Creating a Richer, Fuller Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 30, 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA thin voice is one of the problems new directors contact me about most often.  They ask me if there is anything that can be done about it.  I always tell them that it’s one of the toughest problems to fix, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  I have heard almost 100% improvement in some clients, but it takes a devoted person who will work diligently to make the change.

Why is it so hard?  There may be multiple reasons why the person is using a thin voice.  Some of them are physiological and some of them may be psychological.  Consider Marilyn Monroe’s voice.  It was thin and childlike for a reason.  It made her appear vulnerable and helpless, which fit most of the roles she was given.

But let’s look at the physiological reasons for a thin voice.  The problems are in the position of the tongue and the openness of the jaw.  Both of these contribute to the amount of air that can resonate in the oral cavity. The more air that resonates, the richer and fuller the voice sounds.  If the tongue is raised high in the mouth, as it usually is in a thin voice, then it takes up more room.  Likewise, if the jaw is not open (especially at the back) there is less air in that resonating cavity.

Let’s try an exercise to feel the tongue issue.  Say the word, “gone,” a few times.  Now say the word, “good,” a few times trying to keep the tongue in the same position on the vowel sound for both.  Switch between the two words to get the feeling of the tongue in the low position for “gone.”  This will help you feel the lower tongue position so you can  carry it over into other vowels.

For the openness of the jaw, I tell clients to think of an inverted megaphone with the large part in the back of the mouth and the narrow opening in the front (the exact reverse of the picture to the right).  This gives you a megaphonenice opening of the jaw.  To practice this, say “ah” and then any word to follow it.  Try to keep the open feeling you get with “ah” as you say the other word.

Both of these exercises are important in beginning to turn a thin voice iinto a rich, full voice.  The bummer is that you have to practice every day and it may take months before you hear a change.

Here’s an added tip that will begin to help immediately.  Avoid smiling while talking.  Smiling works against the small opening of the mouth and actually makes your voice sound higher pitched.  Click here for a post that explains this concept.

And, finally, for you voiceover artists out there, if you need to sound childlike for a job, try humping up your tongue in your mouth and not opening your jaw very much!

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Breathe Easy This Summer

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 1, 2017

three_meerkatsSmallI’ve been an advocate of voicing in a standing position for my entire career.  But is simply standing enough?  No.  You need to stand with good posture for the best voice.

We all know the lungs are involved in breathing, and if you’ve read many of my posts you know that abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing is the best (for more on this type of breathing, click here or watch my video on breathing by clicking here).  Abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing demands that the diaphragm has room to contract downward to assist in a good, controlled inhalation.

Stooped shoulders actually put pressure on the rib cage making it more difficult to inhale properly.  If the stooping is severe enough it can affect the downward contraction of the diaphragm, greatly limiting inhalation.

Should you stand like a little toy soldier with your shoulders raised?  Absolutely not!  You want your shoulders to be relaxed so that you don’t have tension in your neck, which can affect your pitch.  Your body should be relaxed but erect.

Here are some ways to practice this posture (if you have any back or neck problems, do not do these exercises without consulting your physician):

Stand with your feet hip-width apart about six inches from a wall.  Let your lower and upper back rest on the wall.  Roll your shoulders forward and back.  Now imagine there’s a string lifting your head and spine up.  Lower your chin so it’s parallel to the floor.  Gently move your head straight back and try to rest it on the wall (or as close to it as is comfortable).  Keep your chin in the correct position.  Next raise your arms up as you would if a sheriff in the old West said, “Stick ’em up!”  Try to get your upper arms and the back of your hands against on the wall.  Don’t force it.  Just go as far as is comfortable.  Hold this posture and relax for a few abdominal-diaphragmatic inhalations and exhalations.

If you’re having trouble getting your arms back, try lying on the floor with a rolled up towel or yoga mat up and down your spine and neck.  Start by putting your arms straight out from your body with your palms up, resting them on the floor.  If this is difficult, stay with it for as long as it takes until it feels easy and your chest feels open.  If it’s easy, “Stick ’em up!” again with your arms bent on the floor and your palms toward the ceiling.  Rest in this position each time you do the exercise for a few inhalations and exhalations.

Keep these exercises up for several weeks, and your posture should improve along with your breathing.

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Who Said Goofing Off Is a Waste of Time?

