I’ve been both a voice talent and a voice coach for about
20 years now.
In that time, I’ve performed on camera and off, in
television and radio, film and theatre. I’ve coached voice
and delivery to broadcasters all around the country, and a
few voice over aspirants too. Along the way, I’ve learned
and confirmed a few things about this fabulous vocal
instrument of ours. Part of it’s on a technical level.
But even more; about heart, soul, emotion and
being… and the mysterious and miraculous connection to
them all that the voice possesses.
So often it seems that we merely wish to tame and bend it so
that it can perform our industry wishes; accomplish better
delivery, be natural, do character voices, achieve vocal
variety, etc. Worthy
aspirations all, don’t get me wrong. But there’s so much
A well trained voice should sound completely natural.
In fact, it should sound any way the owner wants it
to. Why? Because within its elegant design, the voice is the
one instrument that is inherently designed to create a vocal
impression of your entire being. It contains your “voice
print”, as individual as your fingerprint. Unlike other
musical instruments, the voice lives physically inside us.
It’s wired to literally “give voice” to the many
complex layers of our identity… through sound. Beginning
with our personality, thoughts, feelings, intentions and
emotions; and including the even finer qualities of our
heart and soul development, exist nuances that can be
measured by the sound of our voice. In a more “real
world” analogy, studies claim that in terms of attitude
and feeling on the part of the listener, the sound of
the voice has over 5x the impact of the content. I
remember my mom admonishing me; “It’s not what you
say, it’s how you say it!” (I learned she was
more right than even she knew.) The voice is such a
singularly unique instrument, that through its very timbre
it becomes instantly recognizable as belonging to one
particular person and no other.
This is why great actors study voice so assiduously in
school. It’s not just about learning to “project”.
It’s about learning how to release and empower the voice.
In so doing, the actor goes deeper within herself, finds her
power and learns to access her distinctive, singular sound.
Her true voice.
When that happens, it’s not unusual for person’s life to
change on some level. As a voice gains more resonance,
dynamic range, vibrant sound and vocal flexibility; it also
helps a person release stress and feel more alive, more
powerful, more capable and more confident than ever before.
As side effects go, not too shabby!
Even folks blessed with a naturally beautiful voice
experience these benefits by learning how to control and
maximize their vocal gifts. Having their natural abilities
more consciously biddable and even more fully expressed
creates a tremendous feeling of confidence and empowerment.
I’ve seen it happen over and over.
In practical, industry-related terms, there’s other good
news. If an actor can find his or her own distinctive
“voice print”… he can likewise find the character’s.
Coupled with good delivery technique, the ability to release
and use your voice effortlessly embeds the character’s
thoughts, feelings, intentions, etc.
into their own distinctive voice print (which,
of course, is a blend with yours). Voila! Instant
credibility and a sound that no one else can duplicate.
Ever hear of the “wow factor”? It’s that indescribable
“something” that comes across and tells us that this
person is special, unlike any other and we can’t help but
watch. And listen. What we’re talking about here is having
a voice with “wow factor”.
Well, you might wonder… if this is all so natural, why
isn’t everyone doing it? As it happens, we actually unlearn
our natural sound in the process of growing up. So many of
the messages we are handed down become internalized as part
of our identity. Messages like “Don’t speak unless
spoken to”, “Don’t talk so loud”, “If I wanted
YOUR opinion, I’d ask!”, “Who do you think you are,
anyway?” “I’ll give you something to cry about!”
(along with, oh, about a million others) become internalized
and cause us to modify our voices’ sound to suit
the conditions at hand. We thus learn to tighten up in order
to hold back emotion, to use a different voice in order to
please, we learn to not be too big, too strong, too smart,
too male or female. In short… we learn to restrict our
power, voice and naturally vital energy both in
communication and in life. What’s more, the part of the
country or world we grew up in makes an impact, as does the
sound of our parents’ voices; even how our peers sounded
and responded to our sound affected how we use our
voices as adults.
So, when you stop and think about it from this angle – are
you really speaking with your natural voice? The one you’d
have if no conditions had been placed upon it? The one that
responds easily, fluidly and instinctively to the subtle
(and not so subtle) direction of your client or script? The
one that bears your distinctive “voice print”? A voice
that is free in this way will absolutely get the job done
quicker, better and with a broader range.
After 20 years of coaching voices in various realms and
putting my own voice stamp upon radio, television and
multimedia projects (not to mention that my voice mentor
made this point repeatedly), I’m clear about one thing.
It’s this learned vocal tightness and restriction
that will not only prevent you from having the great
sounding and responsive voice you could have; but
also creates those unsightly mixed messages, and a
Of course, it IS possible to unlearn what you have learned,
young weedhopper! A really good voice coach can help. But
the real point here is that it behooves anyone trying to
make their mark in this competitive field to also make a
point of understanding their voice. It’s a powerful
instrument when unleashed. All by itself, it can turn heads,
create first and lasting impressions and generally make
others unable to forget you. Why? Because they can feel you,
see you, hear you – all from the sound in your voice.
Karen Hutton is a voiceover artist and voice coach with
20 years in the industry. Her acclaimed articles entitled
“Brilliance in Performance” appeared in “Shoptalk”, a
daily international broadcast industry newsletter, circulation
100,000. A selection of these are now used for teaching voice
and delivery in journalism schools around the country. Karen
and her recording studio are based in the Lake Tahoe area of
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