Perhaps you’re putting together your first demo. Maybe you’ve landed an audition and need to record some sides. Or you’ve booked the job and will soon head into the studio—congratulations!
While voiceover work zeroes in on one particular element of performance, there are still many factors that can make or break the final product. A solid preparation process is key to ensuring you’re in the right headspace and your voice is in prime condition to record.
If you’re doing a remote recording session, you should make sure you have all the equipment you need. We’re talking microphones, stands, pop filters, sound-absorbing panels—the works. Just as important as having the equipment, though, is making sure it works.
To be safe, do a brief test run well before your session start time. Even if you’ve recorded in your home studio countless times before, it is a good habit to consistently test your equipment. Give yourself enough time so if there is a problem with the hardware, audio quality, sound levels, or internet connection, you’re not troubleshooting in a hurry.
While in-home auditions and recording sessions have become increasingly popular, remember that you may still be asked to head into a studio for your voiceover gig.
Water should be your best friend leading up to a VO session, audition, or, really, before any vocal performance. “If you’re not peeing all the time, you’re not doing it right,” said Tony nominee Caitlin Kinnunen to Backstage. Hydration protects the vocal cords and lubricates the throat. This is crucial both in the hours leading to your recording and in the long-term to preserve the quality of your instrument.
Not all water is treated equally. Rule out anything with bubbles, which can irritate your throat and affect breath support. Warm or room-temperature water is ideal—cold water and ice can shock and constrict the vocal cords. Herbal tea works, too; other teas, not so much. (And skip the caffeine—more on that below.)
Staying hydrated is crucial for ensuring vocal health, but no matter how much water you down, you don’t want to jeopardize your voice with anything else you eat or drink, especially in the hours leading up to your session.
If you experience a mucus-like feeling in your throat after consuming dairy, steer clear of it. Other ingredients to hold off on? Basically, anything you’d find in a margarita. Avoid alcohol beginning the day before you hit the mic, as it is extremely dehydrating; salt and acid (like citrus) can also leave your throat dry. Save the celebratory cocktail for after. Caffeine can also have a negative effect, so consider swapping your morning coffee for an herbal tea if you’re recording that day.
Stick to foods that will leave you hydrated, such as melon, cucumber, and low-sodium broths. Toast is also a good choice, as your mouth and throat respond to the dry crumbs by producing more moisture.
One of the best things you can do for your voice is as easy as falling asleep. Proper rest not only energizes you for the following day in the studio, but it induces the release of muscle-building growth hormones, providing strength and relaxation to muscle tissue—vocal cords included.
In addition to resting your body, remember to rest your instrument as well. You don’t want to spend the night before your recording session straining your voice. Depending on the type of voiceover work you’re doing, the session can be a test of endurance: Audiobook recording sessions, for example, tend to last for several hours over the course of several days. You wouldn’t pull an all-nighter before running a marathon, and you shouldn’t before hitting the recording studio, either.
Whether your voiceover job has you reading quippy ad copy or complex medical jargon, vocal dexterity and breath support are critical. To make sure your lips, tongue, and diaphragm are ready for their big moment, do warm-ups before the recording session.
Start by awakening the cords with humming before moving on to exercises that emphasize the fundamentals of vocal performance. Lip trills (the engine-like sounds made when exhaling through rapidly fluttering lips) can help ease the muscles associated with enunciating. Tongue twisters, such as those featured in the book “Rodney Saulsberry’s Tongue Twisters and Vocal Warm-Ups,” acclimate your instrument to the dexterity required for good articulation. Letting out deep, dramatic yawns or siren sounds can help extend range by utilizing the highs and lows of your voice.
Breathing exercises that focus on the diaphragm are also helpful. “When you exhale (or when you speak or sing), the diaphragm is actually relaxing and stretching,” voice teacher Andrew Byrne told WMA Rochester. “This stretching movement can provide many benefits to your audition.”
Even if you don’t have a VO job in the immediate future, it’s a good idea to incorporate warm-ups into your day-to-day routine. Voiceover casting director Kate McClanaghan suggests committing to at least an hour of vocal warm-up exercises, five days a week. But if you’re preparing right before a recording session, an hour of warm-ups may be excessive. You don’t want to tire out your voice before even hitting record. Doing 10 to 20 minutes of tongue twisters and the like, up to an hour or two before recording, should be enough to get you warm.
This all brings us to the best time to record vocals. If you’re warmed up and rested, the exact time of day shouldn’t matter all that much—which is a good thing, as many VO performers don’t have a say in their scheduled time in the studio. Early mornings are typically more difficult because your voice hasn’t naturally “woken up” yet, but that’s what the above exercises, diet, and sleep considerations are for. A professional VO artist knows how to get ready, no matter the time of day.
One of the allures of voice acting and VO work is the relief in knowing that your audience cannot see you. Wearing sweatpants? They won’t know. But even if you’re recording from the comfort of your closet, there are a handful of attire do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
You are going to be in an environment that is hypersensitive to any sound, so avoid items that could possibly make noise. Leave your bangles in the armoire, avoid billowy sleeves or swishy materials, and choose shirts without buttons or other adornments. You also want to make sure you’re at your most comfortable; have comfy shoes (you may be standing a lot), and opt for fabric that is soft and breathable.
While recording in PJs is a novel experience that all voiceover artists should have the privilege to experience, don’t do it if you’re recording in a studio—especially if it’s for a corporate or industrial gig. These are among the most lucrative and consistent jobs in the VO world, and it’s likely the client will be on-hand, so it’s best to make a good first impression. You never know what it might lead to.