6 Ways to Prepare for a Great Vocal Performance
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’re also great to ensure you’re delivering your best audition possible.
How to Prepare for a Vocal Performance
Here are 6 ways you can prepare for a great vocal performance:
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep
- Get Hydrated and Stay Hydrated
- Watch What You Eat and Drink
- Protect and Pamper Your Voice
- Warm Up Well
- Prep One Hour Before Your Session
1. Get 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.
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 cell 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!
Voices Insider Elizabeth Saydah imparted her wisdom about the importance of rest:
“Most of your vocal care is happening during your ‘off-time’ so be mindful of how much sleep and rest you get. Otherwise, no amount of warming up is going to help you.”
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 recording session is not going to cut it.
For your vocal folds (sometimes called vocal cords) to be performance-ready, you need to be drinking a decent amount of water at least one hour in advance of using your voice.
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.
The “hour before” rule is a bare minimum, Voices Insider Kristy Reed explains. “Staying hydrated is so important for many reasons but it also improves my vocal quality and reduces mouth noise. Keep fluids going all throughout the day and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Also, don’t guzzle a bunch of water before a recording as this can actually add to your mouth noise in the moment. And, I drink room temperature water when recording as I find the cold changes how I speak.”
Setting a daily fluid intake goal as part of your planning routine can help you to drink more water and ensure your body receives the hydration it needs. There are a number of ways to track your goal, including setting hourly reminders or alarms in your phone, drinking a set amount during scheduled breaks, and using one of the many hydration tracking apps available in your device’s app store.
If you find you are struggling to drink enough water, or don’t enjoy the taste of it, here are a few ideas to help increase your consumption:
- Drink caffeine-free tea like chamomile, ginger, or peppermint tea
- Change the temperature of your water to make it more palatable
- Try flavoring your water with fruit, like citrus or berries
- Eat foods that contain more water, such as cucumbers or melons
3. Watch What You Eat and Drink
Dietary considerations are important. There are foods 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 perform as well or as easily. Voices Insider Kim Handysides is one of them:
“I only have one cup of coffee in the morning and I make sure it’s consumed before 8 AM. I begin sipping my first liter (of the five or six I’ll have throughout the day) shortly afterward. On the days I work, I also don’t eat dairy.”
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—because they both dry out your vocal folds and result in more trips to the bathroom.
4. Protect and Pamper Your Voice
Pamper your voice and protect 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.
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.
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. 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 plan out how to use it. Got a day full of turning around final reads? Plan to do the projects in your normal vocal range first, and leave the more challenging ones to the end of your day.
Voices Insider Elizabeth Saydah recommends that you “Ease your voice into the day. Try to do vocally strenuous work last because it will likely tap you out for the rest of the day.”
Whispering also 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.
Vocal exercises activate the acid in the muscles surrounding your vocal cords, which allows the tendon in your throat to stretch, giving you more flexibility and control over your vocal performance.
To prevent injury and to continue to grow in your abilities as a voice actor, aim to commit 20 minutes a day to your vocal exercises. If you are not currently warming up every day, ease into your routine and start with the more basic exercises first.
And on that note, your voice needs to start slow. Humming is a great go-to for easing in your instrument. When you’re 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, 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. Here’s a great video recommended by Voices Insider Craig Williams. He says, “I try to follow Jeannette Nelson’s vocal warm up YouTube video for the National Theatre.”
Craig adds, “I also like to stretch my face and mouth muscles. I try to pull really funny faces and move my tongue all over the place. If someone saw what I was doing they would think I was absolutely crazy!”
Vocal Exercises: Tongue Twisters
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!
Tongue twisters aren’t just fun to say, they’re also an excellent vocal exercise for voice actors of all levels. By regularly practicing these quick and complicated phrases, you’ll learn to articulate and enunciate clearly and stretch and strengthen your muscles so you can master more complicated reads.
Remember to start slowly, ensuring that each word in the phrase is read fully and crisply. Gradually begin to pick up your pace as you continue to repeat the tongue twister and don’t hesitate to start over if you stumble over a word.
Here are some of the Voices Insiders’ favorite tongue twisters to get you started.
Peter Piper picked a pickle of prickly pears purposefully.
Toy boat toy boat toy boat.
Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
Red leather, yellow leather.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many pecks of pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
Want more? Check out our alphabet of tongue twisters in our Beginners Guide to Voice Acting
6. Prep One Hour 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 one 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 immediate 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, the exhaust from a vehicle, or secondhand smoke mess with you doing your best.
All warmed up and ready to start auditioning? Sign up for a Voices account today!