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 6, 2017

Boys by LakeRemember the summers of your childhood when it felt like you had months to just goof off? That may seem a distant memory when you’re facing a news story deadline or have a voiceover to finish. Well, it turns out goofing off can improve your life, so what better time to start than right now?

“Time off is what your brain thrives on,” according to Beth Janes’ article in Health magazine (3/17). I’ve been telling clients this for decades. Downtime is when the brain recharges.

Think of the constant onslaught of information coming from the Internet, email, news stories, conversation, and our own busy thoughts. We’re asking our brains to digest all of this every second of every day. We need to shut this off for a time if we want to recharge.

How do we do this? I’m going to offer two ways that can be effective and pleasurable.

The first is meditation. Now don’t panic and think I’m about to send you off to a silent retreat for a week. Meditation is a simple process of learning to detach from your thoughts for a few minutes.  If you’re new to this concept, check out Headspace.com or their free app which trains you how to meditate in a fun ten days. These short, three-minute sessions will make meditation seem easy!

Meditation can be as simple as taking a few seconds to focus on breathing. I’ve found a new way to do this recently on the website Calm.com or their free “Calm” app. It has a clever breath exercise where you can set the pace of your breathing and follow a graphic they offer that includes a short period of holding your breath between your intakes of air. Yogis have used this pattern of breathing for centuries to calm the mind.

The next method of emptying the mind doesn’t involve totally aiming for no thoughts. Instead, you fill your mind with thoughts that cause the relaxation mode to kick in.

This is what visualization can do for you, and it’s really like daydreaming. Simply think of an event like your last vacation and recreate the feelings in your mind. Imagine your toes sinking into the grass or the sand you walked on. Feel the cool or warm breeze hitting your face. Put yourself back in the event as much as you can and soak up the feeling. You can do this for a few seconds looking at a photograph or for a half hour when you have that much time. Either way, let yourself escape from your phone, your work, and your day, and enjoy the visualization. (If you find this difficult,  Calm.com and Headspace.com both have guided visualizations you can use for free.)

So take some time this summer to give your brain the break it needs so badly to work at its optimum level. Your stress level will go down and your ability to keep your life working effectively will go up. A win, win, I’d say!

For more on both breathing relaxation and visualization click here to instantly download my ebook, Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.95, and includes loads more information!

 

 

 

 

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Dial Down the Intensity of Your Delivery

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 6, 2017

We’ve been living in a world where political events dominate the news, and tragedies, like the bombings in England, can happen at any time.  This can create some delivery pitfalls for broadcasters, and the stress of what’s happening can affect anyone in front of a mic.  Voiceover artists may find themselves a little too intense for lots of reasons as well.  Let’s look at how this can have negative effects.

Take a second and imagine you’re at the emergency room with a loved one.  You’re tense waiting for someone to tell you something.  Do you want the doctor to run out to talk to you and sound like he or she can’t control their own excitement and panic about this medical crisis?  Certainly not.  I feel the same way about what I hear on television, radio or the internet.  I want a clear, calm delivery that lets me decide how excited or agitated to be.

I was working with a television reporter the other day who had ramped up the intensity of her delivery to a level that was clearly too high.  When I asked her why she had done this, she said it was because the events of the story were so exciting she had gotten caught up in the excitement.  Does this ever happen to you?  If you’re a reporter, you might be covering a riot or an explosion.  Any story that gets the heart pumping.  If you’re a voice over artist, you might be pushing your delivery to get more excitement about a product or you might get directed to sound overly excited.

The problem is that if your excitement bleeds into your delivery too much, you’re doing a disservice to your listener.  Let me give you an example I always cite when I’m talking about this.  On 9/11, the only network I could watch was ABC because Peter Jennings had such a calm delivery.  (Listen to this clip of Peter Jennings on 9/11.)  He wasn’t adding to the crisis in the way he was reporting it.  Other anchors were.  All I wanted was to hear what was happening.  That day certainly didn’t need any drama added to it.  I wanted a calm, steady voice that did not portray hysteria.

Keep this in mind the next time you have the feeling you should ramp up your delivery.  Ask yourself, am I letting my emotions take over my delivery?  And remember, often it’s the calm, steady voice that we want to hear whether we’re in the emergency room or listening to media.

