Part two of my interview with voice specialist and author Dr. Ann Utterback. Ann has a PhD in speech and specializes in voice and diction. She has written dozens of articles and 8 books on the voice, including the Broadcast Voice Handbook. Her most recent article on tension and the voice can be found on Voice Over Xtra.
Part one of this interview is here.
Is there a consistent problem you run into with beginners that you would love to eliminate before clients get to you?
I often say that breathing is the energy for speech. It is really helpful when someone comes to me who has already done some work to improve breathing. I’ll give you an example. I used to do an exercise in workshops where I asked participants to exhale an “ah” sound for as long as they comfortably could. Invariably, the person who went the longest had some experience playing a wind instrument. They already knew how to inhale a full breath of air and how to control the exhalation of that air. Now not everyone wants to take up the tuba to improve their voice! But there are other ways to work on breathing. Yoga is great for breathing. Aerobic exercise expands the breathing capacity. Any of these things will help. Breathing is something we can all work on on our own. If a client has done this before they see me, it shortens the amount of time I need to work with them.
Do you find that previous performance training, such as singing or stage work, provide a help or a hindrance for those you work with?
Singing and acting can certainly help your voice. It can, however, really hurt your voice. It all depends on the type of training you receive when you are doing it. I’ve had clients who have permanently damaged their voices singing without good instruction. Not just rockers, either. I had one client who sang in a choir but received bad advice about projecting her voice. Stage acting can also promote misuse of the voice. That was more true back in the days before microphones were used so extensively on stage, but it can happen even today.
Can you walk me through what a telephone evaluation with you would be like?
This is a good place for me to state very clearly that I am not a voiceover instructor. There are plenty of people out there doing that who know lots more about voiceovers and how to develop character voices, etc., than I do. I am a voice specialist who works with issues like breathing, articulation, sounding conversational, having good vocal energy, and keeping your voice healthy. A typical session begins with the client sending me their work. I review this extensively before our session. In the session, I begin by doing a vocal health assessment. I ask the client lots of questions about the history of any voice problems, how they care for their voice, if they have symptoms of stress, and other questions along those lines. I also ask about diet, smoking, water consumption, and exercise. Once the history has been covered, I begin discussing the areas where I believe the client needs improvement based on my review of their work. I explain the concepts and give exercises from my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, that the client can begin doing to make the improvement needed. Some clients do only one telephone consultation with me, and use the tools I give them to work toward improvement on their own. Others may schedule more sessions so I can walk them through the exercises and keep them on track. I’ve always told clients that I can give them in one hour the tools they need to improve. I don’t want anyone to think that they will have to pay for numerous sessions. That’s a choice, but not a requirement.
Is there a success story you can share that makes you proud of the work you do?
I worked with one young women, let’s call her Mary, whose voice was so young-sounding that she couldn’t get a job at the smallest television station in the country. What is needed for a childlike voice is work with resonance. Mary took this work so seriously that she did the exercises I gave her everyday for probably an hour. I was amazed by her commitment. But, it paid off. In a couple of years she had not only gotten an on-air job in television, she was working in New York city, which is the number one television market in the country! I used to play a recording of her “before” and “after” voice in workshops, and no one could believe it was even the same person. She is living proof that you can make major changes in your voice if you really work at it.
I want to thank Ann for taking the time to answer these questions, and I truly appreciate what she is adding to the voiceover community. Take a few minutes to check out Online Voice Coaching and see what she has to offer. You can follow her on Twitter at @AnnUtterback.