Cleaning the Instrument: Guest Blogger David Houston shares his experiences as a voice actor with pointers on oral hygiene.
Voice artists are often reminded that their “voice is their instrument”. While we generally agree with this statement, it’s more accurate to say that your entire body is your instrument; the voice is really the product of operating the instrument properly, much like the twang that results from a well-struck guitar string.
With this in mind, the voice artist needs to have a greater awareness of his or her body than most people, particularly the mouth and throat. Taking care of this part of your instrument means being all too aware of things like saliva, mucous, and stray food particles — not the most pleasant topics, but important ones.
One problem I still encounter occasionally is the “clicking” noise that results from saliva on the tongue and other areas of the mouth. (Note: While it’s true that these sounds can often be removed in post-production, it’s an audio editing technique that’s often tricky and time-consuming; this can only hurt you in the long run, whether the post-edit is done by you, the client, or a third party.) I find that it’s better to eliminate the source of these noises before I deliver the first word, and increase my chances of a great first take.
One of the best ways to avoid the clickâ€ is to keep yourself hydrated with lots of water; this may seem contradictory, but the salivary glands actually will be regulated, instead of overproductive, if your body is telling them that it’s already well hydrated.
Drinking plenty of water can be especially important for those living in dry climates who need to compensate for low humidity, and it is essential for those who rely on decongestants designed to clear up congestion and phlegm. The problem with many cold remedies is that they also decease the amount of mucous needed for normal voice production. (Again, this isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary.) The trick is to keep your palate (and the rest of your instrument) lubricated with the right amounts of those natural secretions; too much, and you’re clicking all over the place. Too little, and it becomes hard to even get the words out.
If you do find yourself with an upcoming session and an instrument full of congestion (from colds or allergies), gargling with a solution of Tabasco sauce and water is a good, quick remedy. Limit the hot sauce to about 10 drops in 8 ounces of water, and the ingredients which normally set mouths aflame will work to reduce tissue inflammation and clear the unwanted stuff. (For years, the preferred version was a mix of water and salt; however, salt dehydrates, and we already know we want to avoid this.)
Often, congestion of this type simply can’t be avoided; colds and allergies don’t respect the voice artist any more than the next person. One way that excess congestion can be avoided, however, is to stay away from dairy products before recording. Milk and cheese are particularly notorious for causing this problem, and it’s best to wait until after your session. (If you’re craving a cheeseburger, resist temptation and make it your delayed reward for a great session!)
An additional technique favored by some voice artists is to eat a slice or two of apple before a session; the acids in the fruit will reduce excess saliva. While this bit of advice seems to be at odds with another fundamental rule — namely, “don’t eat before a session” — this can be helped by swishing and gargling with water immediately after.
Underlying all this, of course, is just good old basic oral hygiene. Many VAs make it a point to carry a kit to a session, containing things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss and mouthwash. Practicing this before a session is good not only for eliminating “mouth clicks” from saliva, but for getting rid of the aforementioned food particles.
Things like brushing and flossing may seem obvious, but many a voice talent has finished a session and regretted that they didn’t take care of their instrument beforehand; don’t be one of them. Here’s wishing you great first takes and good health all around.
Article submitted by David Houston.
Editors note: “UPDATE: I’ve since changed my feelings about apples. No food before a session, period! Okay, carry on.”