6 Ways to Prepare for a Great Vocal Performance
Note: This is an updated version of this post, which was originally published in Feb, 2017.
When your voice isn’t cooperating, nothing else matters!
Professional voice over artists know that there are certain things they need to do in advance of a performance. Not only are these tips essential for performing but they are also great to ensure you’re delivering your best audition possible.
Here are 6 ways you can prepare for a great vocal performance:
- Invest in a Good Night’s Sleep
- Get Hydrated and Stay Hydrated
- Watch What You Eat (and Drink)
- Protect and Pamper Your Voice
- Warm Up Well
- Right Before Your Session
1. Invest in a Good Night’s Sleep
Make sure that you get a solid, undisturbed night’s sleep before you have a recording session or performance. Your body needs time to recharge. While you might think sleep is overrated, think again.
According to science (and experience), the hours slept before midnight add extra oomph to the quality of your sleep!
Even celebrities like Arianna Huffington know you’re only at your best when you’ve invested time and energy into strategic slumber. Huffington recommends that you remove obstacles to sleep like screens and cellular phones from your bedroom.
Relying on your mobile device to wake you up in the morning?
Replace it with a battery-powered alarm clock. Make sure your bedroom is also dark enough – it’s never a bad idea to invest in blackout curtains.
2. Get Hydrated and Stay Hydrated
You’ve probably heard that singers, actors and public speakers need to keep their voice hydrated, but what does that actually mean?
Just bringing a bottle of water on set or to a session is not going to cut it.
For your vocal folds (sometimes called vocal cords) to be performance-ready, you need to have been drinking a decent amount of water at least one hour in advance of using your voice.
To understand why this works, think about how marinating translates into more tender meat. When you take time to marinate before cooking, the end result is that meat becomes tender and more enjoyable to consume.
Water is to your voice as the marinade is to meat.
By drinking a cup of water at least one hour before you need to use your instrument, you’ve taken steps to optimize your vocal folds. When fully hydrated, your vocal folds become more elastic.
Hydrated vocal folds allow you to do more with your instrument because they are pliable and ready to respond.
3. Watch What You Eat (and Drink)
Dietary considerations are important. There are foods and beverages that either help or hinder and beverages that either help or hinder your ability to have a good, clean vocal performance.
Some foods, like dairy, can set the stage for mouth noises you had not anticipated. Many voice artists point to dairy as something they believe impedes their ability to voice as well or as easily.
You might not think that having a glass of milk or a chocolate bar in advance of a session is harmful, but just think of all that extra mucus your body will create!
Spicy foods may create their own challenges, be they acid reflux or flatulence (not great in any case when you’re center stage or behind the mic). While we’re at it, we may as well add carbonated beverages to the list.
Many voice actors also stay away from drying beverages or diuretics like coffee, tea or alcohol in advance of a performance — both because they dry your vocal folds and result in more trips to the bathroom.
Lastly, on this topic, maintaining good oral hygiene is a best practice among voice artists. Brushing your teeth is a given, but have you considered the benefits of flossing? Anything that is stuck between your teeth is a candidate for creating excess saliva.
4. Protect and Pamper Your Voice
Just as a parent looks out for and meets the needs of his or her small child, you should be pampering your voice and protecting it from the various dangers in your immediate environment.
Remove yourself from situations that you know irritate your voice or make it difficult for you to maintain good vocal health.
Many voice actors avoid strong scents, may ‘fake cheer’ (open their mouths to cheer but not actually yell) during sporting events or even skip spicy foods, especially if they have acid reflux.
You know your body and your voice better than anyone, so you know what these ‘hazardous’ things are and the steps you can take to baby your voice.
Something else you can do to protect your voice is minimize its use.
Opera singers, for instance, may go an entire day without speaking in advance of a performance. While you might not be using your voice as intensely as Renée Fleming or Roberto Alagna, vocal rest is a definite must for anyone who relies on their voice as part of their profession. This goes without saying, but yelling is never a good idea when trying to save your voice.
Whispering puts stress on your vocal folds because whispering in the classic sense (not stage whispering) doesn’t allow for the vocal folds to vibrate. The folds need to come together to create resonance. When you whisper, those folds are tight and strained, unable to meet in a way that creates a healthy, resonant sound.
5. Warm Up Well
Your voice is kind of like a car. In order for the engine to purr, you need to give it time to warm up. Once your vocal folds are sufficiently hydrated (as per tip #2!), warming up your voice is so much easier. It’s supple and moves more freely during your vocal warm up.
And on that note, your voice needs to start slow. Humming is a great go-to for easing in your instrument. When you are humming, be sure that your jaw is loose and your teeth are separated to create more room for resonance.
You can also try yawn-sighs that take your voice from the top of its range all the way to a growl in the depths of your lower register.
Remember, as a voice artist, your instrument is your entire body. That means all of you! From your head to your toes. Roll out your shoulders to release tension, perform breathing exercises and ensure you attain proper posture to help you prepare.
Physical tension can live anywhere though, so if you hold tension in a certain place (be it your neck, in your fingers, clenched toes, etc.), be aware of it and find ways to release it.
Because language is central to a voice artist’s performance, you also need to think about other parts of your body that should be warmed up like your resonators and articulators.
Tongue twisters, facial exercises and sung scales are good for any voice artist, whether the performance is for spoken word or belting on a Broadway stage. The tongue in particular needs to loosen up so that you don’t trip on your words. A good vocal warm up should explore all aspects of phonation.
The sillier you look when you warm up, the better your warm up will be. Try standing in front of a mirror and don’t be afraid to look foolish!
6. Right Before Your Session
You can do all of the above and still fall prey to unexpected vocal pitfalls. Here’s a strategic plan to preserve your voice starting 1 hour before your performance.
Be awake at least one hour before you need to use your voice. This will give you time to properly hydrate, as well as go through with any dietary choices you have made in advance of a performance.
Drink a glass of water one hour before you need to perform. Remember, the water will only take effect one hour after it has been consumed. Expecting water to work in the moment only sets you up for disappointment.
Protect your instrument from the elements. This may come in the form of cold weather, cigarette smoke, or seasonal allergens that affect your sinuses (which can affect the way your voice sounds) and more. Take appropriate measures to protect your voice.
Live in a cold or dry climate?
If you live in a region where you experience cold temperatures or endure high elevations, wearing a cotton scarf or tightly knit neck warmer that covers your mouth (and possibly your nose) will provide somewhat of a barrier between your instrument and the air you’re breathing.
There’s nothing worse than preparing to perform and letting something like a blast of cold air, dry air, smoke from a wildfire, the exhaust from a vehicle or secondhand smoke mess with you doing your best.