Want to read more on this topic?  Check my recent post, “Rapid-Fire Delivery Can Get You Fired.”


 

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Make Every On-Air Day Your Best

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on May 2, 2017

manCoveringfaceThere’s a common adage in theater circles that you’re only as good as your last performance. This applies to broadcasters and voiceover professionals as well. Let me explain….

I often tell broadcasting students that each show should always be the best one they ever voiced. I know that’s a high bar, but I’ve had more than one news director say to me, “I saw that student’s audition tape and didn’t like it. I’m not interested in looking at them again.” As unfair as that is, the harsh reality is that news directors get hundreds of audition tapes for every opening. Anything that’s an eliminating factor is used to thin the pile.

What about your daily anchoring or reporting? For ratings you always want to be at your best, but there’s a career advancement issue here as well.  There was a time when if you were in a small market you were safe because larger markets might not have a way to watch you every day. But boy is that over! One Google search, and they’ve got you auditioning for them on the evening news wherever they are. One night of low energy might ruin your chance for the market jump you dream of.

And for voiceover people, it’s even worse. An ad you voiced may be played hundreds of times in lots of cities. One day of breathing issues can keep ad agencies from calling.

And in a voiceover audition you might be told you’re not good enough for a particular assignment. Or you’ll get that stock rejection, “The client’s decided to go in another direction.”

One VO friend who voices audio books said she was once told to her face that her performance in the first few minutes of a book was “flat,” and it must be re-voiced. Ouch! That’s a blow to anyone’s confidence.

Okay, so what can you do to avoid being rejected because of a bad day? The harsh answer is, don’t have bad days! The purpose of my blog posts is to give you the skills to avoid bad days as well as tools to help you push your way through them if they do occur. You may not have time to read up on everything, so here’s a list of posts to explore to find these skills:

Improve Your Breathing

Keep Your Energy Up

Avoid a Flat Delivery

Improve Your Sleep

Keep Your Rate Correct

Sound Conversational

Project Your Voice Well

Make the Best of a Cold

You’ll find many more tips by clicking on the sidebar to your right.  Also, the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK is chock full of vocal exercises and information.  Download it instantly from this page.

 

 

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Surviving Marathons at the Microphone

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on April 3, 2017

BSGCoverBlueThe terrorist attack in London a few weeks ago and the one in Russia today reminded me that during crises, television anchors and reporters are often on the air for more hours than on a normal day.  Many of my clients over the years have found themselves in this situation whether during a crisis or a weather event.  I’ve counseled them on how to take care of their voices during this time.

Voiceover artists often find themselves in similar situations if they have to complete a job on a short deadline or have a lengthy script or book to voice.

So how do you survive a marathon at the microphone? I have an easy process for you to remember.  It’s based on three P’s:  Prioritize, Plan and Pace yourself.

Let’s look at the first one, Prioritize.  I suggest you look at your week prior to the voicing event (unless it’s something sudden like a terrorist attack) and prioritize your needs.  For instance, sleep is a necessity when you have a marathon ahead of you.  Scrub any evening social events that might cut into your sleep time (come on, it’s only a week…).  Also, increase your exercise (click here for more on exercise) so that you’re in top shape when the work begins and have less stress because of the exercise. On the day of the event, line everything up to support you through it.  That’s where Planning comes in.

Plan the day of the marathon voicing just as you would if you were an athlete.  Take survival gear with you like plenty of water to drink (click to read about the benefits of water).  Bring enough food to keep your energy up.  This could be protein bars, some kind of meat, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, or any other food that is high in protein.  Want to know more about the benefits of protein?  Click here. 

What you don’t want is food high in sugar like donuts (sorry….), bagels, or muffins.  They will cause a spike in blood sugar that will leave you feeling fatigued twenty minutes after you eat them.  That’s why protein is best.  It helps you focus and gives you a steady release of blood sugar to keep your energy up.  Also avoid too much caffeine, which may make it hard to focus your thoughts and dairy products, which may produce excess mucous in your throat.

And finally, Pace yourself during the marathon at the mic.  You want to keep your vocal energy consistent through the entire time, and if you sit too long your blood tends to circulate poorly (click here for more on the dangers of sitting).  This can make your vocal energy plunge.

