We interviewed vocal coach D'Arcy Smith to discover the best vocal exercises you can use to strengthen your voice at home.
We would all love to wake up with the perfect voice, capable of performing any character with no effort necessary. However, don’t be fooled. Even the top voice actors in the industry had to train their voices to get where they are today – it’s a dedication to the craft.
Before we ask D’Arcy for his expert opinion, let’s look at the top reasons vocal exercises are essential to your career as a voice actor and some of the key benefits of voice training in this industry.
Why Should You Strengthen Your Voice?
You might be wondering why you should invest in voice training. After all, it seems like your voice works fine, right? Or maybe it doesn’t, and in that case, you know all too well.
- Longevity is the number one reason you should train your voice.
Your voice and its unique sound are powered by your vocal cords, the muscles in your throat that produce vibrations. Like other muscles, they can get weak with disuse and misuse.
Of course, for voice actors, the most common issue is misuse. After all, it’s your career to use your voice. However, even if you are not a voice actor, these exercises will be just as valuable for you as for seasoned voice-over veterans. The weaker your vocal cords, the more susceptible they are to being damaged from use.
This is frequently found in older generations, hence the weak voice being associated with old age, and is specifically due to the vocal cords thinning and losing flexibility over time.
- Endurance is another vital reason to train your voice with vocal exercises.
If you get into voice acting, you want to be able to handle long sessions to get as much done in a single day as you can. It means you’ll complete jobs faster and can then take on more roles. This efficiency is essential in becoming or maintaining your career as a professional voice actor. It’ll also mean you can avoid your voice giving out on you in the middle of a session with a client – That’s not a good look. Or, well… sound.
- Role diversity is also a benefit of vocal training.
Strengthening your vocal cords and folds will improve their flexibility, allowing you to generate different sounds, tones, pitches, textures, and volumes. Voice flexibility is excellent, especially after establishing client rapport; clients prefer to work with voice actors they already know. We’ve talked about finding your niche and optimising your brand to get your foot in the door, but once you’ve got some clients, delivering a wide range with your voice is extremely useful.
D'Arcy Smith on the Importance of Training Your Voice
To discover more about strengthening one’s voice and the best vocal training methods, we interviewed D’Arcy Smith—a Voquent voice actor, vocal coach, and founder of vocalcombat.com. The workshop focuses on training voice actors to reach their extremes without damaging their vocal cords. This is especially beneficial for actors pursuing those dramatic roles in entertainment, typically for animation and video games.
Q: Tell us about your voice and dialect coaching. Often, people start as a voice actor before pivoting into vocal coaching. Was that the same for you?
D’Arcy: When I started out as an actor, I had terrible stage fright. For one show, at the 10-minute call, I would go and throw up. During the 5-minute call, I would brush my teeth and try to pull myself together. That first scene on stage was a mess! My voice teacher really taught me how to channel my energy. It inspired me so much that after being an actor for seven years, I switched sides, got my master’s degree in voice teaching, and became a coach.
On the dialect coaching side: I grew up in Scarborough, Canada, a very multicultural area of Toronto. I was surrounded by various sounds and dialects for all of my childhood. My parents, at one point, sent me to a speech teacher because I, like many of my friends, couldn’t make a TH sound. So, instead of saying three, I would say tree. That gave me an ear for specific sounds and inflection patterns to help those I’m coaching.
Q: What or who inspired you to create the Vocal Combat Technique Workshop?
D’Arcy: As a voice coach, I found that almost every project I was working on had some sort of vocally violent moment. I started by mostly working with stage combat actors, helping them with screams, grunts, and attack sounds.
After one workshop about seven years ago, a group of video game actors came to me and asked if I thought I could help them. The sounds they were asked to make were intense, aggressive, and they had to repeat the sounds for up to 2 hours. I teamed up with the Otolaryngology Department at the University of Cincinnati, and I was able to update the work to serve video game voice actors. We just published our research and work in the Journal of Voice (a medical journal for voice doctors and clinicians).
Q: Why is voice training, like what you provide at VCT, so important for your voice?
D’Arcy: I think most people take their voice for granted because they can’t see it. You use it every day, and if you lose it, it can be very debilitating. If you’re a vocal athlete and rely on your voice for income, you need to treat your voice like a professional athlete.
Vocal Combat Technique trains the actor for vocal fitness, how to create the aggressive sounds needed in a healthier way, reduce fatigue during a session, and recover faster after the event. Any actor who is using their voice in a high-intensity way should have the knowledge of how they can do all of these things.
Q: How frequent are vocal injuries in voice acting?
D’Arcy: The truth is, we don’t really know. No one has done a study on that yet.
Part of the problem is that most actors don’t want to talk about it. There is a real stigma to getting a vocal injury or even fatigue because most people assume that if you get injured, you have poor technique. Technique plays a part in it for sure, but so does the frequency, health and fitness, and demands on the voice.
We know that a large number of actors were getting injured, and that’s why the SAG strike occurred. The Washington Post and L.A. Times wrote in-depth articles on it.
If you aren’t vocally fit enough to go into a video game session or you don’t fully understand what you are getting into, I would caution any actor from taking that job.
Q: What techniques do you recommend for training and strengthening your voice?
D’Arcy: I use a variety of specific warm-ups and training exercises for my clients, but everyone should know how to do SOVT (Semi-occluded vocal tract) created by Ingo Titze. Studies have shown that doing this for 10 minutes can make a lasting impact on your voice. So, for any voice actor, include SOVT 10 minutes a day, twice a day.
Q: When is the best time to perform these exercises? At the end of the day or the start?
D’Arcy: I recommend twice a day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon, but it depends on when you are recording.
One thing I do is suggest that voice actors begin to separate their warm-up from fitness training, recovery, and cool-down. Your warmup should be about 5-10 minutes. This is what you do when you first wake up or are about to go into the booth, so you are not “cold.”
Your fitness practice should be focused on maintaining your vocal health, increasing or maintaining your range, and improving power and resilience. DO think about load management. If you have a heavy vocal day, maybe you don’t do your fitness practice that day.
Your cool down should be gentle, low projection. Some actors’ cool-down is more like a warm-up! It should also include some vocal rest. Don’t finish a session and then immediately go to the pub or a sporting event.
Q: Do you think that vocal coaches should be on the scene to help actively rather than just proactively training voice actors?
D’Arcy: It would be amazing to have a voice coach in the room during a session. Sadly, I don’t think that happens very often. It could go a long way to prevent injury and improve performance. If VO directors were all trained in vocal health, that would help too.
Q: Have any books or other pieces of media influenced your journey and life? If so, which ones?
D’Arcy: Gosh, I’ve read so many books on voice. It would be hard to pick one. At the moment, I’m really inspired by the people and actors I’ve worked with. I got to work with Troy Baker, and his effortless skill and sense of play were amazing to witness. I worked with voice directors like Kim Hurdon, Kal El, Simon Peacock, Kevin McMullan, and others, and their care for the actor and passion for the game were inspiring. Katelyn Reid, an SLP and colleague of mine at UC, has been a huge help in the research and helping train actors she has never met! VO is such a welcoming community. I’m in awe of the generosity.
Q: To round things off, what advice would you give yourself starting off in the field?
D’Arcy: My teacher used to say, “Voice acting is the laser surgery of voice.” VO requires skill, patience, and training, but that is what makes it so fun and satisfying. Be patient and practice a little every day.
The voice is a tool you use, and how will you work without your tools?
Vocal training is essential to maintaining the integrity of your voice throughout your career. It will help with individual performances as well as your vocal health in the long run.
Check out D’Arcy’s Twitter and vocalcombat.com to learn more.
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