Q: How can people protect their vocal cords?
A: Every person is born with one set of vocal cords, one larynx — and once damaged, you cannot replace them. Learning proper vocal hygiene (avoiding clearing your throat, learning to attack vowels softly, not shouting in loud environments for prolonged periods), that’s what keeps a voice healthy for life.
Q: If you have been sick and lose your voice, how can you heal?
A: Most people find that when they are sick, they lose parts of their voice. This is caused by swelling and totally normal. As many doctors will tell you, in most cases it will go away by itself. The best way to heal is complete vocal rest, or talking as little as possible. If you do have to talk, avoid whispering and use a little voice.
However, if you notice a change in your voice for more than two-three weeks, it’s time to go and see an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT, but see one specializing in the voice) who can “scope” your cords. This happens by putting a camera down into the throat. Once they can see what’s going on, that ENT can help with a diagnosis and further treatment.
Q: What’s happening to the vocal cords when we sound hoarse?
A: Hoarseness is swelling. Or it can be the cords have been rubbing up against each other for so long that they have developed a “bump” or in extreme cases, they can callus. Hoarseness can also be caused by partial paralysis of a vocal cord.
Q: What causes damage to the vocal cords?
A: Number one damage concern revolves around overuse.In order of importance:
- Overuse of the voice. Talking all day and forcing the voice to be heard over other noise.
- Yelling at rock concerts or games
- Singing too loudly or with poor technique
- Uncontrolled acid reflux
- Forcing your voice when you have a cold or bronchitis.
If you have a sickness that’s affecting your voice, give your vocal cords a break. Refrain from overuse while you recover. Be sure to see a doctor if your voice does not return or symptoms worsen after 10 days to two weeks.
Q: What can cause paralysis of the vocal cords?
A: There are many things that cause this. Some of the more common are:
- Injury to the vocal cord during surgery. Surgery on or near your neck or upper chest can result in damage to the nerves that serve your voice box. Surgeries that carry a risk of damage include surgeries to the thyroid or parathyroid glands, esophagus, neck, and chest.
- Neck or chest injury. Trauma to your neck or chest may injure the nerves that serve your vocal cords or the voice box itself.
- Stroke. A stroke interrupts blood flow in your brain and may damage the part of your brain that sends messages to the voice box.
- Tumors. Tumors, both cancerous and noncancerous, can grow in or around the muscles, cartilage or nerves controlling the function of your voice box and can cause vocal cord paralysis.
- Infections. Some infections, such as Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus and herpes, can cause inflammation and directly damage the nerves in the larynx.
- Neurological conditions. If you have certain neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, you may experience vocal cord paralysis.
AI and Voice Technology
Q: How will AI affect the world of voiceover?
A: We are not sure entirely. Right now, we know that interactive voice recordings, some eLearning will be narrated by Artificial Intelligence voices. There are hundreds of companies, including some of the biggest tech giants, hiring voice talent to create giant databases of spoken words. From those databases, the AI can create the response we hear on our devices. More and more, these new tech companies are focusing on making the AI sound as “real” as possible, including attempting emotional response.
Q: Where will we find AI voices in the future?
A: Everywhere. AI voices will not go any way time soon. They will be in our cars, our phones, our televisions. The question is determining when we want to hear a real person versus a robotic voice. Currently robot voices still sound a little inhuman. Soon, they won’t. Except… even advanced AI voices will have a hard time with honest emotion. That’s where we’ll find human voices remain. Most audiobooks, cartoons and video games will remain voiced by human beings, even after the AI voices are advanced.
Q: What does it take to make a career in voiceover?
A: You need great training — and that includes acting. It’s not a quick process and unfortunately there are a ton of programs right now selling the dream of being a voice actor and not being honest with the beginner. Dee Bradley Baker has a wonderful website called Iwanttobeavoiceactor.com where he clearly states, ““You have a great voice, you should try voice acting,” which is the equivalent of “You have great legs, you should try running in the Olympics.” You need high-level coaches who are working in the field, who are selective about who they train and who can, at first, show you how much you need to learn.
The first three-five years, most beginning voice actors need to treat it as a hobby and continue their learning. Keep your day job is not just a saying! This not a profession where you quit you job and suddenly you are competitive and working. It’s an art that requires training and practice.That would be the same as quitting your job and walking into to the Metropolitan Opera to get your first singing job after taking one singing lesson.
Q: What kind of home studios are required for voiceover?
A: Most voiceover talent now record from home. Working in a studio still exists in bigger markets for animation, but for the most part, all auditions and the majority of other work is recorded in a voice talent’s home studio. Eventually most voice talent spend a few thousand dollars investing in a studio, but for those learning or just starting out, they need:
A quiet space to record in, away from traffic noises, household appliances, kids, dogs, etc.
- Professional soundproofing materials.
- A good condenser Microphone and pop shield.
- XLR cable (most mics come with one).
- A computer.
- Recording software.
Q: Do you have to live in LA or NYC to make a living in voiceover?
A: No. Not for most types of voiceover work. However, if you want to work in full-time animation, yes. That market is in Los Angeles and the agents/studios want you to be local. You can find some animation projects in other towns, but it will be part-time. The studios up in Vancouver BC also hire out of Los Angeles (for example). For eLearning, audiobooks, video games and more, you can live anywhere there is high-speed internet and work in voiceover.
