searching for our sound chain Part 1: the voice

Bruce and I were sparked by the ACX blog on Studio Gear. We thought about how and why we chose the gear we did and how it all comes together to produce a sound that we think is uniquely ‘us’. We get compliments on our sound quality even if we don’t get the audiobook. We will discuss hardware, rigs and hot-rodding in Parts 2, 3, & 4. But ask yourself…


 At The Voice.

Narrators and authors alike need to ask, ”Is this a voice I want to listen to?” Just as The Voice of a narrator must embody an author’s characters, the question of “Will the listener enjoy the sound of This Voice as the story unfolds?” is just as vital.

A good waiter can make bad food taste great and great food taste even better, a poor waiter can ruin an entire dining experience. The listening experience is sensual and visceral. The Voice that delivers the content can impact the way it is received.

Narrators have many tools available to ensure the quality of their instrument. Each narrator has the responsibility to discover what works best for them.

Here are only a few:

  1. Warm ups prepare The Voice for the session, strengthen it and protect its longevity. Humming is a great warm up. Taking ten minutes to relax on the floor performing simple stretches that loosen and feel good, while moving the voice around inside the body, creates a warm resonant tone in no time. The voice is ‘warm’ when a low buzz or hum when speaking can be felt internally. This is the sound of The Voice using the body as its resonator. Warm beverages can help speed the warm up when time is short. Deep breathing prepares for long passages. Mouth, teeth and tongue stretches warm up the articulation apparatus to reduce the number of word burgers and trip ups.
  2. Food and drink impacts in different ways. Dairy can be a huge no, no. It can create phlegm and consequently a lot of mouth noise on the mic.  Sugar can be a problem for this reason. However, these do not produce the same results in all bodies. Pay attention and find out what works and what doesn’t. Keep a record for a week’s worth of sessions and track the results.
  3. Eat something. Even just a little bit. A low energy voice is an uninteresting voice, when not intended. Stomach growls can slow down a session. Conversely, that meatball sandwich or soda right before a session might cause ‘reverberations’ that will interfere with recording.
  4. Hydrate often during the session. Room temperature water or unsweetened teas are great choices. Drink more than you think you should.
  5. Breathe, particularly when a large number of character voices have vocal limits stretched to the max. Relax and allow breath to move across vocal chords as characters speak, challenging the normal vocal range. This helps produce a full, rich, relaxed sound and avoids strain that comes with a voice that is not fully supported. And it strengthens the core in the process!
  6. Set vocal limits. Don’t push past what you can comfortably do. Keep in mind daily life as well. Consider teaching, lecturing, waiting tables, auditioning in your daily speaking quota and don’t overdo. Sure, sometimes there are deadlines to meet. But for The Voice to last and be a Stradivarius instead of an ‘ol violin someone finds at the flea market, respect your limits.
  7. Rest. This includes both nightly quota and days when you don’t speak with ‘intention’ while conscious in your daily life. The Voice repairs during sleep. If it doesn’t get it or get enough, The Voice will degrade with each session.
  8. Listen. Control over mouth noise is easy. Develop an ear for it. Relax the tongue. Don’t overwork the mouth. Learn the best angle to the mic and let it do its job. Don’t work so hard!

When I first started narrating I didn’t give much thought to any of this. Coming from the stage, I felt that because I was not projecting, like on-camera work, I didn’t require vocal warm up. Because of the intense nature of the recording environment for audiobooks and length of sessions, I realized quickly to do my best and BEGIN each session with the best sound, I was responsible for my own sound.

I went back to the various theatrical warm ups I’d learned throughout my acting training and selected exercises that gave resonance, flexibility and range.  It doesn’t take long because I don’t have to worry about the muscles for projection. The mic does that work for me.

Two great vocal resources are YOUR VOICE AND HOW TO USE IT by Cicely Berry  and Freeing The Natural Voice by Kristine Linklater.

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 7.01.53 PMMake time in the studio more efficient and the finished product more engaging by paying attention to           THE VOICE.Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 7.01.22 PM


2 thoughts on “searching for our sound chain Part 1: the voice

  1. Great article!
    On setting vocal limits, are limits fairly static, or can you build your limits with practice? I just made about 2 and 1/2 hours of recording, and I feel I overdid it! I am just starting out in my career as a narrator, the first ever job to really use my voice. Can I hope I will do better?
    Also, I’ve read how you ought to be as consistent as you can be by recording as much at one time as you can, but maybe I could produce more if I were to take longer breaks in between recordings in a day. What do you think?

    • Always go by feel, trust your instincts. You can tell if your voice is tired and you will hear it in your recording, too. But your voice will get stronger – particularly if you take care of it, get good rest, hydration and avoid too much abuse like smoking or drying things like alcohol.
      I like to take my breaks at the break in the story – like at the end of the chapter. But if you have a good mic, and a good room (very consistent in its ambient noise or lack thereof) you should be able to match on the re-record or when you pick up again. Just listen to the playback and then match it with your ear. It’s kind of like matching pitch if you sing or are familiar with music.
      You are going to have to be able to do this anyway when you go back for any fixes or mistakes you come across in Q/C.
      Good luck!

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