If possible take breaks often.  Go outside if you can and walk around to relieve the stress of being in the studio.  If you can’t go outside, at least stand and stretch often and have a few bites of your protein snack along with some water.  You’ll sound better and your voice will last longer!

For more tips on how to keep your voice healthy, download a copy of my ebook, BROADCASTERS’ SURVIVAL GUIDE for only $4.99.  It’s chock full of tips on nutrition, exercise, relaxation, and other ways to keep your body and your voice in great shape!

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Kick That Cold to the Curb

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on March 7, 2017

man sneezingI’ve written several posts on how to take care of your voice when you have a cold, but there are some new recommendations. These explain ways to stop or shorten a cold so your voice will not suffer as badly.

Who would think that a probiotic could help when you feel a cold coming on? Well, research is showing that it may. That’s because it regulates your immune system’s inflammatory response. The British Journal of Nutrition is the source for this new information. The article’s authors report that probiotics can shave as much as two days off a cold’s duration and make symptoms 34% less severe. So try popping a pill the first day you feel the cold coming on, but make sure it contains LGG and BB-12.

You may have tried zinc to ward off a cold, and the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology encourages you to keep it up. Zinc may shorten a cold by three days, but you must begin as soon as you have a hint of a cold and continue it until your symptoms subside. They suggest 80 milligrams over the course of a day. The types that dissolve in your mouth are recommended over the spray.

In terms of a spray, saline spray has long been advised for use throughout a cold. This helps keep the nasal passages moist to avoid a sinus infection, and it rinses toxins and germs out of the nose. You can use it as often as three times a day. It’s especially good to use before blowing your nose because it will help clear the congestion.

Another thing I find really helpful for my nose during a cold is Vaseline to soften the area around the nostrils both inside and out. This protects them from damage when you’re blowing your nose.

The last tip that was new to me is that in the early stages of a cold it actually helps to head to the gym for a fairly brisk 30-60-minute workout. It seems that viruses survive only when the temperature of your body is about 98.6 degrees. Upping your body temperature by working out may actually kill off some of the virus (that’s why we get a fever later in the cold process). So don’t be afraid to work out as long as you can breathe easily and don’t have a fever. If your symptoms have really kicked in, you’ll get more help by resting during your normal workout time.

For more basics on how to protect your voice when you have a cold, click here to read a previous post of mine.

As always, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before starting any new treatment or beginning an exercise program.

You can find additional tips on healthy living in my ebook, Broadcaster’s Survival Guide. An instant download of the ebook is only $4.99.

(Much of this article was based on information in the 12/16 issue of Shape magazine.  Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lomo54/)

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Do You Hear Yourself? Resonance is Confusing

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 1, 2017

Woman's Head (1)A few weeks ago Sam Litzinger, a news correspondent at CBS Radio News, called my attention to a New York Times article, “Why Do Our Recorded Voices Sound Weird to Us?” by Jonah Engel Bromwich, January 13, 2017.

First of all, I was amazed that the New York Times would spend space to print an article on resonance. It’s not normally something in which the public is  interested.

Secondly, I was delighted because the article solved a mystery that has plagued me since I started working with voice about 45 years ago. That is, why when people listen to their recorded voices do some say it sounds higher than what they expected and a few say the opposite?

Just to explain resonance briefly, sound waves are only audible because they create vibrations in air and everything they strike. That’s true of thunder, for example, which we hear because it makes our ear drums vibrate, but it also makes everything from wood to glass vibrate. These vibrations determine the resonance of the sound we hear.

For speech, the vibrating cavities are traditionally considered to be the nasal passages, sinus cavities, and the oral cavity. The other cavities and bones in the head vibrate as well.

The way I explain the reason we think recordings of our voices are fuller and richer than they really are is that we usually only hear them resonated once when recorded. When we hear our voices in our heads, we hear “double” resonance compared to what others hear. We hear the sound vibrating in the bones and cavities of our body as well as hearing the sound as it comes into our ears after resonating in the air.  Because of this I always think I sound like Minnie Mouse when I hear my recorded voice (check out this post on the subject). It sounds so different. In my head, it sounds rich and full.

But it seems there are more factors in play. A more scientific expansion of this is given in the New York Times article. I am going to quote a short bit from an interview source in the article because this is as new to me as it is to you.