Q: There are people doing voiceover for $5 on Fiverr. How is that affecting the market?
A: Voiceover has become a gold rush in the past five years with the advent of affordable USB mics and cheap online voiceover training — some of it good, some not so good. Audible.com and Amazon teamed up to create the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX.com) and this has allowed anyone to upload a book or narrate one, regardless of talent or training. So, we have thousands of untrained voice talent. Fiverr, or other online marketplaces, allows freelancers to work cheap. This has brought the pay for other voice talent down significantly over the past ten years. It’s become increasingly difficult to educate producers that to get quality voiceover, they should pay a fair rate. There are online rate guides that can help voice talent know what to charge. Because our pay includes what any freelancer has to cover: health care, studio costs, training and more. We recommend the Global Voice Academy Rate Guide online.
Shana Pennington-Baird Background
Q: What was it in your career that moved you to start the Seattle Voice Institute that later was rebranded as Seattle Voice Academy?
A: I became interested in voice acting when I had my kid. My husband also works in theatre and I we wanted flexibility to raise our child. Voice acting is now done (for the most part) from home. This was something I could do! I could do audiobooks at home after being a mom all day! I studied with several local coaches in Seattle and then headed to New York for additional training. I quickly discovered that there are people all over the country who “teach” voice acting poorly, and will charge huge amounts of money to promise people that they will make a fortune doing voiceover. I was sitting in one of these classes when I developed the business plan that became Seattle Voice Academy (SVA).
Q: What is the value system your company is based on?
A: We are based in ethics. We teach acting. We teach freelance business. And we do not make promises that anyone is going to succeed. We stand in our integrity. Instead we teach our students to look out for themselves, find ongoing training and treat voiceover like an olympic sport. You need great coaches, great training and a huge amount of commitment.
Q: What is your vocal training?
A: I started off in choir throughout high school and then I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. Following that, I studied voice with the Roy Hart Theatre in France, the Tuscany Project in Prague and then studied privately with soprano Jackie Boreson in Seattle, Washington. Currently, I study with Dr. Stacey Mastrian. I will always have a coach. Singing is the equivalent of an olympic sport. I am always striving to improve.
Q: How would a beginning adult vocalist find the right teacher?
A: You need to do a search for who in your city teaches singing. This can be online or by contacting NATS.org — National Association of Teachers of Singing. They are a national organization available all over the US. VASTA.com (Voice and Speech Trainers Association) has a similar database of international teachers, including the US.
You can learn some techniques online through home study courses, which we don’t recommend online singing classes unless you live in a very remote place and cannot get to a singing instructor in person. A great singing coach needs to be able to see your body and how you are breathing, where you are holding tension. Once you find a teacher in your area, you need to read reviews. Then, you need to meet them. If you don’t like their style or anything about the lesson, move on. Singing teachers are all different and you need someone who can explain why they are teaching you what they are teaching you.
Q: Why would anyone need to warm down after singing?
A: Like any athlete, we need to warm up our voices — and — warm down after singing. First we start by stretching the whole body, then focusing on stretching the face. The best warm ups include humming, trilling the lips, tongue twisters. Then I also use straw phonation for the warm up and cool down. Straw phonation is using a small straw like a kazoo for about 3-5 minutes. Straw phonation is when you put a straw in your mouth and make sound through the straw. It is part of a series of researched warm ups called SOVT Exercises. SOVT means Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract, a fancy way to say the mouth is partially closed. During straw phonation there is less impact, collision, and stress on the vocal folds while they continue to stretch in a balanced position.
Q: What do straws have to do with vocal cords?
A: Straw phonation is when you put a straw in your mouth and make sound through the straw. It is part of a series of researched warm ups called SOVT Exercises. SOVT means Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract, a fancy way to say the mouth is partially closed. During straw phonation there is less impact, collision, and stress on the vocal folds while they continue to stretch in a balanced position.
Public Speaking and Voice
Q: How can people defeat the fear of public speaking?
A: Practice. Rehearsal. Relaxation. The more we do something, the more we can relax when we stand up to speak. The thought of public speaking can make many people break into a cold sweat. Surveys show that the fear of public speaking ranks as one of the most common phobias. In fact, a pronounced fear of public speaking is even more common than the fear of death! We use a meditation that helps our clients learn to use their fear as an ally and find relaxation before speaking. In addition, we recommend practicing the talk as many times as possible.
Q: What does the average coaching session look like?
A: Every coaching session is different because every client–every person is different. We spend the first ten minutes talking with the client — both to get to know them and also to listen to the sound of the voice and any issues that come up naturally while we chat. Then, we almost always move into breathing exercises, then we work on the techniques that fit the needs of that individual. At the end of the session, we create a plan for what techniques will be worked on over the next few sessions. The client comes away with 3-5 things to work on and then the plan is emailed them.
Q: How do you know if your throat is just dry from speaking versus the vocal cords being fatigued or injured?
A: If you find yourself wanting to clear your throat habitually and your voice feels strained — it’s not dryness. You should hydrate — but then see an ENT if it does not improve after two weeks.