connected and engaging when you’ve connected with your whole body first. 

Have fun and have courage!