“‘There are multiple paths that these vibrations take to get to the skull,’ Dr. Rosowski said. ‘They include the vibrations of the skull itself, which can vary.’

He says other factors influencing the way vibrations of the voice could travel to the brain included interaction with cerebrospinal fluid, the clear liquid in the brain and spine, and variations in sound pressure in the ear canal.”

So there you have it!  The answer to the question that has plagued me for so many years.  It’s a complex one, but it seems to say that even the liquid in our brains can make a difference.  Some of us have more cerebrospinal fluid and the pressure varies in the ear canal; therefore the resonance can be different.

If you’d like to improve your resonance, check out this blog post as well as the one linked to above.

And if you want to improve your voice, download the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. It contains advice on resonance and every other area of vocal production.

 

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Let Yoga Give You a Better Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on January 4, 2017

It’s January and that means most of us are thinking of exercising more this year. Have you ever considered that exercise might be a good thing for your voice and not just your waistline?

I’m going to focus on yoga because it has so many benefits.

The philosophy and practice of Yoga began over 4000 years ago, and the word, yoga, means yoke.  This is a good way to remember that yoga joins together breathing and stretching.  Most people have heard of yoga breathing exercises.  They are called pranayama, which means breath control.  There is no other discipline I know of that puts more emphasis on breathing.  Going into detail about pranayama would take an entire web site.  Luckily, there are some!  Click here to learn more about pranayama on just one of the many sites available.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know how important I think breathing is to a good voice.  Breathing is the energy for speech, and I often say that if there’s anything wrong with your breathing every aspect of your voice will suffer.  Breathing is what I work with first with almost every client.  To watch a video of me working on breathing with a client, click here.

Since yoga means yoke, let’s not exclude the poses or asanas of yoga.  There are two that I think are great for working on posture, which has a big effect on breathing.  If you think it doesn’t, make a c-shape with your spine bringing your head forward and down.  Now try to breathe.  Not so easy, is it?  Good posture promotes good breathing.  The two asanas that are beneficial for breathing are the cobra  and the warrior poses.  Again, explaining them is best left to an expert.  Click here for a description of the cobra pose and here for the warrior. The sun salutation is a multi-step asana with similar poses.  Check it out if you want a more flowing exercise.  All of these poses when done with the breathing will help your posture and increase your breathing capacity.  What a great way to create a better voice!

BTW, if you’ve done yoga leave a comment below and let me know if you found it helpful.

Happy New Year!

To learn other tips about dealing with tension and stress, instantly download my ebook, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE by clicking here.  It’s only $4.99 and offers lots of great tips that help your body and your voice!

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Tips to Avoid Holiday Stress

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on December 8, 2016

snowmanLast month you read about the hazards of flying in terms of your vocal health.  But did you know that this time of year may actually be hazardous to your voice?

Chronic stress wears us all down during an ordinary month, but with the pressures of the holiday season upon us, stress can get out of control.  If it does, your health AND your voice can suffer.

During the holiday season you most likely will spend time shopping in stores or malls where those nasty bugs that make you sick are in abundance!  Mix that with the possibility of snow and frigid temperatures, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for getting sick.  The coughing and sore throat that follow can wreak havoc on your voice.  Why not try these stress busters to help balance the demands of this busy season so that you might avoid getting sick?  And you can start today!

10 Quick Stress Busters To Use Today

1. Stretch slowly several times during your day today. Click here for some easy stretches.

2. Exercise for at least 20 minutes today.  A brisk walk will do it.  Even 20 minutes of light exercise ups your energy for as long as 12 hours and boasts your immune system.

3. Eat 3 meals today or graze on 5 small meals.

4. Drink more water and less caffeine.

5. Avoid the urge to grab something sweet when you’re stressed.  Go for protein instead (e.g., nuts, lo-fat cheese, peanut butter). Click here to read about how protein helps.

6. Get up and take a break when you’re at your desk for more than an hour. Ck out Sitting is the New Smoking.

7. Close your eyes and take 3 slow abdominal breaths once or twice today.

8. Daydream for a few minutes about your last pleasant vacation.

9. Take a deep inhalation before you answer the phone.

10.Concentrate on breathing in and breathing out before you go to sleep tonight.

Want more tips on dealing with holiday stress?  Download a copy of my book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, for only $4.99.

Happy Holidays!

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