Before you jump into recording your voice, looking for work, and calling agents for representation, you want to ensure that you’re prepared for the rigors of voice acting. Making sure your voice is ready and trained is important because you need to be conditioned for whatever may come your way. Think of this from an athlete’s perspective: Athletes know that they need to stretch and loosen up before exerting themselves to prepare for the best possible performance. Training is part of the game. Voice acting is no different. If you don’t train, your voice won’t be able to do what you want it to, and will therefore lack the elasticity it needs. You could even risk vocal injury!
On-going training is important for all voice actors, whether you’re a beginner and wondering if you can find a niche in this market or if you’re a veteran and wanting to fine-tune certain skills. Training allows for comfortable use of the voice, facilitates continued growth, and provides important stamina that you’ll need when working as a recording artist.
To train your voice:
Warm Up: Before using your instrument in all kinds of wonderful and wacky ways, your voice needs some special attention. Warming up your voice is crucial to giving a performance that sounds good and feels pleasant. A coach can show you a variety of vocal warm-ups that can engage your resonators (nasal passages, also known as the mask of the face) and articulators (tongue, teeth, and lips). Some different vocal warm-ups you may do include a soft, low hum spanning only a few notes at a time can kick in your resonators, and saying tongue twisters can release tension in your tongue. The tongue is the most powerful muscle in the human body, and it needs to be relaxed in order for you to articulate smoothly and without tripping on your words. Tongue twisters are a favorite of voice actors. You can find numerous tongue twisters online or recite nursery rhymes.
Breathe Properly: A good, deep breath can set you up to complete a phrase and allow you to be heard. In addition to breathing well, your breath needs to be supported, and you use your diaphragm to support your breath. You can do breathing exercises that are as simple as breathing in for a few seconds, holding the breath for a few seconds, and then releasing the breath on a hiss, counting out the beats while snapping your fingers. Think of yourself like a full balloon. The hissing should feel slightly like you’re deflating. Time yourself as the breath is released until no more breath is being expelled. After a while, you should be able to take a nice deep breath and let it out for a longer duration. As you master breathing techniques, you can deliver your lines more comfortably for longer durations with greater tonal consistency.
Practice Proper Posture: You do most of your work as a voice actor from a standing position in proximity to a microphone, so you need to know how to stand in order to get the best possible performance from your voice. When voice acting or singing, you’re using your entire body to perform. You need to stand in a comfortable manner that properly aligns your vertebrae, with your feet shoulder width apart. If you’re in a sitting position, you may assume the posture of a chorister in rehearsal by sitting on the edge of your seat creating a 90 degree angle, feet touching the floor. A comfortable standing optimal position for voice acting means that you don’t slouch, hold tension anywhere, or need to compensate in any way.
Master Additional skills: These are some more technical voice skills you should develop and perfect:
- Intonation: Intonation is how your voice sounds in terms of how it rises and falls as you speak. You can think of intonation as how your voice cadences at the end of a sentence, when you ask a question, and so on. As an example, most people’s voices go up in pitch when they ask a question. Intonation can vary between cultures and may affect how the listener receives what the speaker is saying.
- Phrasing: Having good phrasing means you’re able to get through sentences in a script with ease, making the most of your breath, support, and tone in order to technically and artistically communicate the text well. A phrase can consist of an idea or fragment of a sentence or it can be an entire thought. Punctuation is important to consider as a guide to help you determine how you observe phrasing on a per phrase basis.
- Fluctuation: Fluctuation is how your voice can go up and down at will. This differs from intonation because fluctuation refers to the mastery of a vocal range and intonation refers to speaking in a certain manner, such as having your voice go up in pitch when asking a question. For example, fluctuating your voice means that you’re able to bring your voice up or down in pitch, kind of like singing up and down a scale. If you have a wide vocal range, you can hit a wide range of tones. If your vocal range is limited to less than an octave (think of a musical scale representing one octave), you can practice to maximize your range and make it work for you. Fluctuating your voice adds interest and flair to a read. Think of how the use of pitch, meaning the relative position of a tone within a range of other tones, can affect how others pay attention to or perceive a message. The last thing you want is for your voice to sound flat or monotone — you would lose much of your audience! Adding colour to your reads by fluctuating your voice can greatly improve your performance.
- Elasticity: Elasticity is in direct correlation with how well you have prepared your voice to perform and determines the ease in which your voice fluctuates or leaps around. That’s why warming up your voice is so important like we discussed earlier in this section. Warming up the full extent of your range provides you with confidence and the ability to experiment, play with, and shape your voice. This is a very important aspect of voicing for people who do character voice work. Keeping your voice well hydrated by drinking plenty of water helps significantly in this area. Always have a bottle of water handy wherever you go and be sure that you’re well hydrated before attending a recording session or using your voice.
- Versatility: How far can your voice take you? Versatility refers to the different ways you can use your voice and your ability to change how it sounds. For our purposes, versatility takes into account your vocal range, timber (relates to the tone colour or tone quality of your voice), tone, enunciation, and other vocal qualities. A voice actor who can read for a variety of applications or characters may be considered versatile. Some people, for example, are good at home recording commercials and can also do animation voice acting. Although these fields may seem polar opposites, a versatile voice actor can work in very different fields of voice acting and be very successful.
When you’ve decided to take your passion for voice acting to the next level in preparation for actual projects, training is one of the most important steps you’ll take on your journey to become a real voice actor. Reading everything you can get your hands on, attending workshops, and studying with a voice-over coach are all ways that you can train your voice.
About The Authors
Stephanie Ciccarelli and David Ciccarelli are the founders of Voices.com, the largest global web hub for voice actors. Over the past nine years, Stephanie, David, and their team have grown Voices.com from the ground up to become the leader in the industry. This article was originally published in Voice Acting For Dummies and has been republished with permission from John Wiley and Sons, Inc.