How often do you consider the health and maintenance of your voice? As a professional voice artist, you rely on your voice for your livelihood, so doesn’t it make sense to take good long term care of what pays the bills? You may also be unwittingly damaging your voice with bad lifestyle habits and by using your voice incorrectly. In this podcast, veteran VO Pro and Coach Tommy Griffiths, creator of the “5-Minute Voice Workout” chats with a renowned Speech and Voice Pathologist about how you should care for your voice, and how you might be unknowingly damaging your vocal cords.
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Cathy Runnels, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a voice and communications specialist and recent recipient of the honor of Fellow of the American Speech Language and Hearing Association. In her practice, Accent On Speech, Ms. Runnels trains individual clients including broadcasters, organizations as well as collaborates with voice over specialists on the articulation, language, fluency and vocal needs of students and professionals in the voice industry. Based in the District of Columbia metroplex, her global business coaches clients using research-based strategies for optimal voice use and voice protection.
Ms. Runnels is a graduate of Chapman University for undergraduate studies and Syracuse University for the master’s degree and is presently a faculty associate at Johns Hopkins University, a national consultant for the American Guidance Service, Inc (AGS) and Member of the Board of the National Black Association for Speech, Language and Hearing. Ms. Runnels is on the Committee of the American Speech, Language Hearing Association that developed guidelines and curriculum for Speech, Language, Pathology Assistants.
Tommy Griffiths is a 30-year SAG-AFTRA voice over veteran, voice coach, demo producer and actor. He’s voiced thousands of projects including Chevy Camaro, Coca Cola, History Channel, Discovery Networks and recently a biographical introduction of President Bill Clinton at Harvard University.
Tommy’s career started as an 18-year old kid. Chuck Blore, of Chuck Blore and Don Richman in Hollywood, California took Tommy under his wing as his intern, where he watched and worked with voice-over legends like Danny Dark and Ernie Anderson.
Tommy lives with his wife Cheryl, son Justin and dogs Truman and Teddy near Washington, DC.
Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by Voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
Tommy Griffiths: Hi I’m Tommy Griffiths. Thanks for having me back. Hopefully you enjoyed my five minute voice workout posted on voices.com. This is what happens when you work for home. The dogs howl when the phone rings. [Hey, German, Teddy, thank-you.] Now where was I? Oh yeah. As a voice over talent and coach, like you, I depend on my voice for my income. And I have for at least 30 years. I’d like to keep it going for another 30. So the question is what are the best ways to care for your voice that instrument that you depend on for your livelihood? The human voice to a voice talent is like what an eye is to a photographer or the hand to a painter. Lose it, you lose your job. Take care of it and it takes care of you.
You’re at what I call my home vox office in Washington, DC. Check out homevoxoffice.com. I’m happy to tell my students who come to me for coaching and demos that I’m now collaborating with voice and speech pathologist and broadcast specialist Cathy Runnels. And she’s here today to tell us how we can take better care of our voices. Cathy, glad to have you.
Cathy Runnels: You’re welcome. A pleasure to be here.
Tommy Griffiths: What are some of the habits that we fall into that we’re not even aware of that could actually harm the voice?
Cathy Runnels: Probably the worst habit is using an inappropriate pitch. A pitch that’s just not the right one for you.
Tommy Griffiths: Like forcing your voice too high or too low.
Cathy Runnels: In the literature they refer to it as the Bacall effect. Lauren Bacall if you recall in her 20s had this really – I mean we really think of it as a raspy deep voice. It was really a bit much for someone so young. And if you had a chance to listen to that voice before she passed away and as she got older it was really very very raspy. And so it was starting to show the effects of pushing that pitch lower than it needed to be at that time. Think about people like Lucille Ball who may have spoken in a very high squeaky sort of voice really damaging it in many ways. As she got older it was problematic for her. So the ways we use our voices when we’re younger can really lay the groundwork for what the voice will be like as we get older.
Tommy Griffiths: So how do we find our perfect pitch?
Cathy Runnels: One can work with speech pathologists on this or voice coach such as you Tommy.
Tommy Griffiths: I often ask my students to hum happy birthday to you. Have you heard that technique?
Cathy Runnels: Yeah.
Tommy Griffith: Hum, hum, hum, hum, and that is where your perfect pitch should be because you really can’t strain your voice to achieve that pitch.
Cathy Runnels: Another one which is along the same way is called the cough pitch. And you want to be really careful with this. But you will very gently clear your throat like this [sounds] and that sound leading from that slight cough is said they say at your best pitch level. And then there’s a lot of great instrumentation out there like the [visi] pitch which are devices that can help you find exactly where you need to be.
Tommy Griffiths: Cathy you mentioned a few times that clearing your throat can be harmful to the vocal folds. I know a lot of people in voice over and radio that habitually clear their throat every time they step in front of a microphone. Why can clearing your throat constantly be bad for your vocal cords?
Cathy Runnels: Because every time the vocal cords come together they meet. If they are slamming like they do when we clear the throat at the point of that initial contact that slam can create some irritation. And this irritation over a long time can lead to things even like vocal nodules. So if you are clearing chronically I advise my clients to swallow easily, almost like you’re gulping but just a little bit easier so you do that instead of clearing the throat. And then if you just have to have to have to clear do it as easily as you can. So instead of a hard clear like [sound] where the vocal cords are really slamming, try an easier clear like [sound] as soft as you can.
Tommy Griffiths: Let’s talk about caffeine, coffee, diet cokes, whatever your source. Yes or no? Caffeine can adversely affect the sound of your voice?
Cathy Runnels: Yes, it certainly can. With my clients I like to look at why we can’t get going without it. And often it goes back to not enough sleep at night. We have to be really careful with caffeine because the caffeine stays in the body for 12 hours that could really interfere with your sleep.
Tommy Griffiths: So you’re drinking caffeine because you’re not getting enough sleep and you’re not getting enough sleep because you’re drinking caffeine? It’s vicious.
Cathy Runnels: Caffeine can also – also has a drying effect on the vocal cords. And the vocal cords need lots of water, lots of hydration. Caffeine can really undermine that.
Tommy Griffiths: Cathy Runnels, Speech Language Pathologist, Voice and Communication Specialist. If people want to get in touch with you maybe do a session via skype or on the phone, how can they contact you?
Cathy Runnels: Email is [email protected] Our office contact is 301-879-1981.
Tommy Griffiths: If you missed that or you’d like to contact me for a coaching session or a demo go to homevoxoffice.com. That’s homevox v-o-x office.com. I’m Tommy Griffiths. Thanks for listening.
Thank-you for joining us. To learn more about this special guest featured in this voices.com podcast visit the Voice Over experts show notes at podcast.voices.com/voice-over-experts. Remember to stay subscribed. If you’re a first time listener you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple ITunes podcast directory or by visiting podcasts.voices.com. To start your voice over career on-line go to voices.com and register for voice talent membership today.